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Microsoft Accessibility - An Overview

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Microsoft has many features that can make using their computers more accessible to those with vision, hearing, or learning impairments. Adjustments can be made to the screen, the keyboard, and the mouse. Alternate data input solutions are also available. These settings can be controlled in Microsoft’s Accessibility Options, which is found in the Control Panel.

Start → Control Panel → Accessibility

You can use their Wizard to set all your preferences at once or go back to the options menu to adjust one setting at a time.

This overview is geared toward Windows XP, but many features have been added or enhanced in newer operating systems. For more information please visit Microsoft Accessibility Guides.


Make my screen easier to read

Larger text - From the Display Properties menu you can enlarge the text that is displayed with your desktop icons as well as the text that labels each program window.

Start → Control Panel → Appearance and Themes → Display

However, this setting will not enlarge all of the text within each program. This setting may be best utilized in conjunction with “Magnifier.”

Larger cursor - You can change the size of the blinking cursor that appears when you enter text onto the screen under the Accessibility Menu:

Start → Control Panel → Accessibility

Click on Accessibility Options and choose the Display tab. At the bottom is Cursor Options and you can adjust the width and blinking rate of the cursor to make it easier to find within a document you are editing.

Adjust screen resolution - Reducing the screen resolution makes objects appear blurrier but larger in size. You can find the ideal balance that works best for you.

Start → Control Panel → Appearance and Themes → Change the screen resolution

High contrast - This is also found in the Accessibility Options. You can set the display colors to high contrast to make objects easier to distinguish. There are many pre-made settings to choose from if you select the Settings button.

Start → Control Panel → Accessibility → Accessibility Options → Display tab

Magnifier - You can use this program to enlarge portions of the screen you are reading. You can select options for how the computer traces what you are looking at (following the mouse, text editing). You can also choose the level of magnification. In Windows XP the top portion of the screen shows the magnified image. There are more options for where the enlarged image is displayed in Windows 7, such as having the image follow the mouse. You can find this program under:

Start → All Programs → Accessories → Accessibility → Magnifier.

Full screen reading view - Within each program, you can select how you would like to view the content. Full screen will enlarge the window to take up the entire screen, making the content bigger.

Make my keyboard easier to use

All of these options can be adjusted from the Accessibility Options menu.

Start → Control Panel → Accessibility → Accessibility Options → Keyboard tab

Sticky keys - If you need to press two or three keys at once, with sticky keys you can press one at a time to get the same effect.

Toggle keys - Alerts you when you press Caps Lock, Num Lock, or Scroll Lock so you can avoid accidental mistyping.

Filter keys - Sets windows to ignore keystrokes that occur too quickly (ie when two keys are accidentally pressed at once). You can also extend the amount of time required to hold a button down before the character begins repeating.

Keyboard shortcuts - Certain combinations of keystrokes perform particular commands that are often performed with the mouse. Examples include:

Copy: Ctrl + C
Paste: Ctrl + V
Cut: Ctrl + X
Undo: Ctrl + Z
New window: Ctrl + N
Bold: Ctrl + B
Underline: Ctrl + U
Italicize: Ctrl + I

For more information on keyboard shortcuts: Keyboard shortcuts

On-Screen Keyboard - You can use the mouse or mouse keys to select the letters you would like to type. You can set the keyboard to type the selected letter with a click or by hovering over the key for a specified amount of time. In Windows 7, you can enable Text-Prediction to allow the program to complete words for you. The On-Screen Keyboard program can be found under:

Start → All Programs → Accessories → Accessibility → On-Screen Keyboard

For more information visit On-Screen Keyboard

Use my keyboard instead of my mouse

Mouse Keys - When this feature is turned on, you can move the mouse itself by pressing different numbers on the number pad. You can toggle between left and right clicks with the “/” and “-” keys. To actually click you can press “5.” You can adjust the speed of the mouse under “Settings.” Once you are within the desired windo, you can use the arrow keys and the tab key to toggle between clickable buttons and select them by pressing “Enter”. Mouse keys can be turned on under the Accessibility Options menu:

Start → Control Panel → Accessibility → Accessibility Options → Mouse tab

For more information visit Mouse Keys

Page Up/Down Keys - These keys allow you to scroll through a long document or webpage without the mouse.

Select text without a mouse - If you hold the shift key while you move the cursor, windows selects the text you pass over.

Have text read aloud to me

Narrator - This is a basic screen reader reads selected text aloud and announces events that occur, such as pop up windows. There are several keyboard shortcuts that make it easier to use. It can be found under: :Start → All Programs → Accessories → Accessibility → Narrator. For more information visit Microsoft Narrator

Text to Speak - This is a screen reading option within basic Microsoft programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote. For more information on configuring your programs visit Microsoft Text to Speak

Use voice commands to control my computer

Speech recognition - Allows you to enter commands verbally. For more information visit Microsoft Speech Recognition


Use visual notifications instead of sound - Windows alerts you of many events with a sound. You can replace this sound with a visual cue by going to the Accessibility menu:

Start → Control Panel → Accessibility → Accessibility Options → Sounds tab

Available options are SoundSentry and ShowSounds. SoundSentry uses visual cues, such as flashing the active window, to indicate a sound. ShowSounds commands the program to display text instead of a sound.

Change sounds - If you would still like to use sounds, you can choose the sounds that you are able to hear the best. The sound menu is available from the control menu.

Start → Control Panel → Sounds, Speech, and Audio Devices.

The Sounds tab allows you to reassign the sound that is played for a particular event. For more information visit Microsoft Sounds