Windows 7’s Accessibility Features

Like its predecessors, Windows 7 includes several built-in accessibility features. These features make it easier for users with a wide range of physical challenges to use Windows 7 and their computers. Furthermore, many of the accessibility features carried over from previous versions of Windows are improved in Windows 7.

Ease of Access Center

Windows 7's Accessibility FeaturesWhen it comes to finding the accessibility settings and programs, the Ease of Access Center is the central place to go. Some of the features you will find here include:

  • A basic screen narrator that reads the screen text aloud
  • Various settings that make the screen easier to see
  • Speech Recognition that allows you to control your computer with voice commands
  • On-screen keyboard that you can use to type
  • Various settings to adjust the mouse and keyboard
  • Visual notifications to replace audio information

In addition, the Ease of Access Center includes a questionnaire about routine tasks and provides recommendations on the specific accessibility settings and programs that may help you.

To open the Ease of Access Center in Windows, click the Start button, Control Panel, Ease of Access and then Ease of Access Center. Alternatively, you can also use the Windows Logo Key + U. Once you are in the Ease of Access Center, select on of the common tools: Magnifier, Narrator, On-screen Keyboard, and/or High Contract.

If you are unsure which tool to start with, you can complete the questionnaire to get recommendations on the tools and settings you should use. To start the questionnaire, select the Get recommendations to make your computer easier to use option. Windows presents you with a series of statements. Place a check mark beside each of the statements that apply to you and click Next. Repeat these steps until you reach the final screen and click Done.

Windows generates a list of recommendations based on the answers in the questionnaire. Select the recommended options that you want to turn on and click Save.

Using Your Computer Without a Display

Some of the accessibility options built in to Windows 7 are designed to let you use the computer without a display. To find these options, open the Ease of Access Center and click the Use the computer without a display option. From there, you can select the options that you want to use, which includes:

  • Turn on Narrator — When this feature is enabled, a narrator reads the onscreen text aloud and describes some events that happen while you are using the computer.
  • Turn on Audio Descriptions — When you turn on Audio Descriptions, Windows describes what is happening in videos.
  • Turn off all unnecessary animations — Animation effects are disabled when Windows and other elements are closed. How long should Windows notification dialog boxes stay open? This option lets you set how long notifications should remain on screen before they are automatically closed.

Windows 7 also includes various options designed to assist those with visial impairments by making the screen easier to see. To access these options, click the Make the computer easier to see option within the Ease of Access Center. The available options include:

  • Choose a High Contrast Theme — This options lets you set a high-contrast there to heighten color contrast.
  • Turn on or off High Contrast when Left Alt+Left Shift+Print Screen is pressed — This option lets you turn a high contrast theme on or off using the keystrokes.
  • Turn On Narrator — As mentioned earlier, when this feature is enabled, a narrator reads the onscreen text aloud and describes some events that happen while you are using the computer
  • Turn on Audio Descriptions — As mentioned earlier, when you turn on Audio Descriptions, Windows describes what is happening in videos.
  • Change the size of text and icons — This options lets you make text and other items appear larger so they are easier to see.
  • Turn on Magnifier — This option turns on the magnifier. As you move your mouse around your desktop, a portion of the screen is magnified.
  • Adjust the color and transparency of the window borders — This option lets you change the appearance of window borders so they are easier to see.
  • Fine tune display effects — This option lets you customize how certain items appear on the desktop.
  • Make the focus rectangle thicker — This option makes the rectangle around the currently selected item in dialog boxes thicker, thereby making it easier to see.
  • Set the thickness of the blinking cursor — This option lets you make the blinking cursor in dialog boxes and programs thicker, thereby making it easier to see.
  • Turn off all unnecessary animations — As previously mentioned, animation effects are disabled when Windows and other elements are closed.
  • Remove background images — This option turns off all unimportant content and background images to help make the screen easier to see.

Speech Recognition

Windows 7 includes Speech Recognition that lets you control your computer by voice. In addition, you can dictate your text into various programs such as Microsoft Word leaving you a little more hands-free. You can open menu items, toolbars, dialog boxes, and have text typed in using your own voice. In other words, your computer is literally at your command.

To start Speech Recognition, click Start, Control Panel, Ease of Access then Speech Recognition. Select the Start Speech Recognition option. The first time you use Speech Recognition, Windows 7 walks you through the process of setting up your microphone and provides a speech tutorial that helps you get started.

You can also train your computer to better understand you and improve speech recognition accuracy. The more your computer knows about your particular style of speaking and the sounds in your environment, the more accurate it will be. Using the Voice Training Wizard, Windows 7 collects voice samples from you so that it can adjust to your particular speaking style.

On-screen Keyboard

Another accessibility option included with Windows 7 is the on-screen keyboard. You might find this option handy if you have impairments or if your normal keyboard is under repair. To open the onscreen keyboard for the current session, open the Ease of Access Center and select the Start On-Screen Keyboard option. A nifty little keyboard immediately appears on your screen.

You can also tell Windows to launch the onscreen keyboard each time you log on to the computer. Within the Ease of Access Center, under Explore all settings, click use the computer without a mouse or keyboard. Select the Use On-screen Keyboard and click Save.

Once the keyboard is open, you can further configure the layout. From the On-Screen Keyboard, click the Keyboard menu, and select any of the following layout options:

  • Enhanced Keyboard
  • Standard Keyboard
  • Regular Keyboard
  • Block Layout
  • 101 keys
  • 102 keys
  • 106 keys

The on-screen keyboard runs in three different modes which control how you enter data into the keyboard:

  • Clicking mode — In clicking mode, you simply click the on-screen keys.
  • Scanning mode — In scanning mode, you use a hot key or a switch-input device to type highlighted characters.
  • Hovering mode — In hovering mode, you simply use your mouse to point to a key, which is then typed.

You can change the mode by selecting the Settings menu from within the on-screen keyboard, clicking Typing Mode and choosing the mode you want to use.

Keyboard and Mouse Settings

Windows 7 includes various keyboard and mouse settings that make them easier to use. For example, normally you use a mouse to open menus, commands, and dialog boxes. If you find it difficult to use the mouse, you can press the corresponding key strokes instead. Not only can this be easier for users with physical challenges but it can also be faster once you become familiar with some of the common keystrokes.

Settings that make the keyboard easier to use:

  • Turn on Mouse Keys — This option lets you use the arrow keys on your keyboard or the numeric keypad to move the pointer.
  • Turn on Sticky Keys — This option let you press a modifier key and have it remain active until another key is pressed, as opposed to pressing three keys at once.
  • Turn on Toggle Keys — With this option enabled, Windows alerts you each time you press the Caps Lock, Num Lock, or Scroll Lock keys.
  • Turn on Filter Keys — With this option enabled, Windows ignores keystrokes that occur in rapid succession, or keystrokes that are held down for several seconds unintentionally.
  • Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys — This option makes keyboard access in dialog boxes easier by highlighting access keys for the controls in them.
  • Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen — This option prevents windows from automatically resizing and docking along the sides of your screen when you move them there.

Settings that make the mouse easier to use:

  • Change the color and size of mouse pointers — These options let you make the pointer larger and a different color
  • Turn on Mouse Keys — This option lets you use the numeric pad to control the mouse pointer
  • Activate a window by hovering over it with the mouse — This option lets you activate windows by pointing to them as opposed to clicking them
  • Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen — This option prevents windows from automatically resizing and docking along the sides of your screen when you move them there.

This should help acquaint you with the basics of Windows 7’s accessibility features. Did we miss any? Let us know about any of your favorites and how we can benefit from them, too!

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  • http://twitter.com/technoblogical Technoblogical

    I have a PC connected to the big screen TV. A solar keyboard serves as my remote. Since there is no such thing as a solar mouse, I use mouse keys. I also use larger text and icons.