Chapter 10 - Accessibility

In the previous chapter, we covered different ways to give your computer a look all its own. Your operating system also boasts several options to make your computer more accessible.

Computers set up with standard options aren't always too accommodating. For users with arthritis, a mouse can be difficult to master. Many with sight problems will find onscreen text too small to read. (Changing font size was covered in "Chapter 9: Make it your own.")

There are many hardware add-ons to help adapt your computer to special needs (discussed later in this chapter), but first try some easy adjustments before making any more major purchases.

More options

Windows features a built-in control panel called Accessibility Options. To get to it, click on Start - Settings - Control Panel. Double click Accessibility Options.

If you can't find these options, Windows might have been installed without them. No problem. Just locate your original Windows CD, then open the Add/Remove Programs control panel. Click on the Windows Setup tab, and double click Accessibility in the list. Check Accessibility Options and Accessibility Tools and click OK.

Macintosh computers feature even more extensive accessibility options, but they (usually) have to first be installed from the CD.

Place the MacOS disc (System 7.x or higher) in the drive and double click the CD Extras folder. Then, double click the Universal Access folder and drag the CloseView and Easy Access icons onto the system folder. Once the programs are installed, restart the computer.

Here are some settings that can help you more easily operate your computer:

Mouse settings

Where you'll find it:

 

Windows: Control panel - Mouse
Mac: Control panels - Mouse

Your computer is set up to use mouse settings that are fine for most, but they can be tweaked to better suit your hand. If double-clicking continues to be a challenge, you can make an adjustment to slow it down. If the mouse shoots across the screen too quickly when you move your hand, you can change its sensitivity.

If you're a left-handed Windows user, you can also switch the mouse buttons so you click with the right button and right-click with the left button. Confusing? Well it will be when someone tells you to right click and you actually have to left-click.

Keyboard

Where you'll find it:

 

Windows: Control panel - Keyboard
Mac: Control panels - Keyboard

People seldom adjust their computer's keyboard settings, but there are a few settings here that you might want to adjust. If you have a bad habit of resting your hand on the M key and often wind up with "MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM" in the middle of a letter you're typing, you can turn off the repeat so holding down the M key will yield only one "M."

Both Windows and MacOS offer users a selection of keyboard settings to help users who have trouble with the standard keyboard and mouse. In Windows, you'll find them in the Accessibility Options control panel. On the Mac, go to the Easy Access control panel.

  • StickyKeys (PC and Mac): Allows you to make key combinations such as CTRL-ALT-DEL by pressing one key at a time. Good if you have difficult holding down keys while pressing others.
  • MouseKeys (PC and Mac): Allow you to control the cursor with the numeric keypad instead of the mouse
  • FilterKeys (Windows): Tells Windows to ignore brief or repeated keystrokes or slow the repeat rate. You can also adjust this in the Keyboard control panel.
  • Slow Keys (Mac): Lets you change the time it takes for a keystroke to be registered on the screen.
  • ToggleKeys (Windows): Plays a tone when you turn your Caps Lock or Num Lock off and on.

Magnifier (Windows) and CloseView (Mac)

Where you'll find it:

 

Windows: Programs - Accessories - Accessibility - Magnifier
Mac: Control panels - CloseView

Both the MacOS and Windows come with utilities to make the screen more readable for people with low vision.

Microsoft's free Magnifier program places a magnified portion of the screen at the top of your desktop. The magnified window shows you where the action is at, focusing on the cursor, keyboard and other input devices. (If you can't find it, you may have installed Accessibility Options without the Accessibility Tools box checked. Refer to the earlier instructions.)

CloseView, part of the MacOS's Easy Access package, is a screen enlarger that magnifies the entire screen (text, graphics, the menu bar, the cursor) up to 16 times the original size. You can use the CloseView box to toggle magnification on and off as needed. The program can also reverse the display to white on black, which can make it easier for many visually impaired people to read.

There are also several third-party magnification programs on the market.

Sound and visual alerts

Where you'll find it:

 

Where you'll find it: Windows: Control panel - Accessibility
Mac: Control panels - Easy Access

For many with sight or hearing problems, depending on your other senses can be imperative. Information that commonly alerts by sound can be made visual, and vice versa.

ShowSounds (Windows): Tells programs to show captions for the sounds it makes. Sound Sentry (Windows): Shows visual warnings for error messages. Visual Alerts (Mac): Tells programs to generate visual warnings for the sounds it makes.

For more specifics on other operating system adjustments, you can visit Microsoft's Accessibility Home at http://www.microsoft.com/enable/ or Apple's Special Needs section at http://www.apple.com/disability/

Accessibility add-ons

If, after adjusting the many software settings, your computer still falls short of accommodating your special needs, you might want to consider some add-on devices. Whether you use a Mac or PC, you'll find several companies producing specialized devices and software compatible with your computer.

Products include, adaptive keyboards with larger keys, screen readers that read text to you, and alternative pointing devices in which the cursor is controlled by a large roller, foot pedals or even your head using an infrared sensor.

NEXT - Chapter 11 - Printing