[tabi] Windows accessibility article

  • From: "Chip Orange" <Corange@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 7 Sep 2010 16:25:15 -0400

The article below is from a main-stream computer e-magazine: Windows 7 News, 
published by Sunbelt Software.  at the end is a request for those who use 
assistive technology to go on to their forums and tell them about it.






Making Windows 7 More Accessible


The first computer operating systems and software applications were designed by 
and for people who had no physical disabilities, and consequently those who 
were blind, had amputations or paralysis, suffered from neuromuscular diseases 
or were otherwise disabled often had great difficulty using computers. The 
software assumed that the user could see and react to what was on the screen, 
type and use a mouse and, to a lesser extent, hear and react to sounds. For 
millions of people, those assumptions don't apply. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) brought the plight of the 
disabled to the attention of the business world. It prohibits discrimination 
based on disability and, among other things, requires employers to provide 
"reasonable accommodations" to qualified workers to help them do their jobs 
with physical limitations. The Act also includes rules governing physical 
access requirements for public entities and public transportation providers, 
and commercial facilities open to the public, as well as requirements for 
telecommunications providers. You can read more about the ADA here: 



Over the two decades since its passage, the tech industry has begun to 
recognize the needs of the disabled and both software and hardware makers have 
stepped up efforts to provide accessibility features and devices that make it 
easier for those with physical limitations to operate computers. Hardware 
vendors make alternative input devices such as Braille keyboards and 
notetakers, single handed keyboards, stick keyboards that can be operated with 
the mouth or head, and even input devices that can be controlled by a foot, an 
eyeblink, or breath. Check some of them out here: 



Touch screens have become increasingly popular for portable devices such as 
smart phones, tablets and laptops. There are also touch screen monitors 
available for desktop systems, and some disabled persons, such as those with 
Parkinson's or other diseases that impair motor skills, may find them easier to 
operate than using a mouse or trackball. On the other hand, touch screens are 
not user friendly to those with visual limitations, but there are overlays that 
can be used to make them more accessible, and many of today's popular touch 
devices allow you to enable speech output to assist visually impaired users. 



Microsoft has been working on the accessibility problem for many years. Back in 
1997, they created an initiative called Microsoft Active Accessibility (MSAA), 
that defined a standard for Windows applications so they could communicate 
important information to accessibility devices. The drawback was that the 
software companies making the applications had to revise their applications to 
make them accessible. What Microsoft does have control over is the operating 
system, and they have been building more accessibility features into each new 
version of the OS since 1992, when the company created the first full-time 
staff position dedicated to accessibility issues. The Access Pack for Windows 
added accessibility features to Windows 3.x. These included many of the 
features that we still see in Windows today, such as StickyKeys, MouseKeys and 



Over the years, Microsoft has received a number of awards from various 
organizations for their commitment to accessibility, and they have awarded 
grants to expand technology access to people with disabilities. You can read a 
history of Microsoft's activities in the accessibility area, from 1988 to the 
present, here: 



Windows 7 and Office 2010 both include improvements to the accessibility 
features, as well as carrying forward features that have been in Windows for a 
long time. Let's take a look at some of ways Windows 7 can be made more 

The Ease of Access Center gathers the accessibility settings in one centralized 
location. You access it via Control Panel or the keyboard shortcut WIN + U. The 
Magnifier and Narrator, along with the On-screen Keyboard and High Contrast 
settings, are at the top of the main pane and easy to get to. The audio (text 
to speech) feature is automatically turned on for this screen, so that it will 
read the main options to you as soon as you open it. You can configure, with 
the provided checkboxes, whether you want this section read aloud every time. 

For those who can't see (or can't read), the Narrator can be turned on manually 
or configured to run whenever you log onto Windows. It reads the screen text 
aloud and describes what's happening when error messages appear. Narrator is a 
pretty basic text reader. There are third party screen readers that can work 
better for certain purposes, but some are expensive. JAWS (Job Access With 
Speech) is one of the most popular, but the standard version costs $895. 
NaturalReader (which can also convert written text documents to MP3 or WAV 
files for your portable player), is more affordable, at $99.50 for the 
professional version. If you'll need a reader for all of your computing 
activity, you'll probably want to buy a commercial product. However, the built 
in Narrator can get the job done when visually limited folks need to use a 
public computer or a friend's computer that doesn't have the third party 
software installed. Windows 7 also includes the Audio Description feature that 
can d
 escribe what's going on in videos (when a description has been included in the 
video file). 

Here's an interesting article on how the blind experience the Internet: 



With the baby boomer generation aging, we now have a large number of computer 
users who can see, but cannot see well. Older eyes may need some magnification 
to read text and see fine detail on the screen. The Magnifier has been improved 
in Windows 7, making navigation faster. It now includes both a lens mode and a 
full screen mode in addition to the docked mode; I prefer the full screen mode. 
You can also change the lens size if you're using lens mode. Note that you can 
use only docked mode if you don't have Aero. 

You can configure the Magnifier to follow the mouse pointer, the keyboard focus 
or the text insertion point and set how much the view changes when zooming in 
or out. If you need more help seeing the display, you can turn on color 
inversion in the Magnifier, which will change a white page with black text into 
a black screen with white text, or vice versa. This can be especially helpful 
with web pages that use a dark background and light text. I've heard many 
people complain about such pages, and most didn't know that they could use this 
Magnifier option to make them more readable. 

You can also permanently set a high contrast display, make the text and icons 
permanently bigger, turn off animations and adjust the transparency settings, 
to make things easier to see. In some cases, Windows can even remove background 
images. Check out the "Make the computer easier to see" section in the 
accessibility options and play around with the settings. 

Another new feature in Windows 7 is the ability to resize the onscreen keyboard 
to make it easier to see, by simply dragging the same way you resize windows. 
The onscreen keyboard also includes the text prediction feature. When you type 
a few letters, you'll see several suggestions at the top of the keyboard for 
the most common words that begin with those letters, and you can select the 
right word with just one click instead of having to type out the rest of the 

If you can't type at all, you can use the voice command and dictation features 
to control the computer and input text with your voice. Speech recognition in 
Windows 7 still isn't perfect, but it is better than in previous versions of 
Windows, and requires less training time. You might also want to change the 
color and size of the mouse pointer to make it easier to see. Now you can do 
that within the Ease of Access Center, instead of having to hunt down that 
option in the mouse's Properties. 

If you can't hear, you can set Windows to display a visual warning instead of a 
sound notification. You can choose to flash the active caption bar, flash the 
active window, or flash the entire desktop, and you can turn on text captions 
for spoken dialog in instances where that's available. 

All this is in addition to the old familiar StickyKeys (which allows you press 
key combinations one key at a time), ToggleKeys (which sounds a tone to alert 
you if you accidentally press CAPS LOCK, NUM LOCK or SCROLL LOCK keys), 
FilterKeys (which tells Windows to ignore or slow down brief or repeated 
keystrokes, and MouseKeys (which lets you use the numeric keypad to move the 
mouse pointer around the screen). 

Finally, for those who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia or attention 
deficit disorder, Microsoft has published a Guide to help you reduce visual and 
auditory distractions and use assistive technology to make it easier to use the 
computer. You can find it here: 



Tell us what you think. Do you use the accessibility features in Windows, or do 
you know someone who does? How well do they work for you? What would you change 
or add? How about third party assistive software and hardware devices? Which 
have you found to be most - and least - helpful? Should Microsoft continue to 
add accessibility features to Windows, or do you consider this "bloatware" that 
should be a separate, optional add-on? Let us know your opinions and 
experiences by participating in our forum at 




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