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New Accessibility Tools in Windows 10

by Craig Mill

on Fri Jun 21, 2019

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Technology to support learners with visual impairment - a guide to using built-in tools and features in Windows and Microsoft Word

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The latest update to Microsoft Windows 10 (May 2019 version 1903) includes some new accessibility improvements to support visually impaired learners.

In March 2019, I wrote a blog article highlighting some of the tools available in Windows. However, the latest Windows 10 update includes not only new tools, but enhancements to existing features.  

These include:

Cursor & Pointer

With Cursor and Pointer you can change the size and colour of the mouse pointer.

Cursor and Pointer

The size of the mouse pointer can be enlarged or made smaller by moving the slider bar left to right and vice versa, e.g. the size of the mouse pointer changes incrementally from the small default ‘size 1’ to very large (humongous!) ‘size 15’.

Mouse sizes 

 

When the mouse pointer changes for use with other activities, such as ‘Text Select’ or ‘Precision Select’, ‘Horizontal/Vertical Resize’ the pointer size remains consistent. 

cursor options and sizes

Make the cursor easier to see when typing. 

Although this feature isn't new to Windows the introduction of a slider bar makes it easier to quickly change the size or thickness of the 'blinking' cursor, which can be helpful to identify and follow the location of the cursor when typing.

Make the cursor easier to see when typing

You can change the cursor size from 1 (default) to 20, largest. 

Make the cursor easier to see in word

Pointer colour

The Pointer Colour tool offers different colour pointer options, including a ‘Pick a custom pointer colour’. 

change pointer colour Different mouse pointer colours

  • To open Cursor & Pointer go to: Windows Start Menu > Settings (the cog icon) > Ease of Access > Cursor & Pointer (or type Cursor and Pointer in the newly designed Windows Search box).

Display and Make text bigger

Although ‘Make text bigger’ has been around for a while it was not available to all Windows users (something to do with different display sizes apparently). The 1903 update makes it more widely available to all Windows 10 computers. 
 
The size of the text can be increased from 100% to 225% and will work on a range of Windows items such as folders, toolbars, menus etc.

After choosing the preferred text size and clicking 'Apply' the computer screen will turn blue for a short time to make the changes.  

Make text bigger

  • To open Display go to: Windows Start Menu > Settings (the cog icon) > Ease of Access > Display (or type Display in the newly designed Windows Search box).

Make text bigger in Word example

Make everything bigger

As well as increasing the text size, the whole Windows environment (Desktop and other applications such as Microsoft Word) can be increased incrementally from 100% to 175%.

Make everything bigger

  • To open Make everything bigger go to: Windows Start Menu > Settings (the cog icon) > Ease of Access > Display (or type 'Make text bigger' in the newly designed Windows Search box).

Magnifier 

Windows Magnifier has also received an update, although I didn't notice any additional features. However, I did notice a significant improvement in the performance of the Magnifier.  Previously I found Windows Magnifier tended to be 'juddery' when magnified at higher levels, even on my new laptop. I found a noticeable difference in how 'smooth' the magnifier worked, even when zoomed in at high levels. 

Magnifier will also follow the cursor as you are typing, similar to follow-focus on the iPad, making it easier to locate and follow the cursor when writing documents and emails. 

Disappointingly, Windows Magnifier still suffers from pixilation, even at low zoom levels, despite the 'Smooth edged of images and text' being turned on. But when Magnifier is used in conjunction with 'Make everything bigger' the pixilation disappears. 

  • To start Magnifer go to: Windows Start Menu > Settings (the cog icon) > Ease of Access > Display (or type 'Magnifier' in the newly designed Windows Search box).
  • Alternatively, press and hold the Windows & + (plus) keys to launch the app. 

Stand-alone or in combination?

For some users with low vision, the combination of setting larger text and mouse pointers makes Windows easier to see and use, although simply using one setting may suffice. Don't be scared to experiment, try out the various settings in combination with each other. Windows now offers a range of flexible tools which can be personalised to support learners with visual difficulties. 

Narrator 

Narrator has also benefited from new improvements and is now comparable to a fully fledge screen reader.  I highlighted some of Narrators' features of Narrator in a previous blog article (scroll to the bottom of the page).

When you start Narrator for the first time you are greeted with a new window with some basic user instructions - which are well worth taking the time to read. 

Narrator introduction

After clicking the 'OK' button the next screen offers some helpful 'getting started' guides, a built-in tutorial, including important keyboard shortcuts to make the most of Narrator.  

Welcome to Narrator

Narrator will work on a range of Windows applications such as Microsoft Office, browsing the web, and you can also use it to read aloud as you type. 

  • To start Narrator go to: Windows Start Menu > Settings (the cog icon) > Ease of Access > Narrator (or type 'Narrator' in the newly designed Windows Search box). 
  • Or alternatively press and hold the Windows + ​Ctrl + Enter keys to start and stop Narrator. 

With the combination of Narrator, large mouse pointers, large text and Windows Magnifier the built-in tools in Windows offer a free yet qualitative range of tools to support learners with a visual impairment. 

Tags: accessibility, ease of access, visual impairment

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