With the release of Windows 7, Microsoft has improved upon accessibility tools and customization of a computer. First open the control panel and click on the Ease of Access Center icon. This will open a menu that initially speaks what is displayed. You can deselect this option. There are four main choices within the center: Magnifier, On Screen Keyboard, Narrator, and High Contrast.
The magnifier is very good and offers three different displays. The first zooms the entire screen. You can move the view by moving the pointer to the sides of the screen. If you do not want the entire screen displayed large, you can set the pointer as a small rectangular magnifying glass. Moving the mouse magnifies an area directly under the pointer. The last setting attaches a screen width bar that magnifies where ever the pointer is, creating a duplicate within the length of the bar. These features will assist those with partial impairment of the eyes, or anyone who wants an extreme close up of their screen.
The on screen key board is an excellent tool for those with motor or mobility disabilities. By connecting a pointing device appropriate for the learner, the onscreen keyboard can help those who cannot type, but who love to express themselves with words, or who just need a little extra help selecting the right character.
For those with visual impairments, the narrator can be quite helpful. The narrator mimics every action by the mouse and keyboard by expressing the action most recently taken. The narrator reads aloud as the user types or whenever the mouse hovers or selects an item. This can be very useful for those with visual impairments and who need extra assistance reading the screen. Students with dyslexia can also benefit from hearing what is on the screen as well as what they type.
The high contrast setting is also for those with visual impairments and allows users to select a simplified color display that helps organize the screen and make information easy to find. This can also be helpful for those who are color blind and need the display to register colors they can detect.
One additional tool that was not in the Ease of Access Center is the speech recognition program, found in the control panel. After playing with this program for a while, I began to enjoy quickly accessing information or pages without having to use the mouse. By using certain commands, areas of the screen are highlighted along with a numbering system. Select the number you desire and say, “OK.” If you ever wonder what commands you can use, simply say, “What can I say?” and Windows will show a reference card with available commands. Something else that I am enjoying, is speaking this blog. Anyone can use this application, but people with motor or mobility disabilities could use this in addition to other pointing methods to create a quicker computing experience. One useful element of this application is its ability to adapt to the user’s speech patterns, intonation and pronunciation, by continuously learning how the person speaks.