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How-To Geek

How Anyone Can Benefit from Windows’ Accessibility Options

The accessibility options that are available in Windows have been designed to help people that have difficulty using a computer because of a condition or impairment, but there are plenty of interesting options that could prove incredibly useful to everyone. We will reveal how the Ease of Access Center could help you.

The Ease of Access Center can be found in the Control Panel and is home to a wealth of settings relating to how you interact with your computer, how notifications appear and much more. Settings can be adjusted on a piecemeal basis, so if there’s something you’re not interested in, you don’t have to use it.

Display Options

Open up the Ease of Access Center and look to the ‘Explore all settings’ section. Click ‘Use the computer without a display (even if you intend to use a monitor) and you can choose how long Windows’ notifications should remain on screen. This is handy if you tend to stay focused on what you’re doing and find that the popups disappear before you’ve had chance to read them.

Windows’ built in Magnifier tool is not only useful for computer users with sight problems. The tool can be activated via the Ease of Access Center, or from the Start screen and it enables you to zoom in on a section of the screen.

This is handy for graphics work, particularly if you opt to use the magnifier in a floating window that can be moved around the screen as necessary.

Windows Control

You’re probably used to interacting with Windows using a mouse and keyboard in a fairly standard way, but don’t feel obliged to do things the ‘normal’ way. Regardless of whether you have a touchscreen monitor, Windows’ On-Screen Keyboard can come in very handy – just move to the ‘Use the computer without a mouse of keyboard’ section.

Suppose your physical keyboard starts to act up. If you find that a particular key does not work, the screen version can be used until you manage to get a replacement sorted out.

Speech recognition can be something of a hit and miss affair, particularly if you have a strong or unusual accent, but it provides a very useful way of interacting with your computer hands-free. The Speech Recognition applet can be accessed either through the main Control Panel or through the Ease of Access Center.

It’s well worth spending the time to run through the training modules for as long as possible, as this will dramatically improve the accuracy of speech-to-text, which can then be used to control Windows and dictate into documents.

Not everyone feels at home moving a mouse around, and it can certainly be tricky to make pinpoint movements with such a clumsy device. To make things a little easier and more accurate, head to the ‘Make the mouse easier to use section’.

Activate Mouse Keys (in the ‘Make the mouse easier to use’ section) and you can then use the cursor keys in your keyboard’s numpad to move the cursor around. This is particularly useful if you need to move in a perfect horizontal or vertical plane.  Click the ‘Set up Mouse Keys’ link to configure various options such as whether the feature should be activated when NumLock is on or when it is off.

Back at the main mouse section, you can reduce the amount of clicking you need to do when working with programs and window by checking the box labelled ‘Activate a window by hovering over it with the mouse’, while the option beneath this displays Windows’ ‘snapping’ features.

Keyboard and Sound

If you now move to the ‘Make the keyboard easier to use’ section, you’ll find that there is a degree of crossover with the mouse section – there are additional options, however.

Sticky Keys provides a way to execute keyboard shortcuts such as Ctrl + Alt + Del without the need to press all keys simultaneously: you can press them one at a time to build up the combination.

Especially useful is Toggle Keys. Enable this feature and you’ll hear a beep whenever Caps Lock is pressed – if you have a password that includes the letter A, and suffer from trailing fingers, you’ll know just how handy this is.

The sound settings that are to be found in the Ease of Access Center are not just helpful for users with hearing problems. Click the ‘Use text or visual alternatives for sounds’ and you can configure your computer for those times when you need your computer to be silent.

By activating Sound Sentry, you can receive visual alerts such as flashing the desktop or program window instead of playing sounds – something your co-workers at the office will no doubt thank you for.

Mark Wilson is a software fiend and a fan of the new, shiny and intriguing. Never afraid to get his hands dirty with some full-scale geekery, he’s always trying out the latest apps, hacks and tweaks. He can be found on Twitter and Google+.

  • Published 03/26/13

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