BOOT CAMP 55
Like it or lump it seems to have been the attitude of
computer and software developers since the earliest days of the PC. Systems for
the office and home have been mostly designed for a notional Mr and Mrs
average, sound in wind and limb with a full compliment of working eyes and
ears. Numerous common disabilities conspire to make PCs difficult or even
impossible to use. However the two areas that cause the most problems are input
devices, such as keyboards and mice and video displays.
Windows 98 and to a slightly lesser extent, Windows 95, has
a number of 'Accessibility' features that can help make life easier for those
with a range of mobility or visual impairments though they are not normally
loaded by default during a routine installation. The first step therefore is to
install the necessary utilities from the Windows CD-ROM. From the Start menu go
to Settings then Control Panel and Add/Remove programs. Select the Windows
Setup tab, check the Accessibility box then follow the instructions.
Once installed a new Accessibility icon will appear in Control
Panel. The basic options -- common to both Windows 95 and 98 -- cover keyboard
actions, visual indicators for sounds, high contrast settings for the display
and a way to divert mouse movement commands to the keyboard. Additionally
Windows 98 has a very useful screen magnifier and a configuration Wizard that
helps users adapt Windows to their specific needs.
The keyboard features are 'Sticky Keys', 'Filter Keys', and
'Toggle Keys'. Sticky Keys makes it easier to use keyboard commands or shortcuts
that require the Shift, Ctrl or Alt key to be held down, whilst pressing
another key; when activated key sequences can be entered one at a time. Filter
Keys helps those with poor hand/finger control or conditions that cause
trembling by instructing the keyboard to disregard involuntary or repeated
keystrokes and to slow down the keyboard repetition rate. Toggle Keys engages
an audible bleeper to warn when the Caps Lock, Scroll Lock or Number Lock keys
have been pressed.
There are two sound options. Sound Sentry can be set to
flash an application's desktop, caption bar or active window, or individual
elements, such as borders or characters, when the PC makes a sound. Show Sounds
instructs Windows or the application to generate text captions whenever it makes
a warning sound. On the display tab there
is High Contrast mode which reverses or inverts the display -- i.e. it turns the
image negative and at the same time it increases the size of the menu bar and
Start button text and Taskbar icons, to make them easier to see. This works
very well on word processors and spreadsheets and is also worth trying if
you're having trouble seeing the display due to reflections from windows or
MouseKeys is intended for those with restricted hand
movement, but who can still use a keyboard. This feature transfers mouse
control to the numeric keypad on the right side of the keyboard. Many recent
Windows keyboards already have the direction arrows printed on the numeric
keys, with the mouse buttons assigned to surrounding keys.
The Screen Magnifier is included with Windows 98 as standard
though again it is not installed by default. It is an option on the
Accessibility menu in Control Panel or it can be found by typing 'Screen Magnify'
in the Help Index. When it is running the screen is split into two sections;
the horizontal divider can be moved to alter the size of the upper viewing window.
The lower window shows the application you are using. The magnification factor
can be adjusted between 2x and 9x; the viewing screen can be set to follow the mouse
pointer, keyboard focus or text editor. From the Magnifier dialogue box it is also
possible to switch the image to a negative display and select the High Contrast
display scheme. If you are using an older version of Windows, or another
operating system there are lots of third-party screen magnifier programs,
including some excellent freeware and shareware utilities that can be
downloaded from the Internet. The Screen Magnifier Homepage (presented in a
large easy to read typeface) is a good place to begin: http://www.plex.nl/~pverhoe/main2.html
People who are totally blind or have very limited vision have
the option to use various types of non-visual media. Voice synthesiser systems
that translate text and program control information into speech have proven
successful. Refreshable Braille displays provide the same kind of feedback --
about what is happening on the screen -- this time in a tactile form. The Royal
National Institute for the Blind web site contains a wealth of information and
links for visually impaired PC users, it can be found at: http://www.rnib.org.uk
For those who have problems with a standard QWERTY keyboard
there are many alternatives, including on-screen keyboards, specialist designs
that can be used single-handed, models with extra large keys, keys embossed
with Braille characters or customised to meet the needs of a specific
disability. It's worth talking to the society, association or charity linked to
the sufferer's particular condition for more detailed advice.
Some users may find a trackball is a better alternative to a
mouse or keyboard. It is also worth experimenting with the mouse motion
settings, these can be found by clicking on the Mouse icon in Control Panel.
While you are there check the various different kinds of pointers available,
there are larger and coloured versions that can be easier to see.
Voice control and text and data entry is now a viable
solution for anyone who cannot, or doesn't want to use a keyboard. The
performance of voice recognition software continues to improve at an incredible
rate, helped in no small part by the increased power of modern PCs and that will
be the subject for next week's Boot Camp.
Next Week -- Talking to your PC
A virtual keyboard where characters are selected using a
mouse pointer or other means, such as voice control or movement
A kind of upside-down mouse, where screen pointer movement
is controlled by moving a large ball
Software that converts text -- including menu options and
commands -- appearing on the PC screen into speech
Most of us are creatures of habit and once the PC has booted
up to the Windows desktop we normally open the same applications every time.
Why bother? Windows can do it for you, automatically, launching any program you
Go to the Start button, then Programs and scroll down the
list until you come to Start Up, click the right mouse button and select Open. Now
you can drag and drop the icon of your chosen program from the desktop into the
open Start Up window. If you want to keep the icon on the desktop hold down the
Crtl key when you click on the icon, this makes a copy and leaves the original
where it is. If your program isn't on the desktop open Windows Explorer and
open the application folder. Look for the program's '.exe' file, highlight then
click on copy (or Ctrl + C) and paste (Ctrl + V) it into the Start Up window. To
delete a program from Start Up use the Remove facility on the Taskbar and Start
Menu item that can be found in the Settings folder on the Start menu.