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 overhead lighting.

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:

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:

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 choose.

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.  

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