BOOT CAMP 221 (16/04/02)




It’s hard enough learning to drive a PC when you’re reasonably able-bodied but spare a thought for those with impaired mobility, vision or hearing that can make even the simplest tasks, like using a keyboard, moving the mouse or viewing the display, awkward or difficult.


Windows has a number of ‘Accessibility’ features designed to make using a PC easier for those with a wide range of disabilities but these are not always installed by default or immediately obvious in normal day to day use. Many PC owners remain unaware that they even exist but they are well worth getting to know, even if you are currently sound of wind and limb because who knows what the future holds in store…


This week we’ll start with the built-in Accessibility features in Windows 98/SE and ME, (Windows 95 has a more limited feature set), next week it’s the turn of Windows XP and we’ll also take a take a quick look at some of the many add-ons and third-party aids available.


The first step is to install the Accessibility options. To do that go to Control Panel (Start > Settings), you may already have an Accessibility icon there but it’s unlikely that all of the components have been loaded. Either way, go to Add/Remove Programs and select the Windows Setup tab, tick both items under Accessibility, then click OK and follow the prompts. This may involve loading your Windows installation disc so make sure you have it to hand.


Once that’s done clicking on the Accessibility icon in Control Panel should bring up a tabbed dialogue box, we’ll deal with each tab in turn. The Keyboard tab has three basic options: Sticky Keys, Filter Keys and Toggle Keys.  Sticky keys are a boon for those complicated keyboard shortcuts involving pressing and holding two or three widely spaced keys, instead Sticky Keys lets you press them in sequence. If you have trouble with finger or hand coordination or suffer from trembling or involuntary movement Filter Keys can be set to ignore unintentionally repeated keystrokes. Toggle Keys enables a short audible bleep whenever the Caps Lock, Num Lock or Scroll Lock keys are pressed.


The Sound tab has two options for those with hearing difficulties. Sound Sentry flashes the caption bar or desktop whenever the PC makes a sound and when Show Sounds is enabled a warning message or caption pops up to let you know that Windows or one of your programs has made a sound.


Failing or limited eyesight, (even total blindness, see next week) need not be a barrier to using word processor and spreadsheet software. The Display tab in Accessibility has a high-contrast setting that switches the display to a bold colour scheme with larger menus and icons and black on white or white on black text or a variety of high-contrast colour combinations. You will also find a selection of extra large mouse pointers and cursors if you click the Mouse button in Control Panel. For those who share their PC with others the alternate display setting can be toggled on and off with a simple keyboard shortcut.


If you find using a conventional mouse difficult and do not get on with other types of pointing device, like trackballs, the Mouse tab lets you control pointer movement and mouse functions from the numeric keypad on the keyboard. Most keyboards nowadays have the direction arrows printed on the keys; unfortunately it’s not made clear how to replicate the actions of the right and left mouse buttons for things like drag and drop so we’ll put that to rights now. The ‘0’ and the ‘*’ keys work like mouse buttons, and they’re used in combination to ‘pick up’ and ‘drop’ highlighted text or objects. It takes a little practice but you soon get used to it


The General tab has the option to switch Accessibility features off after a period of inactivity; it also assigns sounds to accessibility features and enables other special devices to connect to the PC.


One of the most useful features for those with poor eyesight is the Screen Magnifier. For some reason it is kept separate from the other Accessibility features and can be found by going to Start > Programs > Accessories> Magnifier (you may want to create a new desktop shortcut if you are going to be using it regularly). Screen Magnifier splits the screen into two parts, the top section being a magnified version of what’s below. The size of the two screens can be altered by moving the separator up or down as necessary and the level of magnification (between x2 and x9) can be changed from the dialogue box, along with various other settings. There are also a number of keyboard shortcuts worth getting to know and these can be found in Windows help, just type ‘mag’ in the search field.


If you prefer not to configure the Accessibility options manually Windows has a simple to follow ‘Wizard’ facility that helps you to identify and enable the features best suited to your particular disability. You will find the Wizard at: Start > Programs > Accessories > Accessibility.


Finally, accessibility settings can also be assigned to a User Profile. In other words, if you share your PC with others all of your personal options will be automatically enabled when you log on with your password, just click the Password icon in Control Panel and select the User Profile tab to switch it on.



Next week – Windows Accessibility, part 2





Colouration of Windows desktop and screen elements, such as task, tool and menu bars, active and inactive windows and drop-down menus



A simple and ideally memorable sequence of two or three key-strokes, used to invoke a frequently used action or activity within a program or application



Helper program that helps you to configure a program or utility in a series of simple to follow steps



Whilst the Windows Screen Magnifier is a very useful tool for those who need an enlarged display all of the time it’s sometimes handy to be able to view just small portion of the screen. A simple freeware utility called Dragnifier changes your mouse cursor into a virtual magnifying glass. It’s highly customisable with variable sized ‘glass’ and magnification level and a measuring reticule. The download file is only around 130k and it’s free (though the author says all contributions gratefully received…). For more details and a link to the self-extracting zip file go to:

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