BOOT CAMP 222 (23/04/02)




Following on from last week’s introduction to the Accessibility features in Windows 9x, in part two we’re focusing on Windows XP, and a brief look at what’s available in the way of third-party software and peripherals for those with mobility, vision or hearing difficulties.


Windows XP comes with the same basic set of Accessibility tools as Windows 9x, namely the keyboard utilities (Mouse Keys, Sticky Keys, Filter Keys etc.), options for those with impaired sight (screen magnifier, high contrast display schemes, caps lock bleeper etc.) and hearing problems (visual indications of sounds). In addition Windows XP Accessibility Options (in Control Panel) has two new settings for adjusting the cursor blink rate and width. There’s also a new feature in ‘Mouse’ in Control Panel called ClickLock, which lets you drag and drop objects without having to hold down the mouse button. However, the most significant new features can be found by clicking on Start >Programs and Accessibility.


Here you will find the familiar Windows Accessibility Wizard that helps you to access the features best suited to your particular disability and the Screen Magnifier, which is very similar to the one in Windows 9x. The new options are Narrator, the On-Screen Keyboard and Utility Manager, which controls the various Accessibility features.


Narrator is a speech synthesiser program for those suffering from partial or complete blindness. It can announce the contents of menus dialogue boxes and desktop icons and reads text. It works with most Windows applications and comes with one rather gravelly mechanical male voice called  ‘Sam’ but alternative voices (Mike and Mary) can be downloaded free from the Microsoft web site (, click Search and type ‘mike and mary’) and other software and shareware sources. Voice speed (great fun to play with…) is controlled form the Speech icon in Control Panel where there is also an area where you can paste blocks of text that Sam, Mike or Mary will read aloud.


The On-screen keyboard is designed for PC users with serious mobility problems. It displays a standard QWERTY layout that can be positioned anywhere on the screen, the ‘keys’ are pressed by clicking the mouse. The introductory dialogue box points out that functionality is limited but it’s certainly good enough for short typing jobs.


For those who can only use a keyboard with difficulty -- with one or two hands -- it’s worth having a look at some of the alternative ‘maps’. The best known are Dvorak layouts, which puts the most frequently accessed characters in the centre of the keyboard, Microsoft has three Dvorak maps for download (right, left or two-handed) at:


By the way, it’s worth pointing out that Microsoft doesn’t have a monopoly on accessibility features, for more details of what the Apple Mac has to offer have a look at:


As well as all of the accessibility facilities in operating systems like Windows and Mac OS there are a huge number of programs, utilities and devices on the market for disabled PC users. Specialist pointing devices and keyboards are designed to cater for a wide spectrum of mobility problems. Anyone with restricted hand movement may find that something as simple as changing to a trackball type mouse will make their PC a good deal easier to use. Trackpads are also worth investigating, these are larger versions of the touch pads used on a lot of laptops. Trackpads for desktop PCs are available separately or built into a keyboard. For those with a very limited range of movement, up to and including total paralysis and quadriplegia, there are pointing devices that can be controlled using small movements of the head, foot and eye (see Useful Links).


PCs can also be effectively operated using voice recognition software. Dragon Naturally Speaking ( is the leader in this area and in addition to dictating text it can also be used to control the mouse and menu functions in Windows and all standard Windows applications and web browsers. There are also a number of shareware and freeware programs of varying sophistication and


For the visually impaired there are huge number of resources on the Internet, including speech synthesisers, screen magnifiers, Braille display and printing programs, specialist software and display enhancements, links to many of them can be found at: and There’s a comprehensive list of shareware and freeware utilities at: and An interesting freeware program that re-configures PC display colours for colour-blind users is at and there’s even a site dedicated to computer games specially written for the blind at:


Accessibility is much less of a problem for the deaf and hard of hearing but there is a still lot of help and information on the web, with the emphasis on educational software, signing and speech therapy. There are some useful links at: and





Next week –  All about Fonts





Keyboard character and function assignments, controlled by small driver program, accessed from the Keyboard icon (Language tab) in Control Panel



Basically a static inverted mouse where you move a large ‘ball’ to move the pointer



Pressure-sensitive pad that moves the mouse pointer around the screen with light finger movements



If your vision is impaired and you are having problems reading web pages there are a number of things you can do to improve legibility. First try increasing the text size of your browser’s display. In Internet Explorer this can be found on the View menu. Switching off coloured backgrounds makes a big difference (even if you have normal sight…), this option is on the IE Tools menu, select Internet Options, then the General tab and click the Accessibility button. You can reduce the clutter on web pages by disabling pictures and graphics, it is controlled from the Advanced Tab in Internet Options, scroll down the list to Multimedia and uncheck ‘Show Pictures’. Finally, a lot of web pages have Text-Only versions and these are usually much easier to read.

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