BOOT CAMP 222 (23/04/02)
WINDOWS ACCESSIBILITY, part 2
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 (www.microsoft.com, 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: http://www.apple.com/disability/easyaccess.html
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 (www.dragontalk.com/) 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
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: http://user.mc.net/pb357/simtel.htm
There’s a comprehensive list of shareware and freeware utilities at: www.blindsoftware.com/ and www.rbs.org.au/adaptivetech/freeshare.html.
An interesting freeware program that re-configures PC display colours for
colour-blind users is at www.toledo-bend.com/colorblind/shareware.html
and there’s even a site dedicated to computer games specially written for the
blind at: www.gamesfortheblind.com/.
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: http://home.earthlink.net/~dcastle7/ccs/links/links.html
Next week – All about
Keyboard character and function assignments, controlled by
small driver program, accessed from the Keyboard icon (Language tab) in Control
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.