BOOT CAMP 305 (16/12/03)




Last week we uncovered the hidden Accessibility features included in Windows 98, SE and ME, designed to assist those that have difficulty using a computer due to impaired mobility, vision or hearing. This week it’s the turn of Windows XP and to round off we’ll be looking at some third-party accessibility programs and resources.


XP gets off to a good start with all of the standard Accessibility features of earlier versions of Windows (see last week’s Boot Camp). These are meant to make the keyboard and mouse easier to use, help the hard of hearing with flashing warnings instead of normal PC sounds and high-contrast display schemes, to improve screen legibility. XP has a couple of extra features under Accessibility Options in Control Panel. The Display tab has slider adjustments for cursor blink rate and width, and the facility to assign Accessibility options to a User Profile has been moved to the General tab.


Microsoft has added another useful mousing feature but for some reason it is under the Mouse icon in Control Panel, on the Buttons tab. ClickLock helps if you have trouble holding down the mouse button whilst dragging or highlighting objects. When enabled all you have to do is click the mouse button once to start dragging or highlighting and click it again to drop or disengage.


Most of the rest of XP’s features are found by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > Accessibility.  At the top of the list is the Accessibility Wizard that helps users determine which features best suits their individual needs. Below that is the Screen Magnifier and this is almost identical to the one in Windows 98/SE/ME. The extra options are Narrator, which is a text to speech converter, On-Screen Keyboard and Utility Manager, which is used to control the Accessibility options from a pop-up menu using a keyboard shortcut (Winkey + U)


Narrator is an aid for the blind or partially sighted, it’s a speech synthesiser that converts the wording in menus, dialogue boxes, icons and text in any standard Windows application into speech. You can change the speed of the voice from the Speech icon in Control Panel (enormous fun…) and there’s also a window into which you can paste chunks of text for Narrator to read. A rather mechanical male voice (‘Sam’) comes as standard, or you can download alternative voices and languages, there’s more information at:



The On Screen Keyboard does exactly what it says and displays a standard QWERTY keyboard on your PC screen; keys are ‘pressed’ using the mouse pointer. It’s fairly crude but it does the job and although slow and laborious to use, it can prove useful for those unable to use a conventional mechanical keyboard.


Microsoft has another option for those who find it hard to use normal keyboards. Alternative layouts or ‘maps’ are available that move the most frequently used characters into a more convenient position, making it easier for those who can only type with one or two fingers. Details and downloads for three ‘Dvorak’ layouts can be found at:



Now for those third-party accessibility programs. It is entirely possible to use a PC without touching a mouse or keyboard. There are a number of voice-operated systems that turn speech into text and allow the PC to be controlled by spoken commands. One of the best-known and most advanced products is Dragon Naturally Speaking ( but there is a growing number of freeware and shareware utilities, which you can try before you buy at: and


The Windows Screen Magnifier is rather basic but there are lots of more sophisticated alternatives, many of which you will find on the Magnifier home page ( Here too you will also find scores of downloads for screen readers and text to speech converters plus a great deal of help and information for those with disabilities.


Blind and visually impaired PC users should also visit the RNID website ( and for an interesting and unusual selection of software try also:, and


Needless to say there’s also a great deal of information and resources for the deaf and hard of hearing on the web and a good place to start would be the RNID site (, also worth investigating are: and


Next week – About Time





Simplified keyboard layout designed by August Dvorak and William Dealey in the 1930s, as an easy to learn alternative to the traditional QWERTY layout



Software that controls the layout and assignment of character and function keys on a PC keyboard



Program that reads text displayed on a computer screen and converts it into synthesised speech




The Internet is a fantastic resource for anyone with any kind of physical impairment and there are tens of thousands of websites devoted to making computers easier to use. Many web sites are devoted to specific disabilities but there are also plenty of general accessibility sites for PC users; here are a few that are worth a visit:

Search PCTopTips 



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