Accessibility features are designed to help people with disabilities use technology more comfortably. Although some accessibility features require special software downloads, many are built into the operating system of your computer or mobile device. For this class and while working at my school, I use a laptop with the Windows 7 operating system. I have never really pursued using the accessibility features available on this system, but through research and experimentation with the system, I have found many accessibility features that would benefit the needs of others who might have a disability and would find the normal features of Windows 7 difficult to use.
Microsoft supplies a central location for locating their accessibility settings and programs. They call it the “Ease of Access Center” and it can be found in the Control Panel or by pressing the Windows Key + the letter U when logging in to the computer. The first item that is listed in the Ease of Access center is an option a user can click on that allows Windows to suggest settings to make the computer easier to see, hear, and use. The user can fill out a questionnaire regarding their sight, dexterity, hearing, speech, and reasoning. Depending on the user’s disabilities, this questionnaire might be hard for the user to fill out on their own, but it could be completed with assistance from another person. Once the questionnaire is filled out, the user can obtain a list of recommended settings to try. The Ease of Access center also provides quick access to common tools that are used for accessibility and one can explore the settings by category (Microsoft, 2015).
Accessibility Tools for Those with Vision Difficulties
The magnifier tool in the Ease of Access Center magnifies the screen or a portion of the screen to make text, images, and objects easier to see. This makes it easier to view text and images and see the whole screen more easily which would benefit someone with visual impairments. One can set the magnification level to up to 16 times the original size. One can also make the computer easier to see by selecting a High Contrast Theme. With a high contrast theme, colors are inverted so white becomes black and black becomes white. This would benefit users with weak eyesight because it helps make it easier to read the text and reduces eye strain. Users can also turn off unnecessary animations that might be distracting and can change the size and color of the mouse pointer in order to make it easier to be seen on the screen. There is also an option available to use the computer without a display. This tool would allow those with poor eyesight or the blind to be able to use the computer. By clicking on certain options, one can have the text read aloud and also receive an audio description of what is happening in videos.
Accessibility Tools for those with Dexterity Difficulties
Windows 7 offers the capabilities to use the computer without the need to use the keyboard or mouse. If a person is missing limbs, has dexterity issues, or has other physical or cognitive disabilities, settings can be chosen to use a pointing device. Users would be able to type on an on-screen keyboard using a mouse or another pointing device such as a joystick by selecting keys from a picture of a keyboard (Roblyer, 2016, p. 412). The on-screen keyboard can also be re-sized and customized so that it is easier to see and use. Text prediction can be enabled as one types so a list of words pops up that predicts what the person might be typing so he/she might not have to type out the whole word. One can also avoid using the mouse or keyboard by choosing a setting to speak into a microphone to control the computer, open programs, and dictate text (Microsoft, 2015). In Windows 7, the computer can also be set up so that the mouse can be controlled by the keyboard. The mouse would be turned off and controlled by the numeric keypad. The keyboard can also be adjusted for ease of use. “Sticky Keys” could be turned on so that instead of having to press three keys all at once like Ctrl+Alt+Delete, one can press one key at a time. Filter keys is another feature that can be turned on. When this feature is turned on, the computer would ignore or slow down brief repeated keystrokes or when someone holds down a key for several seconds unintentionally. If a user finds the keyboard and mouse to be too difficult to use, Windows 7 does offer Windows Touch. With Windows Touch, if a user has a touch-screen monitor, he/she can just touch the computer screen in order to work (Microsoft, 2015). I do not have a touch screen monitor so I was not able to try this feature out, but it seems similar to using an iPad.
Accessibility Tools for Those with Hearing Difficulties
In Windows 7, there are text or visual alternatives available for sounds. Visual notifications can be turned on when sounds occur. Text captions can also be turned on for spoken dialog.
Exploring the accessibility tools available in Windows 7 really got me thinking about some of my students and how I can better help them while they are in my computer lab. I have never heard of any of our students being referred to an assistive technology team as mentioned in Roblyer (2016, p. 408); however, now that I know about the tools that are readily available within our software, I feel more prepared to offer suggestions for ways to better use our technology to support my students as they grow and learn.
Microsoft. (2015). Microsoft accessibility. In Microsoft. Retrieved November 15, 2016, from https://www.microsoft.com/enable/products/windows7/
Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed., pp. 408-412). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.