Saturday, September 21

Make Windows 10 Easier to Use – Accessibility Guide

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The Windows operating system has always been quite good at providing accessibility tools, all designed to make using a PC easier for those with sight, hearing or other difficulties. Windows 10 has improved and added to those tools, and even if you don’t need to take advantage of all (or even most) of them, understanding how you can make your computer easier to use is a big step towards becoming comfortable in our digital world.

Getting the most out of your Windows 10 PC is often all about knowing how to get it to look and work exactly how you need it to. Lets take a look at some of the most useful accessibility tools Windows 10 has to offer, and how you can use them to make your PC easier to use.

Ease of Access Settings

In Windows 10, accessibility tools can be found under the title “Ease of Access” in the main settings menu. Click the Start menu, then click the small cog icon and finally click “Ease of Access”. Several of the tools here are specifically designed for certain disabilities. For example, Narrator, aimed more at blind users, will read out controls, text and buttons on the screen when the mouse is moved over them. We will look at these in more depth in another guide, and for now stick with more general tools.

windows 10 settings

Zoom in on the Screen

The magnifier is a great accessibility tool if you sometimes struggle to read the text of the screen (but don’t need to go as far as having it read out to you). Enable it in the Ease of Access settings and the screen will immediately zoom to 200%. Because the content is now larger than the screen can fit, you can scroll around by moving the mouse pointer to the edge of the visible section.

The magnifier tool shows up as a small magnifying glass icon, which will float over the top of anything you have open on the screen at the time. If you click this icon you can zoom back out to normal size, or even zoom in further. If you click the “Views” option in the magnifier menu, you can change how the zoom is shown. Full Screen zooms the whole screen, Lens allows you to zoom small sections at a time (more like having a hand-held magnifier), and Docked creates a zoom viewer at the top of the screen.

If you want to change how much the screen zooms each time you click the plus or minus buttons on the magnifier tool, you can do so by clicking the small options cog icon on the magnifier tool itself (not in the main settings where you first enabled the tool).

If you want the magnifier tool to be available as soon as you boot up your computer, you can choose this option in the main magnifier settings (along with other options such as having the magnifying lens follow the place you are typing).

Inverting Colours

Another way you can increase readability (and accessibility) in some cases is to invert the colours on screen. This turns the bright white pages, with black text, of something like an email, into a black background and white text. For some, this can make the text easier to read, and may also help reduce eye strain. You can quickly make this switch in the Magnifier settings in Ease of Access.

Change to High Contrast

If inverting the colours doesn’t help to make the screen easier to read, you can try using a high contrast theme. This is designed to make things like text and website links easier to notice and may even be easier to read for some. There are several different high contrast themes available to try, so even if the main one doesn’t help, there may be one that does. You can again find the setting for this in the Ease of Access settings, under “High Contrast”. The tool will show you examples of how certain elements will look as you select it, but to see it in action on a full screen, click “Apply”.

You can revert back to normal quite easily by selecting “None” from the High Contrast chooser menu, and then clicking “Apply” again.

Change the Mouse Pointer

If you have a large, high resolution monitor/display on your computer (either desktop or laptop), the mouse pointer can be quite small and easy to lose track of as you move it around the screen. Luckily you can do a few things to solve this problem.

Firstly, you can make the pointer bigger. Open the Ease of Access settings and click “Mouse” from the menu on the left. At the top you will see “Pointer Size”. Click on each of the three size buttons to see how large you want it to be.

You can also change the colour of the mouse pointer, choosing to make it black all of the time, white all of the time, or a contrasting colour (white when over a black background, and black when over a white background, etc.)

Slow Down Notifications

Windows 10 is very good at notifying you when something happens (a new email arriving, or an update being available, for example), but the notifications themselves can sometimes disappear too quickly to even see what they said. You can, of course, click the Action center button to see all of your unread notifications, but it can be annoying to keep having to do this all of the time.

By default, notifications display in the bottom-right corner of the screen for 5 seconds, but you can change this in Ease of Access > Other Options. Look for the “Show notifications for…” option and click it to open the menu. Choose the length of time you want the notifications to remain on screen, from 5 seconds to 5 minutes.

Night Light

As we get older, most of us suffer from weaker eyesight, and often from eyes that get tired much more quickly. Many people also suffer from sleeplessness or difficulty getting to sleep. Unfortunately, both tired eyes and sleeplessness are not helped by looking at a computer screen in the evening. Most screens give off blue light, which is known to activate our brains and keep us awake. It can also cause tired or sore eyes.

The latest version of Windows 10 (the Creators Update) has added a Night Light mode to the settings. This setting, when enabled, will take much of the blue light out of the monitor, making it less tiring and less likely to keep you awake. You can either turn the Night Light mode on as and when you need it (look in Settings > System > Display), or you can set a schedule so your computer always switches to Night Light mode between certain hours (7pm and 6am, for example).

The Night Light settings also allow you to choose just how much blue light is removed from the display, as some may still find the default setting too blue, or not blue enough.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Almost everything you can do by clicking with the mouse, opening menus or using the toolbar in Word, can be done with keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts are things like pressing Ctrl + C to copy something that is highlighted, rather then right-clicking and selecting “Copy” from the action menu. You don’t need to learn every single keyboard shortcut there is (there are LOADS of them!), but memorising some of the more commonly used ones can be very useful.

Here are our top five shortcuts to begin with. You can find many more Here.

  • Ctrl + C = Copy the selected item
  • Ctrl + V = Paste a copied item.
  • Ctrl + Z = Undo the last action
  • Alt + Tab = Switch between open apps
  • Alt + F4 = Close the active item, or exit the active app
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About Author

Russ has been immersed in the world of technology since talking his way into a computer journalism job 25 years ago. If it is shiny, complicated and has LED's and a screen, he will want to master it.

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