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Using Microsoft Windows with low vision
In my experience Microsoft Windows is
the worst operating system for a
person with low vision to use, especially
without expensive high-end magnification
software. The following tricks might make it
slightly easier (worked for me on an XP Pro system):
- Use one of my low-vision
stylesheets for Internet Explorer.
These tend to work better than the
high-contrast mode you can obtain by pressing
Alt-Shift-PrintScreen, and IE is used as a
component in many places so set this up even
if you use Firefox etc.
- Here's a dark background registry snippet in case you need a quick setup of non-browser colours without going through the dialogues. (Might require reboot or logout.)
- Display properties (right-click on
desktop) > Settings decrease the screen
resolution, and in Advanced increase the DPI
(perhaps double it). This should put almost
everything, including dialogue boxes, into
(In Vista, the DPI setting is on the left of the main display-properties panel, not under Advanced.)
- The downside of doing that is, dialogue
boxes are sometimes too large for the screen,
and, unlike the Mac's zoom or Linux's X11
there is often no way to pan the
screen to see the rest of the dialogue.
Some programmers add scroll bars (although most don't think of that)
- It might be possible to press
Alt-Space, select Move, and move it off the top of the screen so as to see
the bottom, but only if you use the arrow keys without touching the mouse,
and you cannot interact with it in this state (you have to remember what it
looks like and then interact with it off-screen).
- Sometimes you can
temporarily increase the resolution and strain
your eyes for a while, but Windows often
says that needs a restart, unless you have told it not to in the video
driver setup (which option depends on the video card; you have to look at
them and find it).
- On English Windows only, in desperate situations you can also try
Start > Programs > Accessories >
Accessibility > Narrator (it may also work
to hold down the Windows logo key while pressing
U), and navigate the dialogue box aurally, provided the
programmer has not made it impossible to do
keyboard navigation. Narrator is not a good
screen reader, but it can be useful for
those "you must accept the license agreement"
boxes where the "accept" button is off-screen.
- You can also remember how many times to
press certain keys. For example, to set
Notepad to save in UTF-8 do Save As, type
filename, press Tab 4 times and U 3
times and press Enter. (It's better if you can set up Emacs though.)
- You will probably be maximising most
of your windows and using Alt-Tab to
switch between them, which can get
tedious when there are many. Try using
the GPL program Virtual
Dimension from virt-dimension.sourceforge.net which allows
you to set up virtual desktops with
customised hotkeys (such as
Ctrl+Alt+some letter), for faster
switching to and from specific
applications or groups of windows.
(Warning: Recent reports suggest SourceForge has a new policy of taking over inactive Windows projects and adding advertisements or other unwanted extras to their installers. I have not re-checked the Virtual Dimension installer for malware. The best thing is don't use Windows; try GNU/Linux instead.)
- You can set a large mouse pointer in the
control panel. (And usual techniques apply,
e.g. when you lose track of the pointer,
whisk it toward the top left corner and watch for it there.)
- You can auto-hide the taskbar for
extra screen real-estate. (Right-click on it
and go to Properties.)
- Remember you can set the start menu to "Classic"
and customise it to put only your own frequently-used applications at
top level (drag onto Start button to add, right-click to access a menu that
lets you delete). This is more reliable than using
desktop icons, which often get moved around
You probably won't be able to
navigate XP's entire start menu hierarchy
due to menus going off-screen; the best way to
sort it out is in Windows Explorer or other
- The PuTTY SSH client can be
configured to use a small number of rows and
columns, and to change the size of the font
when resized or maximised. On some Windows setups this
is also true of command windows, which allows
large-print Cygwin consoles (try pressing Alt-space P and see if it will let
you set a large TrueType font and smaller dimensions).
All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.