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Using Microsoft Windows with low visionIn my experience Microsoft Windows is the worst operating system for a person with low vision to use, especially without expensive high-end magnification software.
Windows 7 and up have bundled full-screen magnifiers (with optional invert colours), available by pressing Start-key + (and Start-key - to reduce), but the magnified text can look very blurry.
The following techniques worked for me on a Windows XP Pro laptop I was loaned by a company to do some work for them in 2007/08:
- 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 large print. (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 (sometimes off-screen). 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 file manager.
- 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.
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