Accessibility: Windows Tools/Utilities already on your PC

All of the versions of Windows have had various accessibility tools and utilities built in to them. This page is an attempt to run through what is available for free on your PC already.

Peter Frost.

Windows XP to 95: Accessibility Tutorials

Screenshot of the Accessibility icon from the Windows XP Control Panel. The external link below is a useful list of accessibility information available on various versions of Windows.

From the current Windows XP right back to Windows 95. Note that Windows XP for some reason is shown under the business section?

I suggest Windows 95 users wanting more detailed information look at the Windows 98 extra help pages, as Windows 95 and 98 are fairly similar.

Windows XP: Utility Manager

Windows Key or Windows Logo Start the Utility Manager with the Windows key & u key combined. Press both keys at once, if you do them one after another you will be asked if you want to turn off your computer! If this happens press the Esc(ape) key to cancel this.

The Windows key is usually on the bottom row of keys, 2nd key in from the bottom left, The symbol is meant to be a flying window. If it fails to start press the Escape Key and try again.

The Utility Manager has three elements:-

  • Narrator: Microsoft Sam talks through new windows as they open.
  • Magnifier: Splits your screen in two with the top portion showing a magnified view of where the mouse is pointing.
  • On Screen Keyboard. Mouse clicks to the on screen keyboard enable you to slowly 'type' with your mouse.

Screenshot of the Utility Manager.

Each element of the utility manager has manual start/stop buttons and a tick box to start the selected utility at startup.

Note when the Utility Manager window is on screen you can use the Tab key, arrow keys and enter key to change the settings you don't need a mouse. To close the window press the Escape key.

Windows XP: Accessibility Options

Mouse Access: Click on Start then Control Panel then Accessibility.
(If the Accessibility option is not visible click on Classic View then Accessibility.)

Screenshot of part of the Control Panel, showing the accessibility icon.

Windows Key or Windows Logo Keyboard Access: Press and release the Windows key, press c this will often take you directly to the control panel. If however there are two (or more) entries on the start menu beginning with c, press c repeatedly until the control panel icon is highlite and then press enter.

When inside the control panel, if the 'Pick a Category' message shows, press the tab key twice and then press the space bar, this changes the control panel to the 'classic view'.

Press 'a' and enter to open the accessibility option.

Note for other control panel applications press the first letter of the application name you want to run, if there are two or more with the same initial letter just press the letter again until you reach the required icon then press enter.

You can make changes in the accessibility windows by tabbing through the boxes and using the left and right hand arrows. To tick a box press the space bar when the box is active (ie has a doted line around the description of the box. Pressing the space bar again reverses the change.

Windows XP: Special Keys

A huge number of keyboard shortcuts.

Many of those special keys will also work on older versions of Windows too.

Browsing the Internet: Text Size

Text size can be changed by most browsers. On Internet Explorer, to change:

Mouse Access: From the toolbar click on -

View -- Text Size -- then choose from the 5 size options.

Keyboard Access: Key in (without the quotes) -

Note 'Alt' refers to a single keystroke.

Hold down 'Alt' then tap 'v' and release both -- 'x' then use the arrow keys to select from the 5 size options and press enter.

Some web sites over-ride the font size however so you often need to disable the font size as well, see next section.

Font's are merely a set of letters, numbers and characters in the same size and style.

Browsing the Internet: Colour, Fonts Size and Font Styles

Internet Explorer (V6/7) allows you to over-ride 3 settings for:-

Colour: Turn background colour on or off. Off leaving the high contrast black text on white background.

Font Size: Over-ride any special font size set by a web page, allowing the text size setting to work normally.

Font Style: Over-ride any special font style set by a web page.

Mouse Access: From the toolbar click on -

Tools -- Internet Options -- General -- Accessibility. Click on tick boxes as required, then Click on OK twice.

Keyboard Access: Key in (without the quotes) -

'Alt' -- 't' -- 'o' -- 'tab' (the tab key) -- 'e'. Then use the arrow keys to select from the 3 boxes, press space once to tick & twice to untick. Tab again until OK button reached then press Enter, then press Escape.

A related page is: - Using the Tab Key on a Web Page it covers how to surf the internet without a mouse.

Microsoft Updates

This may be a pain for those on dial-up internet access but getting the latest release of the operating system also makes sure you get all the latest access features.

For example, Windows XP Service Pack 2 release in addition to the security features, also loads version 6 of Internet Explorer onto your PC. If you have version 5 or earlier its well worth updating.

Service Pack 2 is available as a (very large) free download from Microsoft, if you own a copy of XP Home or Pro. Its also been supplied as a free CD on many recent computer magazines.

Note in Novemeber 2006 Internet Explorer 7 was released and is also available through the Windows Update site. One accessibility feature of the new release is magnification using a zoom in/out percentage in the bottom right corner of the browswer window,

Optical Mouse Control

Not a free one this but a new optical mouse should cost less than £10. Wireless versions can be a nuisance losing their settings when the batteries run out so I recommend a wired version.

Optical Mice don't trap dirt and are not subject to the jerky loss of control that mechanical mice suffer from when they get dirty.