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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

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Tips for Computer Users with Low Vision

Computers seem to be getting more and more complex, and with new versions of Windows and Microsoft Office coming out every couple of years, it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes performing even a basic task like checking e-mail or opening a file on your computer can be difficult because of the hard-to-read text and icons used by Windows and most computer programs. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to make your Windows PC more accessible.

Below are some basic tips for how to configure a PC to make it more accessible for users with low vision, including information on how to change the display colors and increase the size of the on-screen text in Windows, Internet Explorer, and Mozilla Firefox.

Improving the Accessibility of Windows

There are a number of settings you can change in Windows to make the text and icons larger and easier to see. All versions of Windows use "themes," which set the color and size of the system text. This setting applies to the Start menu, the desktop, and My Computer and My Documents. The default theme uses fairly small type in a white-on-black scheme, but this can be changed to something that might better suit your needs.

In Windows XP, modify this setting by following these steps:

  1. Open the Start menu and select Settings. Under Settings, open the Control Panel.
  2. In the Control Panel, open Display.
  3. In the Display dialog box, select the Appearance tab, which is located in the row across the top of the window.
  4. One of the items under Appearance is Color Scheme. There are four different high contrast color schemes to choose from. Keep selecting "H" until you find a scheme that works well for you, then select Enter.
  5. There is a drop down menu directly underneath Color Scheme called Font Size, where you can increase the size of the text in Windows. If the settings you find here don't work for you, select the Advanced button and choose your own color combinations and text sizes.

Windows Vista and Windows 7 both have a feature called the Ease of Access Center, which replaces and improves the Accessibility Tools found in earlier versions of Windows. Follow these steps to open the Ease of Access Center:

  1. Open the Start menu and select the Control Panel
  2. In the Control Panel, open the Ease of Access Center. Once the Center opens, you can activate accessibility tools, such as Magnifier or Narrator, and change the fonts and colors used by Windows.
  3. Select "Get recommendations to make your computer easier to use." This will bring up a wizard that will ask you a series of questions and automatically change the text size and color settings based on your answers.

In all versions of Windows, the changes made to the text size using the above steps will affect text created by Windows, which includes the Start menu, desktop, My Documents, My Computer, and the top title bar for all programs. It will not affect the size of text in webpages, Word documents, or most other programs. The changes to the color scheme, however, will carry over to web browsers and Microsoft Office, in addition to the desktop, Start menu, My Computer, and My Documents. Be warned, however, that there will still be some non-Microsoft programs that will use their own color scheme.

Improving the Accessibility of Web Browsers

There are ways to make sure that nearly every webpage uses high-contrast colors and larger text. To do so, follow the steps below for your preferred web browser:

Internet Explorer

  1. Pull down the Tools menu and pick Internet Options
  2. A new window should open up. In this new window, choose the "Accessibility" button by pressing Alt-E.
  3. Check the boxes labeled "Ignore font styles specified on Web pages" and "Ignore font sizes specified on Web pages." Select "OK" in the dialog box and again in the Internet Options dialog box. This will return you to the page you were viewing.
  4. Now, whenever you want to increase or decrease the size of the text on a webpage, pull down the View menu (Alt-V) and select Text Size (X). Here, you can choose any option, ranging from largest to smallest. If you select largest, all pages will display an enlarged text size (size will fluctuate from page to page).

Mozilla Firefox

  1. Pull down the Tools menu and pick Options
  2. A new window should open up. Choose the "Content" tab, which is located in the row across the top of the window.
  3. Choose the style and size you prefer using the Default Font and Size drop down menus.
  4. Select the "Advanced" button to the right of the Size drop down menu. In this new dialog box, make sure the box for "Allow pages to choose their own fonts" is unchecked. Select "OK."
  5. Now, you should be back in the Content options for Firefox. Below the "Advanced" button there is a button labeled "Colors" where you can adjust the font and background colors used by Firefox. In the Colors window, choose the colors that you would prefer, and make sure that the box for "Allow pages to choose their own colors" is unchecked. Select "OK" to return to the webpage you were viewing.
  6. The pages should now be using the fonts and colors you specified. You can increase the size of text on screen any time by hitting Ctrl +, or by going into View and selecting Zoom.

Closing Comments

These tips are designed to help you take advantage of the built-in tools offered by Windows and web browsers. While changing the color themes and text size can go a long way towards making the text and icons on the computer easier to see, adjusting these settings still falls short of the accessibility and comfort provided by a standalone screen magnifier such as ZoomText. Experiment with your screen magnifier and the settings described above to find the solution that best suit your needs.

Updated January 2012

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