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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Magnification Programs for the Computer

Screen magnification software allows an employee with some usable vision to enlarge text and graphics displayed on their computer monitor. It is installed directly on the computer’s hard drive or on the network, and it can be activated automatically or deactivated when it is not needed. For example, if an employee who has low vision is typing an e-mail while using screen magnification software, the program will enlarge the words on the screen to make them easier to read. The next employee can turn off screen magnification and use the same computer as the employee with low vision.

Individuals with mild vision loss may not need screen magnification software. A larger monitor or dual monitors, on a movable arm, will increase the size of text and graphics and allow the employee with vision loss to easily move the monitor(s) closer while keeping all material on the screen. Icons, windows, menu text, and contrast may be adjusted to enable reading without screen magnification software. Also, just by lowering the screen resolution, bigger pixels are used, which results in larger text and graphics.

In some applications, the user can set the font used by the application or zoom in on what is displayed.

The "Accessibility Wizard" that was on Windows 2000 through XP has been replaced with "Ease of Access," which provides users with a variety of appearance and personalization options. These include adjustments for the font size, screen resolution, scroll bar size, icon size, color scheme, contrast, mouse cursor appearance, mouse cursor blink rate as well as a built-in magnification feature.

There are a variety of color schemes available on Windows that offer greater contrast and customization features. There are also different mouse cursor options, including cursors whose appearance is an inversion of what is being viewed, and cursors that can leave a comet-like trail behind the mouse. In addition, the size of cursors can be changed.

It is also helpful to attach sounds (through the "Sounds" option in the "Control Panel") to many Windows events, such as opening and closing a program or minimizing/maximizing the size of open menu tabs.

Full-Featured Screen Magnification Software

A full-featured screen magnification program comes with many options and can reach high levels of magnification, although using levels higher than 5X is often very inefficient. The three full-featured screen magnifiers on the market are SuperNova Magnifier, made by Dolphin, MAGic and ZoomText, both made by VFO. Today's full-featured screen magnification programs are compatible with Windows operating systems. For those who need more than magnification alone, screen magnification software can be purchased with enhanced speech capability as well as full-featured screen reading software. Full-featured screen magnification software costs between $300 and $400 and can go as high as $600 with speech enhancement while adding full-featured screen-reading software can take the cost to more than $1,000.

Magnification programs are designed to work like a magnifying glass moving over a page as either a customizable rectangular shape magnifying the area within the shape or in full-screen mode where everything on the screen is magnified. Programs can be set to automatically follow the cursor, magnifying just the area around it. It is also possible to automatically move across and down a magnified page at a preset speed. Additionally, in the event of losing your place in a magnified document, programs can show the unmagnified screen, highlighting the magnified area with color or shading. Fonts used in magnification programs are usually designed to smooth out the jagged or "stair-step" appearance of computer-produced diagonal or curved lines, making the text easier to read.

Today's full-featured screen magnification software can magnify all screen items, including the mouse pointer, text cursor, icons, buttons, and title bars. In addition, these programs provide a set of mouse tracking features such as the option to link the mouse pointer to screen movement, increase the size and visibility of the mouse pointer, and limit mouse movement to horizontal or vertical directions only. Other features include breaking lines of magnified text automatically so that they fit on the screen and selecting various contrast options to enhance readability.

For the most part, screen magnification software does not have problems with display drivers. Still, manufacturers will often recommend a specific driver, resolution, and color depth setting.

Scanning Software for Low Vision Users

A scanner or camera can be used to take an image of a document, enhance it, and then display an enlarged version on the computer screen. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology can be used to edit the document after it is scanned, and built-in screen readers can be used to read the document aloud if using an enlarged image becomes too fatiguing. These products range in price from $495 to $995.

Additional Information About Computer Access for Employees with Vision Loss

Screen Readers and Screen Magnifiers: An Introduction to Computer Accessibility Software

Windows Accessibility Options for People Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

Blind and Low Vision Windows Computer Access Using Third-Party Screen Magnifiers and Screen Reader

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