Kathleen Colburn

Accessibility and the new Windows 10

The long-awaited Windows 10 operating system is here, and has brought with it exciting new features and the return of some familiar, favorite features. The new Edge browser, the voice-activated assistant Cortana, and the comeback of the much-loved Start menu are just a few of the highlights.

Windows 10 also includes a host of Accessibility features that allow users with visual impairments, physical limitations and other disabilities to customize their Windows experience to fit their needs. Read on to learn about the top accessibility features in Windows 10.


Windows 10 logo on monitor screen

Most accessibility features in Windows 10 have maintained a similar look, feel and functionality to their predecessors in Windows 7 and 8. The consistency between operating systems means an easier adjustment for those users that rely on these tools the most, and a few additions further enhance the experience.

In the Windows operating system, the Ease of Access Center serves as the hub for accessibility features that can be used to customize the visual, auditory and functional experience of the Windows environment.

Ease of Access center screenshot

The Ease of Access Center can be easily launched from the Start menu, which can be found in its familiar location of the bottom left corner of the desktop. From the Start menu, choose “Settings” and then select “Ease of Access”. You can also access a pared down menu of accessibility features right from the Sign On screen, before even logging into your Windows account.

The Ease of Access Center groups together some of the most commonly used Windows accessibility features. Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll find:

1. Narrator – This screen reading tool can support visually impaired Windows users by reading aloud text and dialogue boxes that appear on screen. Narrator can also speak by letter and/or word as text is typed, and can provide audio cues when new applications are opened and certain actions are required of the user. Users can choose from familiar voices like Microsoft David and Zira, and can customize the speed and pitch to their liking.

2. Magnifier & High Contrast – These familiar tools can further optimize the Windows experience for users with visual impairments or anyone wishing to give their eyes some relief from reading small text. The Magnifier can zoom in on any area of the screen, tracking your mouse movement or focusing on any textbox you type into. The High Contrast settings adjust the color themes and color contrasts of items on the screen to make them easier to distinguish and focus on.

3. Closed Captions – This section is new to the Ease of Access Center in Windows 10, and gives you a centralized location to adjust the font, size, color and overall appearance of closed captions that are used in any native Windows apps.

4. Keyboard, Mouse and Other options – These three sections include familiar settings like Sticky Keys and Filter Keys to assist users with mobility or dexterity issues. Here you can also customize the size and color of the cursor, use your keyboard arrows to navigate your mouse, and turn off Windows’ animations (like when you minimize and maximize a window). A new setting here also lets you set up a visual notification (like a flash on your screen) for any sounds that occur.

In addition to all of the customizations available in the Ease of Access Center, Windows 10 also includes the Speech Recognition tool familiar to Windows 7 and 8 users. Speech Recognition allows you to navigate your computer, perform certain operations and type out text using just voice commands and a microphone.
You can train your computer to recognize your voice to enhance accuracy as you use it. This tool lives in its familiar location in the Control Panel (Control Panel > Speech Recognition), or can be quickly launched from the Search bar next to the Start button on your desktop.

The new digital assistant Cortana is also worth mentioning in a discussion about accessibility features. Cortana can help manage your calendar, find files on your computer, check traffic alerts, find restaurants and places of interest nearby, and more. She responds to questions and requests dictated into a microphone, and can even be trained to recognize your voice when you greet her with “Hey Cortana”.

Have you checked out the Accessibility features in Windows 10? Let us know which ones you use, or what your thoughts are in the comments section below.

Comments

Lua 10/06/2016 11:22:54
I was using the XP theme option in Win 7 where I could adjust all the fonts and scroll bar and other sizes and colours and so on, so, again (I downgraded from Win 8 for this reasons), Windows 10 is a nuisance as it does not allow me to adjust the WHOLE system in terms of fonts, colours, sizes etc. It should be fairly easy to change for MS, but again they don't; this is very ableist.

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