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Accessibility Features in Windows 8

Author: Disabled World : Contact: -

Published: 2012-12-02 : (Rev. 2015-02-01)

Synopsis and Key Points:

Review of Windows 8 operating system accessibility options and programs that make it easier for people to hear see and use a computer.

Main Digest

Windows 8 includes a number of accessibility options and programs that make it easier for people to hear, see, and use a computer including Personalization and Ease of Access options. The operating system has built-in assistive technologies that work with not only the operating system itself, but with Windows 8 applications and desktop software to provide people with seamless access to their Windows experience. One of the more exciting aspects of Windows 8 involves the introduction of touch devices. Using touch devices, people can interact directly with everything on their screen through touch and without the need to use a mouse or keyboard, to include management of accessibility options through the operating system's Ease of Access Center.

Current release of the Windows operating system, produced by Microsoft for use on personal computers, including home and business desktops, laptops, tablets, and home theater PCs. Development of Windows 8 started before the release of its predecessor in 2009. Its existence was first announced at CES 2011, and followed by the release of three pre-release versions from September 2011 to May 2012. The operating system was released to manufacturing on 1 August 2012, and was released for general availability on 26 October 2012.

Using Windows 8, several of the more commonly used accessibility options are available directly from the sign-in screen, to include Magnifier, Narrator, Sticky Keys, High Contrast and Filter Keys. By clicking on the Ease of Access button available on the lower-left corner of the screen, people have the option to choose the settings they desire to have available to them every time they start their computer. More settings are available through the Ease of Access page.

From the Start screen, using the keyboard, people can open the page by pressing the Windows logo key+U combination. For those who have a touch-enabled device, swiping in from the right edge of the screen and then tapping, 'Search,' then entering, 'Ease of Access,' will produce the same results. For people who prefer to use a mouse, pointing to the upper-right corner of the screen, moving the mouse pointer down, and then clicking, 'Search,' and entering, 'Ease of Access,' in the search box, tapping or clicking, 'Settings,' and the tapping or clicking, 'Ease of Access,' in the results that are presented will find them with a number of accessibility options available.

Windows 8 Accessibility Options

Windows 8 Logo
Windows 8 Logo

Assistive technology products include software and specialty hardware products that provide essential accessibility to computers for people who experience significant hearing, vision, language, dexterity, or learning needs. A number of assistive technology products are compatible with both Windows 8 and Windows 8 Professional. Accessibility products in versions of Windows 8 include:

Narrator: Narrator is a screen reader that reads the text presented on the screen out loud.

High Contrast: High contrast heightens the color contrast of some images and text on a person's screen, helping to make them easier to identify.

On-Screen Keyboard: The on-screen keyboard enabled people to use their mouse or other pointing device to interact with a keyboard on the screen.

Through the Ease of Access Center, people will find a section listing additional setting they can use to make their computer more usable and accessible to their particular needs. The settings are aimed at the specific needs people have in relation to the disability they experience. For example:

Make a Mouse Easier to Use: With this setting, people can change the color and size of their mouse pointer and use a numeric keypad to control their mouse.

Make a Keyboard Easier to Use: People have the option to adjust the way Windows 8 responds to keyboard or mouse input to key combinations are easier to press, typing is easier, and accidental keystrokes are ignored.

Make it Easier to Focus on Tasks: The settings through the Ease of Access Center include various ways to help people focus on typing and reading, such as Narrator, the ability to change the way certain visual items are displayed, or the ability to adjust how the keyboard functions.

Making the Computer Easier to See: For people who occasionally have difficulties with seeing items on the screen, options are available to make it easier to see the items being presented. People can change to a theme that is high contrast, adjust the color settings, or turn on Magnifier, or remove unnecessary background images and animations.

Use of a Computer without a Display: People have the ability to turn on Narrator, turn on audio descriptions for videos, setup Text to Speech, as well as change the duration of time that dialog boxes remain open.

Make Touch and Tables Easier to Use: By choosing this option, Narrator starts automatically when a person presses the Windows logo button and the Volume Up button together. The option can be changed so Magnifier and the On-Screen Keyboard start instead.

Use a Computer without a Keyboard or a Mouse: Windows 8 includes an on-screen keyboard that enables people to enter text simply by selecting characters presented on the screen. Another option is to use Speech Recognition to control the computer using voice commands to dictate text into specific programs.

Use Visual Alternatives or Text Instead of Sounds: Windows 8 has the ability to replace system sounds with visual cues and to display text captions instead of spoken dialog in multimedia programs.

The Windows 8 Narrator

The Windows 8 Narrator is a screen reader that reads aloud text appearing on the screen. It describes events such as error messages and Microsoft has redesigned it in Windows 8 to be substantially quicker, including a number of new features. Whether a person is blind, experiences low vision, or is fully sighted, they will be able to use Windows 8 from the moment they start their computer.

The Windows 8 Magnifier

The Windows 8 Magnifier is a tool that enlarges a person's computer screen or portions of it, making the images and words easier for them to see. For people who experience low vision or who have difficulty seeing their computer or device, Magnifier can make it easier to see the screen or touch it. People who use touch-enable devices have the ability to control Magnifier from the edges of the screen and can easily enlarge or reduce the size of the Magnifier window by touching buttons on their screen.

The Windows 8 On-Screen Keyboard

The Windows 8 On-Screen Keyboard is a tool people can use instead of depending upon a physical keyboard in order to type and enter data. Interestingly, a person does not need a touchscreen to use the On-Screen Keyboard. It displays a visual keyboard with all of the standard keys. People can select the keys using a mouse or another type of pointing device, or they may use a physical single key or group of keys to cycle through the keys presented on the screen.

Additional accessibility features available through Windows 8 include the following:

Filter Keys: Ignore keystrokes that happen in rapid succession and keystrokes that are held down for a number of seconds unintentionally using this option.

Sticky Keys: Instead of having to press three keys at the same time, people have the option of pressing a single key if they enable Sticky Keys.

Mouse Keys: Instead of using a mouse, people can use the arrow keys on their numeric keypad in order to move the pointer around on the screen.

Windows Touch: With a touch-screen devices, people can simply touch their screen for a direct way to work using a finger to resize windows, scroll, pan and zoom, or play media.

Change text size: Make text and icons larger and easier to see without the need to change the resolution of the screen.

Visual Notifications: Windows 8 gives people the option to replace system sounds with visual cues such as a flash on their screen so system alerts are announced using visual notifications instead of using sounds.

Keyboard Shortcuts: Use of keyboard shortcuts saves time and multiple mouse clicks. Pressing two or more keys to rapidly perform a task accomplishes the same results without using a mouse.

Using Speech Recognition

Using Windows Speech Recognition, people have the ability to command their computer with their own voice. They can compose documents and email, and surf the Web by dictating and speaking commands instead of using a keyboard or a mouse. Windows Voice Recognition can help people to use their own voice to accomplish things such as typing letters or filling out online forms. When a person speaks into their microphone, Speech Recognition changes their spoken words into text on their screen.

In order to dictate text using speech recognition using a touch-enable device, swipe in from the right edge of the screen and tap, 'Search.' Enter, 'speech recognition,' into the search box, tap or click, 'Apps,' and then tap or click, 'Windows Speech Recognition.' Say, 'start listening,' or tap or click the Microphone button to start listening mode. Open the app you want to use, or select the text box you want to dictate text into, then say the text you want to dictate!

If you make a mistake you can correct it in three different ways. You can correct the last thing you said by saying, 'correct that.' You can correct a single work by saying, 'correct,' followed by the word you want to correct. If the word appears more than one time, all of the instances of the word will be highlighted and you can choose the one you want to correct. You can also choose the Alternates panel dialog box and say the number next to the item you want and then say, 'OK.'

If you want to add or change a word in your speech dictionary, you can do that as well! You can also stop a specific word from being dictated or corrected, or delete a word from the dictionary entirely. To accomplish these tasks swipe in from the right edge of the screen and tap, 'Search.' Enter, 'speech recognition,' in the search box and tap or click, 'Apps,' and then tap or click, 'Windows Speech Recognition.' Say, 'start listening,' or tap or click the Microphone button to start the listening mode. Say, 'open Speech Dictionary,' and then do one of the following tasks:

Windows 8 and Personalization

People who spend a lot of time using their computer have the opportunity to make it reflect who they are as a person and the things they care about. The Start screen and much more can be personalized in Windows 8 and people can arrange things to their particular liking. You can create tiles for your favorite people or websites, drag them anywhere you want, or even place similar tiles into their own groups. You can pin your favorite apps to the start screen and remove the ones you do not use. People even have the options to change their backgrounds and the colors on the Start screen to match the mood they are in at the moment.

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