Guide for Individuals with Vision Impairments
Microsoft products include accessibility features that make it easier to see your computer if you have low vision or colorblindness. Or, if you are blind, Windows allows you to receive information through sound or touch rather than the display.
This guide describes accessibility features built into Windows 8 and Microsoft Office that are available to address vision impairments and preferences. You can also learn about the types of assistive technology products available to further assist you.
In this section:
With Windows 8 you can easily access the most commonly used accessibility options right from the sign-in screen. Select the Ease of Access button in the lower-left corner of your screen, or press the Windows logo key+U, to choose the settings for your PC that you want to have available each time it starts.
The Ease of Access Center is a convenient, central location where you can set up all of the accessibility settings and programs available in Windows, and "get recommendations" for suggested settings to fit your individual vision needs and preferences.
After log-in, you can access the Ease of Access Center by pressing the Windows logo key+U. On a touch-enabled device, swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search. Enter Ease of Access Center in the search box, tap or click Settings, and then tap or click Ease of Access Center in the results.
Ease of Access Center in Control Panel with the vision settings links highlighted
All of the Windows accessibility options most helpful for people with vision impairments are grouped under “Make the computer easier to see,” and, one designed for people who are blind named, “Use the computer without a display.” You can choose a High Contrast theme, turn on Narrator and Magnifier, change the size of text and icons, set the thickness of the blinking cursor, turn off unnecessary animations, remove background images, and more.
Magnifier enlarges portions of the screen making it easier to view text and images and to see the whole screen more easily. You have the choice of viewing with Magnifier using the full screen, or just a portion, and you can move Magnifier where you want it on your desktop—whatever fits your needs. You can magnify up to 16 times the original size and choose to track what you magnify by movement of your mouse, the keyboard, or text editing.
Start screen with Magnifier window at 200% magnification.
High Contrast is a popular feature used to heighten the color contrast of some text and images on your computer screen, making those items more distinct and easier to identify.
"Make the computer easier to see" screen in high contrast mode
You can make the text (and other things like icons) larger without changing the screen resolution of your monitor or laptop screen. That way, you can make text easier to see and still keep your monitor or laptop set to the best possible resolution.
Display screen showing "Change the size of all items" options
Narrator, a basic screen reader that reads aloud the text that appears on screen, and describes events such as error messages, has been redesigned in Windows 8 to be substantially faster, and to support many new features. Whether you’re an individual who is blind, has low vision, or, are fully sighted, you will be able to use Windows 8 from the first time you start your device.
By default on touch-only devices, Narrator can be launched by simply holding down the Windows logo button and pressing the Volume Up button (to stop Narrator from reading, tap once with two fingers). Once Narrator is running, you can use Narrator’s built-in touch commands to explore the screen and control your device.
There are also some new configuration options for Narrator in Windows 8 and Windows RT. You can select one of several voices, change the speed at which Narrator speaks, create customizable keyboard commands, and specify many other settings to suit your preferences.
Narrator Settings dialog box showing available settings
Speech Recognition in Windows 8 allows you to command your PC with your voice–including the capability to dictate into almost any application. You can dictate documents and email and surf the web by saying what you see. An easy setup process and an interactive tutorial are available to familiarize you with the speech commands and train your computer to better understand you.
Learn what you can do with Speech Recognition and how to set up Speech Recognition including how to set up your microphone, teach yourself how to talk to your computer, and train your computer to recognize your speech.
A number of accessibility options in Microsoft Office products make it easier for people with vision impairments to interact with their computers while creating Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and more.
Use the new Read Mode in Word 2013 for a beautiful, distraction-free reading experience. Read Mode hides most of the buttons and tools so you can get absorbed in your reading without distractions. To open Read Mode, press ALT+W, and then press F. To move from page to page in a document, do one of the following:
- Click the arrows on the left and right sides of the pages.
- Press page down and page up or the spacebar and backspace on the keyboard. You can also use the arrow keys or the scroll wheel on your mouse.
- If you’re on a touch device, swipe left or right with your finger.
Also while in Read Mode you can double-click a picture to get an enlarged view. Click outside the image to return to reading.
Document in Read Mode of Office 2013
Text-to-speech (TTS) is the ability of your computer to play back written text as spoken words. Depending upon your configuration and installed TTS engines, you can hear most text that appears on your screen in Word 2013, Outlook 2013, PowerPoint 2013 and OneNote 2013.
Add Speak to the Quick Access Toolbar
You can add the Speak command to your Quick Access Toolbar by doing the following:
- Next to the Quick Access Toolbar, click Customize Quick Access Toolbar.
- Click More Commands.
- In the Choose commands from list, select All Commands.
- Scroll down to the Speak command, select it, and then click Add.
- Click OK.
- When you want to use the text-to-speech command, click the icon on the Quick Access Toolbar.
Word Options dialog box where the Speak command is selected to add to the Quick Access Toolbar
Quick Access Toolbar with Speak command added and highlighted
A number of accessibility options in Microsoft Office products help you as the content author make your documents, spreadsheets, and presentations easier for people with vision impairments to interact with. To learn more, see Creating accessible Office files.
Word 2013, Excel 2013, and PowerPoint 2013 include an Accessibility Checker that helps users create more accessible content. By identifying areas that might be challenging for users with disabilities to view or use, and providing a task pane to review those areas, users can fix potential problems with their content before finalizing.
Check Accessibility command in Word 2013
Office Web Apps provide support for assistive technologies such as screen readers and speech recognition software. Find more information on accessibility features in Office Web Apps.
Because Office Web Apps run in the browser, you can use your web browser's features that improve the readability of pages. Find out about vision related accessibility features in Internet Explorer.
Move around webpages with the keyboard
If you have low vision it's sometimes difficult to see links on webpages, and if you're blind you'll use the keyboard rather than the mouse or display to work with your computer. You can move around webpages quickly using the keyboard in Web Apps.
- Keyboard shortcuts in Word Web App
- Keyboard shortcuts in Excel Web App
- Keyboard shortcuts in PowerPoint Web App
- Keyboard shortcuts in OneNote Web App
For better visibility of webpages you can change the fonts, font sizes, text and background colors, or zoom in on a webpage to enlarge it, or zoom out to see more of the page on screen.
Zoom in on a webpage
Make everything on a webpage easier to see by zooming in, or enlarging the whole page including images and text. You can zoom from 10% to 1000%.
Press Ctrl+Plus sign (+) to zoom in, or Ctrl+Minus sign (-) to zoom out.
Or, while viewing your Internet Explorer window from the desktop, select the Toolsicon at the top of the window, select Zoom, then select Zoom in, or Zoom out, or the desired percentage. You can also select Custom to set a percentage up to 1000 percent.
Tools button in Internet Explorer 10
Internet Options Tools menu open to Zoom level options
You can shop for assistive technology products compatible with Microsoft Windows made by independent assistive technology companies. People who have vision impairments may be interested in the following assistive technology:
- Screen magnifiers work like a magnifying glass. They enlarge a portion of the screen as the user moves the focus—increasing legibility for some users. Some screen enlargers (software or hardware) allow a user to zoom in and out on a particular area of the screen. Learn about Magnifier in Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and the built-in zoom and magnify features in Microsoft mouse and keyboard products.
- Screen readers are software programs that present graphics and text as speech. A screen reader is used to verbalize, or "speak," everything on the screen including names and descriptions of control buttons, menus, text, and punctuation.
- Braille printers (or embossers) transfer computer generated text into embossed Braille output. Braille translation programs convert text scanned in or generated via standard word processing programs into Braille, which can be printed into raised Braille.
- Braille displays provide tactile output of information represented on the computer screen. The user reads the Braille letters with his or her fingers, and then, after a line is read, refreshes the display to read the next line.
- Braille notetakers enable a person who is blind to capture notes and then transfer them to a PC. Braille notetakers take advantage of refreshable Braille technology. In some cases, Braille notetakers replace or supplement a standard keyboard.
- Book readers. Some people use a PC configuration for book reading assistance, or a dedicated reading device. A person who is blind would need to have printed material scanned and read aloud through a text-to-speech software program on the PC. Books are available in digital formats through organizations such as Bookshare (http://www.benetech.org/literacy/bookshare.shtml) and Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) (www.learningally.org).