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:
- Make Windows 8 easier to see
- Adjust accessibility settings from the Ease of Access Center
- Make Microsoft Office programs easier to use
- Make Office documents, presentations, and spreadsheets more accessible
- See webpages more clearly with Internet Explorer
- Find assistive technology for vision impairments
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 you log on, you can open 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 the Windows accessibility options that are most helpful for people with vision impairments are grouped under Make the computer easier to see, and one designed for people who are blind is 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, set up text-to-speech, and turn on audio descriptions. These are just some of the features and options that you can use. For a complete list, see Make your PC easier to use.
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
If text and other items on the desktop are too small, you can make them larger without changing the screen resolution.
Open Screen Resolution by swiping in from the right edge of the screen, tapping Search (or if you’re using a mouse, pointing to the upper-right corner of the screen, moving the mouse pointer down, and then clicking Search), entering Make text larger in the search box, and then tapping or clicking Make text and other items larger or smaller. Then drag the slider until the items in the preview image are the size you want them to be. Tap or click Apply. You’ll see the change the next time you sign in to Windows. (Note: This might not be available for all displays.)
Change only the text size
You can also change the text size for specific items in Windows, like window title bars or tooltips, without changing the size of anything else on the desktop.
In the Display dialog box under Change only the text size, choose the item you’d like to change and pick a text size. If you want the text to be bold, select the Bold check box.
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, was 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). After 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 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
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%.
With a webpage open in Internet Explorer, press Ctrl+Plus sign (+) to zoom in, or Ctrl+Minus sign (-) to zoom out.
Or, open Internet Explorer for the desktop, swipe in from the upper right edge of the screen, and tap or click Settings (if you’re using a mouse, point to the lower-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer up, and then click Settings). Tap or click Options, and then under Appearance, move the Zoom slider to increase or decrease zoom.
Use the Zoom slider in Internet Options to increase the size of everything on a webpage
To zoom in or our on a webpage in the desktop
While viewing your Internet Explorer window from the desktop, select the Tools icon at the top of the window, select Zoom, and then select Zoom in, Zoom out, or the desired percentage. You can also select Custom to set a percentage up to 1000 percent.
Tools button in Internet Explorer 11
Internet Options Tools menu open to Zoom level options
Make text larger or smaller
You can increase or decrease the font size on a webpage to make it more legible in Internet Explorer for the desktop.
To change the text size, open Internet Explorer for the desktop. Then press the Alt key to display the menu bar. Tap or click View, and then tap or click Text size. You can choose to make text larger or smaller than the size on the screen.
Webpage open on the desktop with View menu open and Text size: Medium selected
Change the font size, formatting, and screen colors
To make webpages easier to see, you can change the font type and size, and the foreground and background colors that are used to display webpages. You can also specify the color used for links in webpages and override colors used on webpages.
With an Internet Explorer window open on the desktop, tap or click Internet Options from the Tools menu.
Then, click one of the buttons at the bottom of the dialog box:
- Fonts—to change the font type and size used on webpages
- Colors—to change the font colors used on webpages
- Accessibility—to make Internet Explorer ignore colors, font styles, and font sizes used on webpages, or to format webpages by using your own style sheet
Internet Options dialog box showing the Colors, Fonts, and Accessibility buttons
Change the font, formatting, and colors on pages
Clicking the Fonts button opens the Fonts dialog box. There you can choose the fonts you want to use.
Fonts dialog box with font preferences selected
Choose website colors
Clicking the Colors button opens the Colors dialog box.
There, for each color that you want to change, tap or click the color box, and then choose from the available options.
Colors dialog box with webpage color preferences selected
To override all font and color settings for websites
Clicking the Accessibility button opens the Accessibility dialog box. There you can override all font and color settings for websites by selecting the check boxes for the following:
- Ignore colors specified on webpages
- Ignore font styles specified on webpages
- Ignore font sizes specified on webpages
Accessibility dialog box with Formatting options and style sheets selected
Office Online provides support for assistive technologies such as screen readers and speech recognition software. Find more information on accessibility features in Office Online.
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 Office Online.
- Keyboard shortcuts in Word Online
- Keyboard shortcuts in Excel Online
- Keyboard shortcuts in PowerPoint Online
- Keyboard shortcuts in OneNote Online
You can shop for assistive technology products that are compatible with Windows and 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, and Windows Vista, and the built-in zoom and magnify features in Microsoft mice 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 might have printed material scanned and read aloud through a text-to-speech software program on the PC. Books are available in digital formats through various commercial and not-for-profit organizations.