What’s new in Windows 8 Accessibility?
One of the most exciting aspects of Windows 8 is the introduction of touch-only devices. With touch devices, you can directly interact with everything on your screen by touch, without using a keyboard or mouse, including managing accessibility options in the Ease of Access Center.
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.
Narrator and touch-enabled devices
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. 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. 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.
Depending upon what device you use, and how you configure accessibility utilities on that device, there are different ways to start Narrator. These are the three shortcuts many people prefer:
- On the sign-in screen, press the Windows logo key+U or click the Ease of access button in the lower-left corner, and then choose Narrator.
- On a keyboard, press the Windows logo key+Enter.
- On a touch-only device, hold down the Windows logo button and press the Volume Up button.
Learn more about Narrator in Windows 8: Hear text read aloud with Narrator.
[image: Screen shot of Narrator Settings screen]
Narrator Settings screen used to configure how Narrator starts, navigation, voice, and other command settings.
Magnifier and touch-enabled devices
Magnifier is a tool that enlarges your screen, or portions of your screen, making words and images easier to see. For users with low vision who have trouble seeing their devices, Magnifier makes it easier to see the screen and touch it too.
If you use a touch-enabled device you can control Magnifier from the edges of your screen. To start Magnifier on a touch-enabled device you first will need to designate Magnifier as the start option when pressing the Windows logo button+Volume Up in the Ease of Access settings.
[image: Magnifier window in lens view]
Magnifier lens view in Windows 8.
[image: Ease of Access settings screen with Pressing Windows + Volume Up will turn on highlighted and Magnifier selected in the list]
Ease of Access settings screen where you can select which accessibility tool to open with the shortcut Windows logo+Volume Up.
Once magnifier has been started on your touch-enabled device, a border will appear around the edges of the magnified screen. You can use these borders to move around the entire screen and it will work with all of your Windows 8 and desktop applications. Simply drag your finger along a border to move Magnifier in that direction. When the border disappears, you are at the edge of the screen.
By pressing the plus (+) and minus (-) buttons in the corners of the screen, you can zoom in or out to a size that best suits your preference. You can also quickly change the zoom level by moving two fingers closer together or farther apart on one of the borders.
To help keep track of your location on the screen, Magnifier has a preview feature that shows you exactly where you are in the context of the entire screen. To see the preview, tap with a thumb or finger on opposite borders at the same time. The currently magnified window will zoom out and highlight the part of the screen you are viewing. After a few seconds it will zoom back to the currently highlighted location. When viewing the preview, you can also drag the highlighted region to quickly move Magnifier around the screen.
Ease of Access and Personalization options on your computer
Ease of Access and Personalization options in Windows 8 make your device easier to see, hear, and use.
There’s no single best way to set up your PC. Everyone works differently so Windows 8 provides a variety of ways to change your settings so you can use your PC the way you want.
The most commonly used accessibility options are available from the sign-in screen. Click the Ease of Access button in the lower-left corner to choose those settings for your PC that you want to have available each time it starts.
Customizing the Ease of Access page
You can find more settings on the Ease of Access page. If you use a touch-enabled device, swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search. If you're using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Search.
Enter Ease of Access in the search box, tap or click Settings, and then tap or click Ease of Access in the results.
[image: Screen shot of Search menu in Windows 8 showing Settings highlighted with Ease of Access typed in the Search box]
Search box with ease of access typed and Settings selected.
[image: Screen shot showing Windows 8 Settings screen with Ease of Access highlighted]
Results of a search on “ease of access” with the Ease of Access control highlighted.
The accessibility options you'll find on the Ease of Access page are:
High contrast. If it’s hard to read text on your screen, you can change the theme of your PC to a color combination that’s easier to read.
Make everything on your screen bigger. If things on your screen are too small to read, you can use this setting to magnify everything on the screen.
Pressing Windows+Volume Up. This works on newer laptops and tablets. First, choose a setting (Narrator, Magnifier, or On-Screen Keyboard), and then turn it on with a quick press of the Windows logo button and Volume Up button together.
Show notifications for. If you find that notifications appear and disappear too quickly, you can change how long they’re visible—so you have time to read and react to them.
Cursor thickness. If the cursor is too small for you and hard to spot on the screen, use this setting to change its thickness.
Choosing more tools and settings in the Ease of Access Center
The Ease of Access Center in Windows 8 Professional gives you the most control for customizing your accessibility settings. If you're using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Search. Or, from the Start screen, press the Windows logo key+C. On a touch device, swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search. Enter current accessibility settings in the search box, tap or click Settings, and then tap or click View current accessibility settings.
The first section in the Ease of Access Center includes quick access to four common tools:
Magnifier. This enlarges part—or all—of the screen, so it’s easier to read. For more info, see Use Magnifier to see items on screen.
Narrator. This is a screen reader that reads the text on your screen aloud. For more info, see Hear text read aloud with Narrator.
On-Screen Keyboard. This lets you use your mouse or other pointing device to interact with a keyboard on the screen.
High Contrast. This heightens the color contrast of some text and images on your screen, which helps make those items easier to identify.
The second section of the Ease of Access Center lists all of the other settings you can use.
Use the computer without a display. Here, you can turn on Narrator, turn on audio descriptions for videos, set up Text to Speech, and change how long dialog boxes stay open.
Make the computer easier to see. If you occasionally have trouble seeing items on your screen, adjust these settings to make the screen easier to see. You can change to a high contrast theme, turn on Magnifier, adjust colors, and remove unnecessary animations and background images.
Use the computer without a mouse or keyboard. Windows includes an on-screen keyboard that lets you enter text by selecting characters on the screen. You can also use Speech Recognition to control your PC with voice commands, and dictate text into programs. For more info, see How to use Speech Recognition.
Make the mouse easier to use. This setting lets you change the size and color of the mouse pointer, and use the numeric keypad to control the mouse.
Make the keyboard easier to use. You can adjust the way Windows responds to mouse or keyboard input so that key combinations are easier to press, typing is easier, and accidental keystrokes are ignored.
Use text or visual alternatives for sounds. Windows can replace system sounds with visual cues and display text captions for spoken dialog in multimedia programs.
Make it easier to focus on tasks. These settings include a number of ways to help you focus on reading and typing. Use them to turn on Narrator, adjust how the keyboard responds to certain keystrokes, and change the way certain visual elements are displayed.
Make touch and tablets easier to use. When you choose this option, Narrator starts automatically when you press the Windows logo button and Volume Up button together. You can change this so Magnifier or On-Screen Keyboard starts instead.
Get recommendations for Ease of Access Settings
If you're not sure which settings to use, fill out the Ease of Access questionnaire to get recommendations.
If you're using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Search. With a touch device, swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search.
Enter current accessibility settings in the search box, tap or click Settings, and then tap or click View current accessibility settings.
Tap or click Get recommendations to make your computer easier to use.
Type without using the keyboard (On-Screen Keyboard)
There are a number of different kinds of keyboards. The most common is a physical, external keyboard that you plug into your PC. A PC with a touchscreen also has a touch keyboard. When you’re using a Windows 8 or Windows RT PC with a touchscreen, tap in a text field or other area where you can type and the touch keyboard appears. For more info about the touch keyboard, see How to use the touch keyboard.
Windows also has On-Screen Keyboard (OSK), an Ease of Access tool. You can use OSK instead of relying on the physical keyboard to type and enter data. You don’t need a touchscreen to use On-Screen Keyboard. OSK displays a visual keyboard with all the standard keys. You can select keys using the mouse or another pointing device, or you can use a physical single key or group of keys to cycle through the keys on the screen.
To open On-Screen Keyboard
- Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search. If you're using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Search.
- In the search box, enter On-Screen Keyboard, tap or click Apps, and then tap or click On-Screen Keyboard.
You can also open OSK from the sign-in screen. Click the Ease of Access button in the lower-left corner to choose to have OSK open automatically every time you turn on your PC.
To change how information is entered into On-Screen Keyboard
With OSK open, tap or click the OSK Options key, and then select the options you want:
Use click sound. Use this option if you want to hear a sound when you press a key.
Show keys to make it easier to move around the screen. Use this option if you want the keys to light up as you type.
Turn on numeric keypad. Use this option to expand OSK to show a numeric keypad.
Click on keys. Use this mode if you prefer to click or tap the on-screen keys to enter text.
Hover over keys. Use this mode if you use a mouse or joystick to point to a key. The characters you point to are entered automatically when you point to them for a specified time. You can set the time in the Options dialog box.
Scan through keys. Use this mode if you want OSK to continually scan the keyboard. Scan mode highlights areas where you can type keyboard characters by pressing a keyboard shortcut, using a switch input device, or using a device that simulates a mouse click.
Use Text Prediction. Use this option if you want OSK to suggest words for you as you type so you don't need to type each complete word.
Interact with your PC with Speech Recognition
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.
Make text on your screen larger or smaller
You can make the text and other items on your screen, such as icons, easier to see by making them larger. You can do this without changing the screen resolution of your monitor or laptop screen. This allows you to increase or decrease the size of text and other items on your screen while keeping your monitor or laptop set to its optimal resolution.
Assistive technology products for Windows
Assistive technology products are specialty hardware and software products that provide essential accessibility to computers for those with significant vision, hearing, dexterity, language, or learning needs. Many assistive technology products are compatible with Windows 8 Professional. Find more information about selecting and shopping for assistive technology products for Windows.
Overview of accessibility features in Windows 8 Professional
Provides a centralized location where you can adjust accessibility settings and programs. You can also get recommendations for settings to make your PC easier to see, hear, and use.
Magnifies the screen or a portion of the screen to make text, images, and objects easier to see.
A visual, on-screen keyboard with all the standard keys that you can use instead of a physical keyboard. On-Screen Keyboard also lets you type and enter data with a mouse or other pointing device.
Reads aloud on-screen text and describes some events that occur, or error messages that appear, while you're using the computer.
Enables you to interact with your computer using only your voice while maintaining, or even increasing, your productivity.
Lets you make text and objects larger and easier to see without losing graphics quality.
You can add a personal touch to your computer by changing the computer's theme, color, sounds, desktop background, screen saver, font size and more.
If you've got a touch-screen monitor, you can just touch your computer screen for a more direct and natural way to work. Use your fingers to scroll, resize windows, play media, and pan and zoom.
Keyboard combinations of two or more keys that, when pressed, can be used to perform a task that would typically require a mouse or other pointing device. Keyboard shortcuts can make it easier to interact with your computer, saving you time and effort.
Instead of having to press three keys at once (such as when you must press the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys simultaneously to log on to Windows), you can press one key at a time when Sticky Keys is turned on.
Instead of using the mouse, you can use the arrow keys on the numeric keypad to move the pointer.
Ignore keystrokes that occur in rapid succession and keystrokes that are held down for several seconds unintentionally.
Replace system sounds with visual cues, such as a flash on the screen, so system alerts are announced with visual notifications instead of sounds.