Guide for Individuals with Learning Impairments
Microsoft products include accessibility features and options that can be adjusted to address learning preferences as well as difficulties and impairments ranging from dyslexia and attention deficit disorder to retardation. Many individuals with learning difficulties and impairments are perfectly capable of learning if information is presented to them in a form and at a pace that is appropriate to them individually. Providing a multisensory experience of audio speech paired with a visual representation, for example. And, reducing visual and auditory distractions can aid the learning process for many people.
This guide describes accessibility features built into Windows 8 and Microsoft Office 2013 that are available to address learning 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 use
- Adjust accessibility settings from the Ease of Access Center
- Make it easier to focus on tasks
- Use Office features to focus on tasks
- Surf the web more easily with Internet Explorer 10
- Find assistive technology for learning 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 learning 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.
"Make your computer easier to use" screen in the Ease of Access Center
The Windows accessibility options most helpful for people with learning impairments and special needs are grouped into the Make it easier to focus on tasks section. A number of settings can help make it easier to focus on reading and typing. You can have Narrator read information on the screen, adjust how the keyboard responds to certain keystrokes, and control whether certain visual elements are displayed.
Windows comes with a basic screen reader called Narrator, that reads aloud on-screen text and describes some events such as an error message appearing on screen. This feature may be useful for people with learning impairments who benefit from both visual and auditory information being presented simultaneously.
Narrator in Windows 8 is substantially faster and supports many new features. 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.
Narrator Settings screen
Several options you can use in Windows can simplify the way you type information on your computer thereby making it easier to stay focused.
These options include:
- Sticky Keys—Instead of having to press three keys at once (such as when you must press the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys together to log on to Windows), you can use one key by turning on Sticky Keys and adjusting the settings. With Sticky Keys on, you can press a modifier key and have it remain active until another key is pressed.
- Toggle Keys—Toggle Keys can play an alert each time you press the Caps Lock, Num Lock, or Scroll Lock keys. These alerts can help prevent the frustration of inadvertently pressing a key and not realizing it.
- Filter Keys—You can set Windows to ignore keystrokes that occur in rapid succession, or keystrokes that are held down for several seconds unintentionally.
- Remove background images. This option turns off all unimportant, overlapped content and background images to help make the screen easier to see.
- Turn off all unnecessary animations. This option turns off animation effects, such as fading effects, when windows and other elements are closed.
- Choose how long Windows notification dialog boxes stay open. With this option, you can choose how long notifications are displayed on the screen before they close.
- Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen. This option prevents windows from automatically resizing and docking along the sides of your screen when you move them there.
Note: Remember, you can access these options at any time after log-in by opening the Ease of Access Center by pressing the Windows logo key+U. Then, select "Make it easier to focus on tasks."
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.
Configure your Speech Recognition experience screen in Control Panel: Ease of Access
Using a keyboard and mouse is not always possible or desirable for many people. With Windows 8, if you have 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. See also: How to use the touch keyboard.
A number of accessibility options in Microsoft Office 2013 make it easier for people with learning impairments to interact with their computers while creating Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and more.
All Microsoft Office programs can check the spelling and grammar of your files. In Microsoft Word 2013, start the Spelling and Grammar checker by clicking Review > Spelling and Grammar.
Then, choose from these options as the spelling and grammar checker reviews your document:
- Check the spelling and grammar all at once.
- Check spelling and grammar automatically, as you type.
- Recheck the words you previously checked and chose to ignore (but changed your mind).
Screen shot of Spelling and Grammar button on the Word 2013 ribbon
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
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.
Document in Read Mode of Office 2013
Also while in Read Mode you can double-click a picture to get an enlarged view. Click outside the image to return to reading.
With the Microsoft Office 2013 Mini Translator, you can point to a word or selected phrase with your mouse and the translation displays in a small window. The Mini Translator also includes a Play button so you can hear an audio pronunciation of the word or phrase, and a Copy button so you can paste the translation into another document.
Microsoft OneNote can make taking and organizing notes a lot easier. Students with dyslexia, for example, can benefit from many features in OneNote that can help them take notes faster and in different ways, stay organized, and meet literacy challenges, such as spelling and grammar.
Move around webpages with the keyboard
With learning impairments and disabilities it's sometimes difficult to find links on webpages. Some people find it easier and quicker to move around webpages 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
Surf the web more easily with Internet Explorer 11
Accessibility in Internet Explorer 11 lets you select text and move around a webpage with the keyboard. Keyboard access to the toolbar buttons, search box items, address bar, and tabs makes surfing the web quicker and easier for people with learning impairments.
Press the Tab key to move forward between screen elements and Shift+Tab to move backward. By pressing Tab or Shift+Tab, you can navigate through the parts of the screen. Learn more about Internet Explorer 11.
Zoom in on a webpage
To make everything on a webpage easier to see you can zoom in or enlarge the whole page including images and text. You can zoom from 10 to 1000 percent.
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 Zoom slider in Internet Options to increase everything on a webpage
To zoom in or out 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, 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 11
Internet Options Tools menu open to Zoom level options
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, select Internet Options from the Tools menu.
Internet Options dialog box Colors, Fonts, Accessibility buttons
Then, select 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 using your own style sheet.
Fonts dialog box where font preferences are selected
Colors dialog box where webpage color preferences are selected
You can shop for assistive technology products compatible with Microsoft Windows made by independent assistive technology companies. People who have learning impairments may be interested in the following:
- Word prediction programs allow the user to select a desired word from an on-screen list located in the prediction window. The program predicts words from the first one or two letters typed by the user. The word can then be selected from the list and inserted into the text by typing a number, clicking the mouse, or scanning with a switch. These programs help support literacy, increase written productivity and accuracy, and increase vocabulary skills through word prompting. See also text prediction available in On-Screen Keyboard.
- Reading tools and learning disabilities programs include software designed to make text-based materials more accessible for people who struggle with reading. Options can include scanning, reformatting, navigating, or speaking text out loud. These programs help people who have difficulty seeing or manipulating conventional print materials; people who are developing new literacy skills, or who are learning English as a foreign language; and people who comprehend better when they hear and see text highlighted simultaneously.
- Speech synthesizers (also known as text-to-speech (TTS) systems) speak information aloud in a computerized voice. Speech synthesizers can be helpful for people with learning, language, or vision impairments.
- Speech recognition programs, (also called voice recognition), allow computer navigation by voice rather than entering data by keyboard or mouse. You can still use a mouse and keyboard as well as voice, to enter data, write text, and navigate applications. Students who have difficulty typing or reading text because of a learning, language, or mobility impairment can often successfully work on a computer with the use of speech recognition.