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Vista Accessibility Features

25 February, 2008 by Peter Verhoeven

In 2003, Microsoft commissioned Forrester Research to measure the market for accessibility technology and present findings about computer users who could benefit from it. The results were surprising. One quarter had a visual impairment, nearly the same percentage had dexterity difficulties, and one fifth had hearing problems.

All in all, Forrester found that nearly two thirds of the survey sample would be likely to benefit from accessibility technology in one way or another. The real eye-opener was that the survey sample consisted entirely of 18- to 64-year-olds. You don’t need to be a market analyst to realise that accessibility is even more important for young children and the elderly.

Windows has had accessibility features since version 95, and even before that there was a separate ‘Access pack’ available for Windows 3, so many of the utilities and features we’ll be looking at here are not new.

However, Vista sees several improvements, particularly in the way accessibility functions are organised, and one new killer feature.

For a start, there has been a change of emphasis. Although XP has a little-known option to turn on ‘Sticky Keys’ at the Welcome screen by pressing the Shift key five times, Vista is far less arcane, there’s a button on the Welcome screen giving access to all the main accessibility utilities. Once logged in, these utilities, formerly tucked away in a submenu of Accessories, have been combined with the Control Panel Accessibility options in the new ‘Ease of Access centre’. So let’s take a tour.

Ease of access The former wheelchair icon, which probably put off many people, has been subtly redesigned with input/output arrows. There’s also far more available here than in XP. many features and options were previously available in Windows but involved tortuous trips through the outposts of the Control Panel.

One new feature is that Vista will optionally read or scan the first section of the Ease of Access window, the focus will toggle around the controls to turn on the Narrator, the on-screen keyboard, the Magnifier or set up the high-contrast mode. All the user has to do is press the spacebar when the desired item is in focus.

The Magnifier is much the same as in XP, but with a few more docking options. By default, the magnified area sits at the top of the screen, and can be set to follow the keyboard and mouse focus. Apart from reading small print, it’s also very useful for performing delicate pixel-level tasks such as cropping screenshots or other images.

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