Assistive Technology in Education/Windows
With Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced the Ease of Access Center to make computers more functional for people with special needs, particularly those “with visual difficulties, hearing loss, pain in their hands or arms or reasoning and cognitive issues (Williams, 2006, p. 4). The Ease of Access Center features make it easier for those with vision, hearing, and mobility issues to navigate the computer. For instance, Windows keyboard shortcuts in Vista and Windows 7 assist who have difficulty controlling a mouse due to poor motor skills or vision. (Dell, N., Newton, D., & Petroff, J., 2008). The accessibility tools help schools by removing the need for expensive equipment that may draw “undue attention to students' disabilities” (Dell, N., Newton, D., & Petroff, J., 2008, p. 148).
Microsoft gave the Ease of Access center functions titles that are easy to remember. The Common Tools include Magnifier, Narrator, On-Screen Keyboard, and High Contrast. Other tools and functions include Audio Description, Text to Speech, Speech Recognition, These settings can be customized by user profile, so if multiple students are using a computer they can use Windows set up the way that works best for them.
The improved speech recognition tool in Vista will benefit those who limited hand control and mobility, as well as those who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome (Williams, 2006) it is designed to adapt to the user's style of speaking. Speech recognition allows you not only to dictate text, you can do anything you would do with the mouse and keyboard including navigating between applications and editing and formatting documents.
Microsoft grouped the most common accessibility tools into one place for easy access. These tools assist those with weak or no hearing and vision, as well as those with limited mobility. Once turned on, they will stay active until the user logs off (Williams, 2006). When you open the Ease of Access Center window, Windows will start navigating between the four tools, and read each one out loud as it is highlighted.
Magnifier allows you to make any text or image on the screen larger. It can be a bit awkward to use, but with practice it gets easier. When you turn on Magnifier, Vista open a separate application window that uses settings you specify in the Magnifier tool. Whatever you are looking at when you turn Magnifier on is what displays in the new window. The magnification ranges from 2x to 16x.
Start Magnifier by selecting it in the Ease of Access Center.
- Keyboard shortcut = Winkey + U then ALT + G.
To change the settings, you must select the Magnifier tool from the Windows Taskbar at the bottom of the window. (You can also hold the Alt key and press Tab until Magnifier is the active window). To turn Magnifier on, select “Start Magnifier” in the “Ease of Access Center”. To turn Magnifier off, click the red X to close the window.
- Minimize on Startup. This will minimize the Magnifier window when you turn Magnifier on.
- Scale factor. Control the amount of zoom. 1x is normal. 2x is 200% of normal. 3x is 300% of normal.
- Invert Colors will reverse black and white.
- Docked specifies where on your monitor the magnified window will appear. The options are Top, Bottom, Left and Right.
Narrator is a simple text-to-speech tool that will read Window's menu items as the student navigates within windows.
Start Narrator by selecting it in the Ease of Access Center.
- Keyboard shortcut = Winkey + U then ALT + N.
Narrator preferences allow a student to specify what will be read. Choices are:
- Echo Keystrokes (reads each key pressed)
- Announce System Messages
- Announce Scroll Notifications
- Start Narrator Minimized
Other Narrator settings allow you to increase or decrease the speed, volume and pitch of the voice.
The visual keyboard function makes it much easier for students with limited mobility, to type on the computer. Vista provides a full virtual keyboard including a number pad which be used with a mouse, a switch device, or any other pointing device.
Start On-Screen Keyboard by selecting it in the Ease of Access Center.
- Keyboard shortcut = Winkey + U then ALT + K.
The on-screen keyboard can be configured to display a variety of keyboard layouts to accommodate different needs.
- Enhanced (includes number pad) or standard keyboard
- Block Layout (displays keys in rows)
- Keyboard is 101, 102, or 106 keys
Other virtual keyboard settings further customize keyboard to meet the needs of those with limited mobility.
- Keys can be selected by clicking, hovering, or scanning.
- The font displayed on the keyboard can be set to any installed font. Students can also modify the font size and style.
- Audible key clicks are another option.
Increasing the contrast can make reading and navigating the screen easier for someone with poor vision. When a user turns on High Contrast, screen colors are basically inverted so that important text and images stand out, though images will display normally. The screen displays with a black background and bright with text.
Start High Contrast by selecting it in the Ease of Access Center.
- Keyboard shortcut = Winkey + U then ALT + U -- OR -- ALT + Left SHIFT + PrtScn. If using a laptop, press ALT + Left SHIFT + Function + PrtScn.
Other Tools and Functions
Provides audio descriptions of what is happening in enabled videos viewed on the computer.
To turn on Audio Description, open the Ease of Access Center and click on the link that says, "Use the computer without a display." Click the text box for Audio Description, or press ALT + I.
Text to Speech
The Vista Narrator tool can also read some text displayed on the screen.
To turn on Text to Speech, open the Ease of Access Center and click the link that says, "Use the computer without a display." Then, click the "Set up Text to Speech" link or press ALT + O.
From here, you can
- Preview the voice (ALT + P) or
- Change the rate of speech with the arrow keys (ALT + C)
Windows Vista includes a basic speech recognition program that allows a user to use their voice to navigate the compute, and create documents and email, creating a nearly hands-free interface. With speech recognition, students can use their voice to "start programs, open menus, click buttons and other objects on the screen, dictate text into documents, and write and send e-mails" (Microsoft, 2008, p. 1).
Vista offers speech recognition in English (US and UK), German, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese (Microsoft, 2008). While a headset is recommended, Speech Recognition will also work with a desktop microphone and a built-in laptop microphone.
A Speech Recognition tutorial is provided both for the student to learn how to use it and also for the computer to learn the student's voice. Unfortunately, each Vista workstation can only be trained to recognize one voice.
Access these settings by going through the Control Panel to the Mouse icon.
- Buttons tab
- Left-handed mouse. Switch between left and right-handed mouse to accommodate "other" handedness. The left and right mouse buttons be switched.
- Double click speed. Adjust the double click speed from very slow to very fast. A slower double-click speed will make computer use easier for a student with less dexterity.
- Click lock. This feature allows a student to highlight and range of text and to drag text and images without having to hold the mouse button down.
- Pointers tab
- Scheme. This option lets you choose the graphic for your mouse point. Instead of an small white arrow, you can increase the arrow size and color. You can also choose other graphics such as a hand or a dinosaur.
- Pointer shadow. A check box offer a student the option to apply a pointer shadow, making the mouse pointer easier to located on the screen.
- Pointer options tab
- Mouse pointer speed. This option adjusts the speed the mouse pointer travels across the screen. A slower speed makes it much easier for a student with limited mobility to navigate on the computer.
- Snap to. When checked, the Snap to feature will make the default choice the active choice. Pressing the Enter key or Left mouse button will then select it.
- Mouse pointer trails. Pointer trails can make the mouse much easier to locate on the screen, particularly for those with limited vision. There is also an option to adjust the length of the pointer trails.
- Hide pointer while typing. Hiding the pointer can limit the visual distraction of having the mouse pointer on top of the text.
- Show pointer with CTRL key. When this option is selected, pressing the CTRL key causes a large circle to surround the mouse pointer briefly making it easy to locate.
- Wheel tab
- Adjust horizontal and vertical scrolling to a specific number of lines per scroll.
Other Mouse Options
Vista offers another set of accessibility controls outside of the mouse settings tabs. To access these, go through the Ease of Access Center (Winkey + U) and click the "Make the mouse easier to use" link.
- Mouse pointers. There are some options here to make the mouse pointer easier to see, fewer than the mouse schemes offer.
- Mouse keys. A check box offers the ability to navigate with the numeric keypad instead of the mouse.
- Mouse hover. This option will activate a window when the mouse is hovering over an item that is clickable.
Access these settings by going through the Control Panel to the Keyboard icon.
- Character repeat. By adjusting the Repeat delay, students can adjust how long they can hold a key down before the keystroke will repeat. They can also adjust the Repeat rate speed.
- Cursor blink rate. Students can adjust how fast the cursor blinks.
Other Keyboard Options
Vista offers another set of accessibility controls outside of the keyboard settings tabs. To access these, go through the Ease of Access Center (Winkey + U) and click the "Make the keyboard easier to use" link.
- Mouse keys. A check box offers the ability to navigate with the numeric keypad instead of the mouse.
- Turn on by clicking the check box.
- Sticky keys. Sticky keys allow a user to press keys one at a time instead of simultaneously.
- Turn on by pressing the Shift key 5 times.
- Toggle keys. When check, the computer will sound a tone whenever Caps lock, Num lock, or Scroll lock are press.
- Turn on by holding the Num lock key for 5 seconds.
Using the Ease of Access Center
The tools and functions can be quickly accessed with the mouse (Start → Control Panel → Ease of Access Center) or with the keyboard command ( Winkey +U) (Microsoft, 2008). The Common Tools are displayed at the top of the screen and can be selected by pressing the spacebar when the item is highlighted. All of the other functions and settings can be accessed through the links further down on the screen. Students can also respond to a list of questions based on their experience and plans for future use of the computer; based on their responses Windows will select appropriate tools to assist them in use of the computer (Williams, 2006).
To do this Press these keys Access the Ease of Access Center Winkey + U Turn on Sticky Keys Press "Shift" 5 times Turn on High Contrast Left "Alt" + Left "Shift" + "PrtScn" Turn on Filter Keys Hold the right "shift" for 8 seconds Turn on Mouse Keys Left "Alt" + Left "Shift" + "Num Lock" Turn on Toggle Keys Hold "Num Lock" for five seconds
- Williams, J. (2006, August). Microsoft's Vista guarantees people with special needs access to computers. Exceptional Parent Magazine, 36(8), 54-57 (p. 4)
- Dell, N., Newton, D., and Petroff, J. (2008). Assistive technology in the classroom: enhancing the school experiences of students with disabilities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Dell, N., Newton, D., and Petroff, J. (2008). Assistive technology in the classroom: enhancing the school experiences of students with disabilities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, p. 148.
- Williams, J. (2006, August). Microsoft's Vista guarantees people with special needs access to computers. Exceptional Parent Magazine, 36(8), 54-57
- Williams, J. (2006, August). Microsoft's Vista guarantees people with special needs access to computers. Exceptional Parent Magazine, 36(8), 54-57.
- Microsoft.com. (2008, February 14). Windows vista accessibility tutorials. Retrieved from http://www.microsoft.com/enable/training/windowsvista/narshortcuts.aspx
- Microsoft. (2008, February 14). Start speech recognition. Retrieved from http://www.microsoft.com/enable/training/windowsvista/sr.aspx ) among other things.
- Microsoft. (2008, February 14). Windows speech recognition. Retrieved from http://www.microsoft.com/enable/products/windowsvista/speech.aspx