Computers can be very enabling for people with disabilities. There are a range of built in features that allow users to personalise their machines and customise the way in which they interact with them.
If you have particular access requirements it can be difficult to log in eg, you may have problems pressing several keys at a time or perhaps you cannot see the screen.
Microsoft's Ease of Access Centre allows you to change the settings of your computer so that they are tailored to your specific needs. This will help with tasks such as using the computer without a keyboard or mouse.
Change the appearance of your screen
If you have a visual impairment or difficulty reading, changing the appearance of your screen can make it easier to read. Most operating systems, programs and web browsers allow you to:
Change the appearance of text (font)
Zoom and magnify
As an alternative to changing the text size, you may prefer to zoom into an area of your screen or use a magnifier to enlarge it. This will mean all of the features on your screen, including images and menus, will appear larger.
In Mac OS, you can use the dock magnification and quick screen magnification functions. Adobe reader users can zoom with reflow.
Change mouse and keyboard settings
Some people find using a mouse or a keyboard challenging.
If you have a visual or motor impairment you can change the settings of your mouse and keyboard to make them easier to use, or to avoid the need to use them.
You may be able to make the mouse easier to use, depending on your operating system by:
- Adjusting the speed at which your pointer moves
- Adjusting the speed of double click
- Using the snap to function, which automatically moves the pointer to the default button of a dialogue box
- Using the click lock function which makes it easier to drag and drop
- Adjusting the sensitivity of the mouse or trackpad.
It's also possible to make the mouse easier to see by adjusting the pointer (ie, making it bigger), increasing the size and speed of the cursor and using a function to locate the pointer on the screen if you lose track of it.
You can also the mouse keys to make your keyboard function in a similar way to the mouse, and use keyboard shortcuts to avoid using the mouse to navigate through menus.
You can make the keyboard easier to use (depending on your operating system or program) by:
- Adjusting the key repeat rate and delay to alter the time after which a key press is repeated. This can reduce typing errors for those who cannot move their hands quickly enough
- Setting your computer to ignore brief or repeated key presses
- Enabling StickyKeys, which makes your computer behave as though shift, control or alt are being held down. This makes keyboard shortcuts easier to use if you cannot press multiple keys at once
- Activating a caps lock, number lock or scroll keys lock warning
- Setting your own combinations of keys
- Using auto type and correction tools for words or phrases that you use regularly or have difficulty spelling.
Alternatively, you can use your computer without a keyboard by using an on-screen keyboard or using speech recognition.
You can also sound, text-to-speech and visual alerts (for deaf or hard of hearing users).
Alerts and notifications
Your computer has a sound scheme which makes specific sounds to notify you when things are happening (for example, a dialogue box or the battery running low in a laptop).
Alternatively, if you are deaf or have a hearing impairment, you might find it useful to set visual alternatives to sound notifications. You can:
- Switch to visual cues instead of sounds and set what the visual cue is
- Set a screen flashing alert rather than a sound alert in Mac OS
Making your computer read out loud
Screen readers allow content to be read aloud and allow you to interact with the computer. Your computer's operating system, browser or programs may have built in screen readers and text-to-speech tools. It will have some voices built in but these tend to be robotic.
A free Scottish voice is available for the public sector in Scotland, and two Welsh voices are available for free for non-commercial use in the UK. You can install these voices and change the default voice to the one you prefer.
Browsing the web
Web browsers can be used in text-only view or without a mouse. There is also a range of plug-ins, add-ons and extensions to enhance the user experience.
Change the way it looks
Plug-ins, add-ons and extensions
You can add extra functions to most browsers. While these are not built in, they are usually free and easy to install. They can help you to personalise a browser to your specific requirements - for example, Chrome Speak adds text-to-speech to Google Chrome.
In some browsers, these can be carried over to multiple computers as long as you have an internet connection and can log in (just remember to log out again when you have finished if it is a public computer).