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Assistive technology Windows

[Narrator:] In this chapter we will discuss the accessibility features that come bundled with the Microsoft Windows operating system Version 10. Please note that Microsoft updates and

changes its operating system from time to time. So your screen or set of functionalities might look slightly different from the ones described in this tutorial.

Windows 10 offers a variety of accessibility tools to customise the computer so it is easier to use. Users with very different kinds of disabilities will find potential solutions.

To access the accessibility tools, open the Settings panel and click Ease of Access. Ease of Access provides options for people who have learning, visual, hearing and mobility impairments. In the following sections we will introduce and demonstrate these tools and functions.

Magnifier

We will start with the Magnifier.

Primarily designed for people with limited visual capabilities, it can be useful for anyone who needs to focus on a small part of their screen.

You can activate or deactivate the screen magnification using the toggle switch here. As you can see, a small dialogue box opens which allows us to control several parameters of this tool. We can increase or decrease the magnification factor by using the plus and minus buttons. It is possible to increase the magnification factor by up to 16 times the original screen resolution.

You can magnify the full screen or you may prefer to magnify part of it using a lens. The magnified part of the screen can also be docked to a specific part of the screen.

Some of the following option settings are context sensitive, so they may change with the view option you have chosen. The Magnifier options allow you to set your personal preferences.

By default, the screen magnifies in steps of 100%. You can fine-tune this in steps of 5%.

You can start the magnification immediately after system start or after login.

You can also use inverted colours if you prefer.

You can configure the magnification to follow the tracks of your mouse. If you do not use a mouse, then the position of the keyboard focus might be a more appropriate choice.

When using the lens view, the tool offers a different set of options. Now we can modify the size of the lens.

We can also combine these options so that only the colours of the content displayed as part of the lens are inverted.

If you use the docked view, you can choose the size and position of the Magnifier view. To move the dock, press Control, Alt and the Arrow keys. To resize the docked view, press Shift, Alt and the Arrow keys.

Colour options

Windows 10 has several options for colour correction.

As previously seen, we can use the Magnifier’s colour inversion option to increase contrast.

Other options are available using the High Contrast tool. This tool activates one of the default high contrast themes to improve visibility for some users. If you have colour deficiencies, then choose the option that gives you the best result.

Just one more remark about colour dependencies. If you are a designer and you want to make sure that your document, website or app is accessible to users with colour deficiencies, check that all the content is distinguishable without colour; activate Colour filters, switch on the toggle under Turn on colour filters. Once you have enabled this feature, you will be able to select the grayscale colour filter.

Now test your document. Can all the elements be identified? Is all the text legible? Is the difference in brightness large enough so the different elements offer enough contrast?

In the same system settings dialogue you can find additional colour filters to apply to your screen output.

Narrator

Narrator is the built-in screen reader. A screen reader is essentially software that reads screen content to the user. Even though there are more powerful alternatives, Narrator can be a good one to start with.

[Screen reader:] Starting - Settings window, Use Narrator on. Use Narrator to read and interact with your device. Toggle switch, scan. Uncheck Allow the shortcut key to start Narrator checkbox. Checked. Unchecked. On. Use Narrator to read and interact - Exiting Narrator.

[Narrator:] The tool can read emails, websites, text you type and in-app content. Please refer to the Screen readers - Windows chapter for a more detailed description of Narrator.

A few things are worth mentioning here. A screen reader needs a voice to speak with. The voice defines the pronunciation of the words and phrases to be read. Therefore, a voice is language dependent. The English version of Windows 10 comes bundled with an English voice.

If you need more voices in multiple languages, you can download them from a Microsoft server. To download more voices go into Settings, Time & Language, Language.

To add a language to your system, click the plus button. You will see a wide range of different languages. Select the language of your choice. The system will now schedule this voice for download. Please note that voices require larger data packages, so it might take some time to download the voice depending on the speed of your internet connection.

In the Screen readers – Windows chapter we will introduce the NVDA screen reader, which is a better screen reader for Windows. NVDA can be downloaded for free. Please note that the voices we have installed here can be used by both screen readers.

Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft's digital assistant. By default, Cortana is not enabled. To enable it, click on the Start Menu button and click Cortana. Cortana will ask for permission to access your personal data, like your contacts, calendar and communication history. This helps Cortana get to know you better and complete various tasks. You can also choose Maybe later if you don't want this feature turned on.

To start Cortana, click the microphone button in the task bar. When it first starts, Cortana will ask for permission to send your voice data to Microsoft servers to improve the quality of the speech recognition.

[Cortana:] I can learn to understand you much better if I get familiar with the way you talk. I need your permission to help.

[Narrator:] As we would like to have the best speech recognition quality, we confirm this. So let's try it.

[User:] What is the weather in Paris?

[Cortana:] Right now it’s clear and 54 in Paris, Île-de-France. The forecast shows partly sunny sky with the high of 58 and a low of 47.

[User:] Tell me a joke!

[Cortana:] A ham sandwich walks into a bar and the bartender says, Sorry, we don't serve food in here.

[Narrator:] You can configure Cortana’s different options via Settings, Cortana. If you want to enable the voice commands, activate the switch Let Cortana respond to Hey Cortana. This feature will only work with a correctly configured sound in- and output. So you will need a microphone and speakers or headphones. Cortana will recognise your voice and answer your questions to the best of its abilities.

[User:] Hey Cortana, search for European Commission.

[Cortana:] According to Wikipedia.org, the European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the EU.

[Narrator:] Cortana can start programs and execute simple functions.

[User:] Hey Cortana, start Notepad.

[Cortana:] All right. Starting Notepad.

[Narrator:] Cortana is designed as a personal assistant. Therefore, it tries to collect as much information about you as possible. Cortana will ask for permission to access your contacts, calendars, to-do lists and so on.

It is mandatory to login to your Microsoft account. All information you forward to Cortana is evaluated on Microsoft servers. If privacy is an issue for you, then you might want to reconsider using Cortana.

Speech recognition

Cortana was designed as a personal assistant that accepts small questions and commands to be executed.

If you want to dictate larger amounts of text with your voice, you should use the dictation function of Windows 10. To activate dictation, open Settings Ease of Access and Speech. Turn on Speech Recognition.

If your sound input device is not configured yet, you will be asked to do so. Otherwise the speech recognition widget will open.

[User:] Peter dictates to his computer. He prefers it to typing, and particularly prefers it to pen and paper.

[Narrator:] We start Notepad as the text editor and create an empty text document. Let's start to dictate some text.

[User:] The European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the European Union.

[Narrator:] The result is not bad, but it does not match our expectations. To improve the quality of the speech recognition, you can train the system. Right click on the record button to open the Configuration menu. Select Improve voice recognition. The system will now ask you to speak several sentences to train the recognition engine.

[User:] I am now speaking to my computer. The computer is learning the sound of my voice.

[Narrator:] This training will take approximately 15 minutes.

[User:] Look in the help documentation for Speech.

[Narrator:] The quality of the speech recognition should increase significantly afterwards. So we try our test sentence again.

[User:] The European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation, implementing decisions, upholding the treaties and managing the day-to-day business of the European Union.

[Narrator:] Note that the dictation function does not send any content to Microsoft servers.

Audio

In the Ease of Access settings panel you can activate visual notifications for sounds. Choose Audio and configure Show audio alerts visually. Select the type of optical feedback you would like to have. You can configure audio output to play stereo output in mono.

Another audio option is to pair a Bluetooth compatible hearing aid with your personal computer to improve audio recognition. To do this, select Settings, Devices. Press the plus button and follow the instructions to add your Bluetooth compatible hearing aid as an audio output device.

Closed captions

Closed captions let you read the words spoken in the audio portion of a video. You can find the tool by selecting Settings, Ease of Access, Closed captions. Customise the settings to configure how closed captions appear in Windows and supported local media players.

The tool offers a preview function. We selected large yellow text on a semitransparent blue background. Let’s see if it’s working.

Video playing: Accessibility. In 2017, 10% of people within the EU had hearing problems. 3% had sight loss. 13% were partially sighted persons and 28%...

[Narrator:] For more information about closed captions, please consult the chapter Text transcripts, captions and sign language. 

On-screen keyboard

When you cannot use your hands to operate a standard keyboard, an on-screen keyboard can be very helpful. To display the On-Screen Keyboard, select Settings, Ease of Access, Keyboard. Activate the switch On-Screen Keyboard.

The keyboard will appear as an overlay window. Resize the window to your needs.

Let's start Notepad and type some text. We can now write some text without using the physical keyboard. We are just using a pointing device.

Sticky keys / Slow keys

The keyboard panel offers us more functions.

Imagine you can only use one hand and you have to type a combined key combination like Shift-Control-Option U. This would be really difficult.

​​​​​​​When Sticky Keys is activated, the system adds all keystrokes that can be used in combination with other keys, like Shift, Control or Option, until a character key is pressed.

To use Sticky Keys, open Settings, Ease of Access, Keyboard. Activate the switch Sticky Keys.

I open Notepad and type some text. I would like to select a word. So I position my cursor before the word and press Shift, then Control and then the right arrow key. The word was selected. Now I want to copy the word. I press Control, then the letter C. I reposition the cursor and press Control, followed by the letter V. This was a copy-paste pressing one key at a time.

Slow Keys allow the user to specify the duration for which one must press-and-hold a key before the system accepts the keypress. This feature prevents unintentional keystrokes caused by trembling motions.

Let's try it. We activate it by selecting Filter Keys in combination with Slow Keys. This configuration allows you to set the time the key needs to be pressed before it is recognized as a keystroke.

I switch to Notepad and start typing random keys. Nothing happens. I am typing too fast. So let's try to press the single keys for longer. Press-and-hold... release. Press-and-hold... release. Press-and-hold... release. This mechanism prevents us from making accidental keystrokes.

We have used the default value of 1 second, but you can configure this to a shorter or longer time frame.

Mouse options

The Ease of Access panel allows you to configure several mouse-related parameters.

In Cursor and pointer size you can increase or decrease the size of the mouse pointer. This is not only useful for people with visual impairments. This can be useful for many users, especially those working with larger high-resolution monitors, to find the position of their mouse pointer.

You can also configure the colour of the mouse pointer. You might prefer a black mouse pointer or a mouse pointer that changes its colour to the opposite of the background colour.

If you cannot use the mouse at all, might prefer to use the numeric keypad to move the mouse around the screen. You can find this function in the Mouse control panel.

Where to continue?

You have seen an introduction on how accessibility tools are integrated into Windows 10. There are many options for very different kinds of specific needs. Depending on your personal interests, you could continue with one of the following chapters:

  • Assistive technology – macOS
  • Assistive technology – iOS
  • Assistive technology – Android

If you would like to know more about screen readers in Windows, we recommend you continue with: Screen readers – Windows.

[Automated voice:] Accessibility. For more information visit: op.europa.eu/web/accessibility.

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