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Extract 3 from 'Windows 7 and Vista Explained: A guide for blind and partially sighted users'

Extract 3: Section 24.1 The Ease of Access Center

The Ease of Access Center contains a number of options that may be of particular interest to computer users with sight loss. Some of these are described later in more detail.

24.1.1 Starting the Ease of Access Center

To open the Ease of Access Center:

  • Use the shortcut WindowsKey + U (because the Ease of Access Center used to be called the Utility Manager).
  • Without using the Control Panel at all, use the Start Menu Search box to look for "ease of access".
  • In the default view of the Control Panel, type "ease of access" into the search bar and then Tab to the list of options returned. On my PC it is the first result in the list once I have typed "ease".
  • In the alphabetic list of the Control Panel, it is the first item beginning with the letter "e", so first letter navigation finds it quickly.

24.1.2 The Ease of Access Center window

At the top of the Ease of Access Center window are options to start Magnifier and Narrator. These are basic Windows programs to magnify and speak the screen respectively, and are described in detail in later Section 25 "Magnifier" and Section 26 "Narrator". If you need to use these, it would be difficult to start the Control Panel, open the Ease of Access Center and then navigate to the controls needed to turn them on without them already being turned on, so Windows has quick methods of starting both of them:

  • WindowsKey + U, Alt + N starts Narrator.
  • In Windows 7, WindowsKey + Plus starts Magnifier.
  • In Windows Vista, WindowsKey + U, Alt + G starts Magnifier.

You can also use the Start Menu Search box to start either Magnifier or Narrator. Press WindowsKey, type the name of the utility and press Enter.

The Ease of Access Center has a number of other links, some of which may be of particular interest:

  • Get recommendations to make your computer easier to use: takes you through a set of screens where you can indicate your level of eyesight, dexterity, hearing, speech and reasoning, and then presents you with a number of settings you might want to change based on your answers.
  • Use the computer without a display: takes you to another screen where you can start Narrator, turn on audio description (which may accompany some videos), turn off unnecessary animations, or lengthen the time pop-up messages stay on screen so that you can read and action them.
  • Make the computer easier to see: includes options to change colors, simplify screen activity, make keyboard focus more obvious and launch Magnifier, and also turn on audio description of videos (where they offer it) or Narrator. The "change the size of text and icons" link gives the option to change the size of screen text and icons. This option is covered later in Section 25.4 "Alternatives to using Magnifier".
  • Make the mouse easier to see: takes you to a screen with options for pointer size and color, and enabling you to use number pad keys to control the mouse. The "Mouse settings" button available in Windows 7 opens a multi-page dialog with more settings dictated by the mouse software you have loaded. Common features include the ability to add trails to the mouse pointer to make it easier to see, or to move the pointer to the default button whenever a dialog opens.
  • Make the keyboard easier to use: provides several features for users who have difficulty with pressing keys. The Toggle Key checkbox may be useful if you press the CapsLock key by mistake, because it makes one noise when you turn CapsLock on and another you turn it off. Use the "Set up" links to specify further options such as to use a shortcut key to turn the feature on and off. Options on this screen also allow you to ensure menu options and dialog control labels show their underlined accelerator keys, and prevent WindowsKey + arrow keys from resizing windows.

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