There are a number of built in accessibility features of the Windows Operating System that will assist you with understanding the information that you are receiving from or inputting you’re your computer or assist you with accomplishing tasks with less typing and/or quicker performance time.
You might find it valuable to also explore different Windows built-in alternative control and alternative display features, as some of these (e.g. changing the display) may impact how you focus on or understand information.
Features that Help you Eliminate Distractions
- Background images – turns off background images that are overlapping with the content to help make the screen easier to view.
- Cursor blink rate – change the blinking rate or fully turn off the blinking cursor.
- Hide the pointer – remove the pointer when not active if it is a distraction on screen.
- Hiding the ribbon – hide or show the ribbon to eliminate distraction.
- Edge e-book reader – adjust the text spacing and have text read aloud for purchased or downloaded e-pub books in the Edge Browser.
- Personalization – adjust the colours and display of different items on the screen to meet your needs (e.g. remove the desktop image to have a simpler, less cluttered desktop).
- Reading View – switch into reading view on most web pages that have an article or main content to eliminate the extra ads, links, and other distracting information on the webpage
- Ribbon and Quick Access – customize the Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar to organize where different functions are on the screen. Create a larger and less cluttered ribbon by creating a new tab, using fewer functions on that tab, and/or using groups and group names to space out the icons.
- Turning off all unnecessary animations – this feature provides you the option of turning off animation effects. This feature can benefit those who get easily distracted or may find a cluttered screen confusing.
- Turn off suggestions – start Edge with a blank page instead of a homepage or turn off suggestions in Cortana or the Start menu
- Notification timing – increase the length of time notifications pop up to give you more time to respond or read the notification.
Features that Help you Organize Information
Changing how information is displayed can help with focus and understanding, or eliminate additional tasks. Some features include:
- Using different folders to organize files
- Create a new Library (in File Explorer) when working on a project to create a central space where you can view files that are stored in multiple locations across your computer
- Change the icons or the names of folders (under the Properties in the Customize tab for that folder) – for example, pick a globe icon for Geography
- Decide which items you want on your taskbar, your desktop, and in the start menu (e.g. perhaps the taskbar has programs that you want to be able to access while working in other programs like Narrator and the desktop has programs that you would mainly open when you start the computer)
- Headings and the Navigation Pane – when using Word, use the different Heading Styles to organize your reports and documents. The Navigation Pane can then be used to provide a table of contents for an overview of your document and easy re-organization of sections.
- Using Live Tiles in the Start Menu (Windows 10) to provide quick information (e.g. weather) without needing to open another program
What other strategies do you find helpful in organizing information on your computer?
Features that Help You Input or Receive Information in Different Ways
- Auto-correct – create shortcuts for certain words or phrases (also known as “Abbreviation Expansion”) or corrections for common misspellings (that aren’t yet in autocorrect) by creating new auto-correct entries (e.g. create an entry that tells your computer every time you type “#UDL”, it expands to “Universal Design for Learning”; or that every time you misspell “accommodation” by typing “accomadation,” the computer corrects it)
- Cortana – Cortana is a digital personal assistant available in more recent versions of Windows. By responding to voice commands, Cortana can both control programs and input text (e.g. create a reminder or appointment, write an email, create a list)
- Fonts – try out different system fonts to find out if one is easier to read (e.g. “Fluent Fonts” can be downloaded from Microsoft)
- Narrator – a basic screen reader that reads text and program information in most Microsoft products, but may have some functionality in non-Microsoft programs. This feature can be used to provide text-to-speech feedback, but will also read system information. For a user who wants to only use it for text-to-speech, Narrator could be turned on when needed and then off when text-to-speech is no longer needed, or a mute button could be used to turn sound on only when text-to-speech is needed.
- Skype Translator and video calling – video calls provide additional communication cues that can help facilitate understanding (e.g. facial expressions, body language, hand gestures). Translator translates voice to text or text to voice to assist with communication on calls.
- Spacing – change the line spacing, word spacing and letter spacing if it helps with focusing or tracking across a line when reading
- Speech Recognition – allows the user to use their voice to interact with the computer, reducing the need to focus on spelling or movement. Read more about voice recognition.
- Spelling and Grammar – use Spelling and Grammar functions to proofread documents and reduce the number of mistakes that you might miss when editing.
- Word Prediction (part of the on-screen keyboard) – reduces the number of letters a user needs to press by predicting the word being typed or the next word a user will type based on letters typed and/or word frequency and context. Read more about word prediction.
Where to Adjust the Built-in Features
Many of these features are found on the different versions of Windows (e.g. Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and further back). However, there may be some differences in what features you have on your version of Windows, and there may be some slight differences in how each function works or where it can be found.
If you are using Windows 7 or older versions of Windows, most of these features can be found in the Control Panel (under Ease of Access, Speech Recognition, or the Keyboard) or in the specific software application. If you are using Windows 10 or 8.1, these features are found spread out between the older Control Panel (similar sections as above) and the newer Settings, either under Devices, Time & Language (Speech), Ease of Access, and Personalization (Background, Colours, Themes, Start, Taskbar). Others might be found within specific programs (e.g. File Explorer Ribbon to change the folder icons in Properties or show Libraries in the Navigation Pane). While the newer versions of Windows have added new features, not all options can be adjusted in the Settings and you may have to still explore the Control Panel to make certain changes. Office 365, the most recent version of Microsoft Office, may also have features discussed above or new accessibility features to test out.
If you want Windows to suggest some features that you might like based on your needs, you can “get recommendations to make your computer easier to use.” Find this link in the Control Panel under Ease of Access Center.
Keeping Up to Date with Accessibility on Windows
Technology is constantly changing, so keep an eye out for new features that could be beneficial for your or your students. Check out the Windows Accessibility Page for up-to-date information about Windows accessibility features.
Remember that everyone is unique and different features and settings may be used for a different purpose than they were designed. Explore the different settings in your Windows operating system and the software applications you use – you may end up finding additional tools or features that adapt how you understand information or change how you do a task in your computer. And if you find something new and cool, send us your idea, and we’ll review it to see if it fits on the SNOW website or our social media pages!
To learn how this section relates to the core principles of the AODA Customer Service regulation, visit the AODA page on SNOW.