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Windows XP accessibility features for users with disabilities

Windows XP's accessibility features enable your users with disabilities to perform virtually any task on their PC. Learn how to access these features and special tools with Utility Manager and the Accessibility Wizard.

Windows XP offers features to make the computer easier to use for people with disabilities. We’ll examine using the Utility Manager and the Accessibility Wizard to access the Windows XP accessibility options that are designed for users with visual and hearing disabilities. Many of these features are also available in earlier versions of Windows under the Control Panel’s Accessibility icon.

Utility Manager
Utility Manager makes some of the newest and most helpful utilities available on demand. Access Utility Manager by selecting Start | All Programs | Accessories | Accessibility | Utility Manager. You can also activate Utility Manager by holding down the Windows logo key and pressing U. This tool allows you to control the startup status for Microsoft Magnifier, Microsoft Narrator, and the On-Screen Keyboard (we will discuss these features later in this Daily Drill Down). You can specify that you want the utilities to start automatically when a user logs in, when he or she locks the desktop, or when Utility Manager opens.

The Accessibility Wizard
There’s a shortcut to setting all the options we’ll discuss. The Accessibility Wizard runs through the options screen by screen, letting you choose the options you want. Access the wizard by clicking Start | All Programs | Accessories | Accessibility | Accessibility Wizard.

Features for sight-impaired users
Microsoft Magnifier
Windows XP includes Microsoft Magnifier, a tool that enlarges a portion of the screen to help the visually impaired (which includes most computer users). You can access the Microsoft Magnifier through Utility Manager or by selecting Start | All Programs | Accessories | Accessibility | Magnifier. By default, Magnifier leaves most of the screen at normal size. A window at the top of the screen displays the area around the mouse pointer at double size. As you move the mouse, the enlarged area scrolls to follow the mouse.

When you launch the Microsoft Magnifier program, you’ll see the Magnifier Settings dialog box. You can use this dialog box to increase the magnification level up to nine times the normal size. You can also use the various options to invert colors or use a high-contrast color scheme.

Microsoft Narrator
The Microsoft Narrator program is available by selecting Start | All Programs | Accessories | Accessibility | Narrator. You can also access it through the Utility Manager. Narrator is a limited capacity text-to-speech program. You can set its options to make Narrator read the contents of the screen to you. You can also set Narrator to announce any events that appear on your screen. Finally, you can set Narrator to have the mouse pointer follow along on the screen as the program reads aloud.

Features for hearing-impaired users
Windows XP provides accessibility features for the hearing impaired. To customize the sound options, open Control Panel and click on the Accessibility Options link. Next, double-click on the Accessibility Options icon and navigate to the Sounds tab on the Accessibility Options dialog box. You’ll see two check boxes:
  • Use SoundSentry: This feature allows the user to receive a visual cue when Windows makes a sound. Depending on the options you set, this cue may come in the form of a flashing active caption bar, a flashing active window, or even a flashing active desktop.
  • Use ShowSounds: This feature works like closed captioning on your television. It provides text feedback regarding the sounds that Windows plays.

Keyboard and mouse accessibility options
On-Screen Keyboard
Another accessibility option is the On-Screen Keyboard. You can access the On-Screen Keyboard through Utility Manager. You can also activate it by clicking Start | All Programs | Accessories | Accessibility | On-Screen Keyboard.

This feature provides a graphical representation of a keyboard. Users can select the style of keyboard (standard or enhanced), the layout of the keyboard (regular or block), and the number of keys they want to use from the Keyboard menu. They can use the Typing Mode option from the Settings menu to select whether they want to click on a key, use a joystick, or hover the mouse over a key to simulate a keystroke.

Keyboard accessibility: StickyKeys, FilterKeys, and ToggleKeys
Some disabilities prevent people from being able to type well on a regular keyboard. Windows XP allows you to customize the keyboard’s layout and behavior. To customize the keyboard’s behavior options for those who have difficulty typing, open Control Panel and double-click the Accessibility Options link. You’ll see the Accessibility Options dialog box. Navigate to the Keyboard tab, which offers three options you can use to customize keyboard behavior:
  • The StickyKeys options are designed for users who have difficulty pressing more than one key at a time. By customizing these settings, you can prevent the user from ever having to hold down such keys as [Shift] or [Alt] while pressing another key.
  • By enabling the Use FilterKeys check box, you can slow down the keyboard repeat rate. You can also set Windows XP to ignore accidentally repeated keys or keys that are pressed for a split second.
  • The Use ToggleKeys option sets Windows XP to play a tone every time the [Caps Lock], [Scroll Lock], or [Num Lock] key is pressed.

Other keyboard options
Other keyboard accessibility options are made available when you double-click Control Panel’s Printers And Other Hardware link and select the Keyboard icon. The options found under the Keyboard icon allow you to change the repeat delay and repeat rate for keys that are held down.

Mouse options
If you have a user who has difficulty manipulating a mouse (or if you have a broken mouse), you can take advantage of the MouseKeys feature located in the Accessibility Options dialog box. Setting MouseKeys allows you to control the mouse pointer with the keyboard’s arrow keys. To set this option, click the Mouse tab in the Accessibility Options properties sheet. Select the Use MouseKeys check box and click OK to enable this feature. Use the Settings button on the Mouse tab to customize MouseKeys.

Conclusion
If you have users in your organization with disabilities, you must know how to make their computers accessible. Windows XP has several features available to these users included within its Accessibility Options menus. The configuration of these features has been simplified dramatically with programs like Utility Manager and the Accessibility Wizard.
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