How to Modify a Computer for Older People with Low Vision without Spending a Dime

Article excerpt

In this new "Technology Q&A" column, the technology expert answers questions submitted by JVIB readers. This month's question was submitted by a case manager at an independent living center who wrote:

   I am working with several individuals who have
   lost vision later in life. They cannot use the
   computer for personal communication, access to
   information, and entertainment as their peers do
   at our center. They want to be able to send and
   receive e-mail, look up things of interest on
   the Internet and play games. However, they often
   cannot see the letters on the keyboard without
   bending very close, and the mouse pointer or the
   text on the screen is very difficult if not
   impossible for them to see. What options exist for
   enhancing the size and viewability of a standard
   computer? Are there other options seniors who do
   not have much, if any, computer experience could
   use more easily? Many of the people I work with
   are on fixed incomes. Are there affordable means
   of adapting a standard computer? Thanks for any
   help you can give me.

There are a number of options for increasing the size and contrast of the information presented on a computer screen without needing to purchase an expensive screen magnifier. Computers running relatively recent versions of the Microsoft Windows operating system have a number of built-in accessibility features (such features in Apple Macintosh computers are discussed at the end of this column). Although these built-in features may not be as versatile as the screen magnification and screen reading software that is currently available in the marketplace, they have the advantage of requiring no additional cost from the consumer. Here are some tips to get started.

CONTROL PANEL

In Windows, it is possible to modify and customize a variety of the computer's features through the Control Panel, an area that contains a variety of options for controlling the visual aspects and accessibility features of the computer. The Control Panel is located on the Start menu, possibly under Settings in some versions of Windows.

Accessibility Options

Accessibility Options in the Control Panel includes a list of selections that enable users to apply certain accessibility features Microsoft has built into Windows. This option has tabs to control the display, keyboard, and the mouse and its cursor and to allow an individual to add sounds that may be helpful for confirming that a program has launched or that a new message has been received by the computer's e-mail application. Accessibility Options is available on most Windows operating systems. However, selections within Accessibility Options vary depending on which version of the operating system the computer is running.

Once Accessibility Options is open, choose the Display tab. One of the selections in the Display tab adjusts the Cursor Options Blink Rate. By increasing or decreasing the rate at which the cursor blinks, it may become easier for a computer user with low vision to see the cursor when working in word processing programs. Also within the Display tab is the Cursor Options Width control. This tool is designed to change the width of the cursor that appears on the screen, making it easier to locate and follow the cursor when entering information. Once all the desired changes have been made within the Display tab, select the Apply button followed by the OK button to enact your changes. (The Apply button followed by the OK button needs to be pressed to put into effect the changes made in the other tabs of Accessibility Options, as well.) In order to see the changes that were made to the cursor, a word-processing document needs to be opened in an application such as Microsoft Word.

Display Properties

Like Accessibility Options, Display Properties is located within the Control Panel. Within this multipage dialog box are various options for changing the computer screen's appearance. …