Windows 2000: tuning the new OS

To those with impaired vision, hearing or mobility, a multimedia graphical operating environment isn't necessarily a godsend. That's why Microsoft includes accessibility tools (select Start-Pro-grams-Accessories-Accessibility). Even if you have no impairment, you might find some of these applets useful. Here are the highlights, but be sure to check even more downloadable, robust tools at www.microsoft.com/enable.

Magnifier: this tool, which was initially introduced in Windows 98, repurposes the top sixth of the Windows screen so that it displays the area around the mouse cursor, magnifying it anywhere from two to nine times its standard size.

Windows Narrator: this text-to-speech engine explains where you are - whether the focus is on the desktop, in a dialogue box, or in an application. A computer-generated voice reads out the text on buttons and menus, explains what check boxes are checked, and provides the keyboard actions necessary to close dialogue boxes. To adjust the pitch and speed of the voice, just click the Voice button.

On-Screen Keyboard: For those who are unable to handle keyboards, Windows 2000 includes a customisable on-screen keyboard on which you can type using either a mouse, a trackball or a joystick. While operating it, you can enter text in any running Windows application either by clicking letters, or, for those who experience difficulty clicking, by hovering over a letter for a specified length of time (which is easy to configure in the dialogue box under Settings-Typing Mode).

Utility Manager: To launch any of the three previously mentioned applications, use the Utility Manager (select Start-Programs-Accessories-Accessibility). As soon as the program launches, so does Narrator. You can configure any of the three tools to launch when either Windows or Utility Manager starts.

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