Windows 2000 - Using the Accessibility options

TALK TO ME. Perhaps the most interesting feature of Windows 2000 is the introduction of a Narrator, which uses the basis of text-to-speech to read events aloud and give descriptions of your screen. This feature was not available in Windows 98 and is new to Windows 2000.

It can be accessed by navigating to Start-Programs-Accessories-Accessibility and clicking on Narrator. The check boxes shown allow you to control what the Narrator says and when he says it.

"Announce Events On Screen", when selected, will read out to you a description of what is on your screen; for example, while writing this document, the Narrator explained to me that the foreground window was Microsoft Word Document 1 and that a standard and a formatting toolbar were present. The next check-box is "Read Text", and that is exactly what it does. Every time a keyboard character is pressed, the Narrator will announce it for you. In applications such as Wordpad it will read out the document that is currently on screen - I made it read out this article several times.

If you don't like the delivery with which the Narrator speaks to you, then you can easily change it by clicking on the Voice button and manipulating the spin controls for speed, volume and pitch.

ZOOM IN. For users with slight visual impairments, the Magnifier - accessible by navigating to Start-Programs-Accessories-Accessibility-Magnifier - provides strong zooming-in capabilities and is useful primarily for reading undersized text. It is also a great tool for users who share computers with other people, because it means that permanent changes to font sizes and display settings don't have to be made. It is a tool which can sit tidily at the top of your word processor or Web browser and will provide magnification of the area over which the mouse pointer is currently sitting. Magnification levels can be set from 1-9 in the Magnifier settings, but the greater the magnification is, the more jagged the letters become.

By default, the Magnifier will follow the movements of the mouse cursor, but this can be disabled by unchecking the magnifier box. Colour inversion and high-contrast settings can also be activated to make the screen stand out even more.

CLICK TO TYPE. For people with a physical impairment that prevents accurate typing on a keyboard, the On-"screen Keyboard - once again executable from the Accessibility group in the Accessories menu - enables keyboard input to be performed with the mouse by simply clicking on the desired on-screen keys.

In fact, you don't even need to click if you don't want to. From the Settings menu, if you select Type Mode, you can set the utility to enter keys just by hovering over them for a predetermined period of time. Other settings include the availability of a click sound every time a key is entered, while the key font and style can also be changed. The On-screen Keyboard can be kept on top of the application in which you are working, so you don't have to keep switching windows if an adjustment like changing the cursor position needs to be made. To disable this feature, simply untick "Always On Top" from the Settings menu.

OTHER OPTIONS. You can activate more helpful aids by double-clicking on the Accessibility icon in the Control Panel. Keyboard settings, sound settings and visual aids can all be activated from here. Mouse operation can also be assigned to the arrow keys of your keyboard from the Mouse tab, and sensitivity can be set by clicking on "Settings" and manipulating the slide bars.

If you want Windows to automatically set up an adequate working environment for you, then you can do so by running the Accessibility Wizard program. You will need to tell the wizard what you need assistance with, be it visual or audio, and from there the Wizard will provide a path of questions and preferences to set up the Windows habitat to your benefit.

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Elias Plastiras
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