Getting Started with Windows Magnifier

When I work with students, families, and teachers, I often recommend learning to use free versions of accessibility software when they are available.  One example of software that students with visual impairments use is screen magnification, or screen enlargement software.  Using screen magnification software, individuals who use their vision to access the computer can digitally "zoom in" on the screen's contents, resulting in a magnified image.  This enlarged image results in the edges of the original screen being cropped, or cut out, so individuals typically will pan around the screen by moving the mouse.

Popular commercial versions of screen enlargement software include Zoomtext and MAGic, the latter of which is available to American Printing House for the Blind (APH) Quota Funds eligible students in a special student edition.  Commercial screen enlargment programs offer lots of features in addition to the core magnification features.  For example, users can get extra large, high contrast mouse cursors, fonts stay readable even at high levels of magnification, and text can be highlighted and read out to the user.

Unfortunately, purchasing specialized products can be an expensive proposition.  Individuals may not be in a position to afford purchasing the software, or schools want to trial the software before committing to large purchases.  Luckily, both Windows (Magnifier) and Apple (Zoom) computers have free, built-in screen enlargement programs that users can use.  In my professional opinion, learning to use Magnifier and Zoom is the best first step for understanding how to use screen enlargement.  That is, they're cost effective, and a user can be ensured that wherever they might be (like a computer lab or library), they will be able to help themselves better access the computer.  Also from personal experience, many of my students really only need to use the basic magnification feature.

In this blog post I am going to focus on Windows Magnifier, since this program is what students will encounter the most throughout their educational careers, as well as in public venues.  Below, you will find a few key considerations for getting started with Magnifier, and potential issues to be aware of.  I hope you find this helpful!

THINGS TO KNOW AS YOU GET STARTED WITH MAGNIFIER:

  • Hotkeys for using Magnifier:
    • Turn on Magnifier: (Windows) and (+)
    • Turn off Magnifier: (Windows) and (Escape)
    • Adjust Magnifier zoom level: (Windows) and (+ or -)
  • Magnifier opens up with the window below.  Users can click on the - and + buttons to adjust the enlargement level, change the view mode (Full screen, Lens, and Docked), and adjust settings (Gear button).

Image of Magnifier window

  • When Magnifier is turned on for the first time, the default increment that it adjusts the magnification by is set fairly high (100%).  Users can adjust this by clicking on the gear button to open up the Magnifier Options window.  At the top of the window, drag the slider according to your preference.  Here, I have dragged it to the "Less" side (increments of 25%) so I can have the most control over the specific level of magnification I will zoom in by.

Image of Magnifier settings window

  • An additional feature worth enabling is called "Have Magnifier follow the text insertion point."  This setting will set Magnifier to track with the user's typing while zoomed in, which is great because you won't type "off the screen."  Furthermore, if I have to search for another program to open (or any other task that requires typing) and press the Windows key, the focus of Magnifier will automatically shift to the search bar.
  • While zoomed in, some users will find that they do not enjoy panning around the magnified screen using the mouse.  Or, they may find that they are unable to do so without jerky movements.  When this is the case, users can use the (Alt) and (Control) and (Arrow keys) hotkeys to pan around the screen using just the keyboard.
  • If your computer is running Windows Vista, 7, or 8, Magnifier requires the use of aero themes to run in the Full screen view mode.  If you are not using an aero theme, you can select one by going to the Personalization section of the Control Panel.
  • It is possible that students and their teachers find themselves unable to adjust, or even access the Personalization section.  They may not even be able to turn Magnifier on.  This issue is most likely due to the fact that school Information Technology personnel have disabled access to Control Panel and Accessibility.  In the interest of allowing students to have access to accessibility features, speak with the appropriate school personnel to have these settings restored for your student. 

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