Note: This article is written from the point of view of a teacher of the visually impaired. For a student perspective, please see “Accessibility Settings for Windows 10” by fellow blogger Veroniiiica.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That's what I've learned in my 14 years teaching students with visual impairments, half of which has been spent teaching assistive technology almost full time.
This year, our school made the much anticipated (and simultaneously dreaded) switch from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Half the students and teachers were in panic mode and the other half were eager to experiment.
As for me...well...I had mixed feelings. On the one hand my lesson plans were going to be super easy! I mean, I could spend the first two weeks working on getting students used to the various settings and changes on the school computers. On the other hand, I was going to be super busy helping both students and staff adjust to the change. Being an optimist, I see this last part as “job security”.
For this article, I'm going to focus on the changes for low vision users in Windows 10. In my opinion, it has never been easier to adjust settings so that the PC was VI friendly.
Navigating to Settings
If you are unsure of where the settings are, no worries! There are several ways to get there.
Firstly, you can simply press the Windows key (or click the icon) and type “settings”, then press enter. You will be taken to settings. On that page, you are in a search filed where you can search for specific settings such as “display”, “color”, “ease of access”, or any other setting you'd like.
You can also right click the desktop and choose “display settings” or “Personalize” from the context menu
There is also a gear on the far left lower part of the screen when you click on the start menu or press the windows key.
Settings for the Low Vision User
Now that you know how to open settings, here are a few low vision settings and features worth checking out:
I know, this is not a “new” feature, but it has been a life (or more accurately money) saver for my students and I. Getting the magnifier up is as easy as pressing the windows key and the + key. The magnification settings are pretty easy to adjust, including changing the magnification type from full screen to lens and docked. The shortcut key combinations are in the menus, as is customary in Windows. Generally, the magnifier is very simple and though it's no Magic or ZoomText, for most of us it'll get the job done.
The display settings are much easier to adjust on Windows 10 than they were in 7, if for no other reason than you don't need to restart your PC for them to take effect, only to find out you wasted five minutes changing one setting that didn't work for you...Annoying! In this version of Windows you can adjust the display settings and see immediately if they will fit your needs, though a restart may be needed for some areas to get the full effect. Here is a side-by-side comparison of my screen at 100% resolution and 150% (based on my display, 150 is recommended, but I wanted to highlight the difference.)
Background and Color
For those who just need things to “pop” a bit more, you can change the color of the window tiles in the Start Menu, the Taskbar, and desktop background. I like an uncluttered background so I opt for a black desktop since my icons show up better. I also like a color for the start menu and title bars that isn't super bright, but also is distinct, so I often choose a purple color. For those who like it to really pop, you can opt for something like a cyan or orange. The especially nice thing is that you're not “stuck” with a specific set of colors...you can choose a specific shade that conforms to your needs.
High Contrast Settings
Windows 10 offers much more customizable settings for low vision. In previous versions, you had a set number of high contrast themes and it was significantly harder, and in some cases impossible, to personalize a theme for low vision. Here are some samples:
High contrast 1
High contrast theme I created based on my preferences (I called it SnowflakeTVI)
Note that these themes take effect across MOST programs and apps. There may be some exceptions. The theme does, for example, work in Microsoft Edge, Word, Outlook, Open Office, and several other apps but does NOT work in Firefox or Chrome at this time (there are extensions for these browsers that can be downloaded). Also, themes don't show up until you select the “apply” button.
The final setting I am going to touch on is the pointer. You can choose from three sizes within Windows (small, medium, and large) and three colors (black, white, and auto-invert).
As a personal side note, these pointer settings generally do not help me a lot. I prefer to download large cursors and use those since they tend to be quite a bit larger and are generally free (I am using a rainbow one right now...it's big, colorful, and shows up well on most backgrounds). For some of your low vision students, that extra nudge up a size within the Windows settings will help tons. Others may need to download larger cursors or use a screen magnification software and utilize only the pointer and cursor enhancements.
After a couple of sit-down sessions with individual students working on customizing their settings, they are generally happy and excited to personalize the program for their unique needs. After taking ownership of the way their computer looks, most students are generally more willing to try new things and have an open mind.
The fact that Windows 10 can be so versatile and flexible to the needs of students with low vision, they often are willing to overlook the major differences and accept them more readily than they might if those settings did not exist.
Going back to my opening paragraph on change... I think “Millennials” are significantly more likely to accept and adapt to the constant changes in technology. As technology evolves, it generally improves their lives and access to the world around them. Since their formative years, Millennials been adapting to new technology almost constantly. That is not always the case for those of us with, shall we say, “life experience”. I think that we adults are often guilty of projecting our aversion to change onto our students. I think perhaps I am guilty of this at times. But I also think that my students' excitement over the positive changes they see in technology as it progresses can help renew my passion for teaching and helping them continue to explore the positive changes in the world around them and in the technology they use to access it.