In modern society, computer use has almost become a necessity. Students who do not know how to use, or cannot access, computer technology are at a distinct disadvantage. Students with disabilities may be among those who cannot access the technology, especially if they are unaware of the accessibility tools built into most modern computers.
This week I tested the accessibility tools that are available on my work computer. At work, I use a laptop with Windows 7. Windows 7 has several accessibility features for people with visual impairments, hearing impairments, and physical motion impairments.
Two options that would help people with visual impairments are the ability to choose high contrast themes for the screen, and the ability to magnify the screen. Both of these options allow users who can see, but have difficulty with small text, or color blindness, to more easily use their computers. Another accommodation that helps people with vision problems is the narrator. When switched on, the narrator reads all text that is on the page. With this tool, users can choose to use the computer without any monitor at all. This tool gives users with severe, or complete, visual impairment the ability to use most tools on their computer. Users may still face problems with websites that do not follow universal design principles.
For users with either visual or physical-motor impairments, Windows 7 has Speech Recognition. This tool allows users to dictate text and to navigate their computers using only their voices. I completed the tutorial for this tool, which made it seem quite easy to use. However, I could not get it to type in WordPress for me. I’m not sure if that requires more practice, or if it just isn’t possible.
Other tools that can help people with physical-motor impairments are the on-screen keyboard and sticky keys. The on-screen keyboard allows people to use the mouse to type. It includes a word menu predicting choices based on the first couple of letters typed. Sticky keys allows users to only press one key at a time, for instance shift and a letter, or control-alt-delete. Both of these options would be especially useful for people with motor control, coordination, or other issues involving hands. Keyboard shortcuts are another tool, they allow users to control their computer without having to use a mouse. These would be useful for anyone who has difficulty controlling a mouse.
For users with auditory impairments, Windows 7 has visual notifications, instead of sounds. Users can also turn on captions for spoken text. These notifications could be useful to let users know that they have received an email, or that their printer has started or stopped printing.
Microsoft. (2015). Accessibility in Windows 7. Accessed at http://www.microsoft.com/enable/products/windows7/default.aspx