Most computers have options that can make it easier for people with low or no vision to use them.
With a new computer this is the first area to investigate because it may be that that these features alone enable you to use your computer.
If you have low vision, you can:
If you have no vision, you can:
Computers have a set of "accessibility" features which is one area to look in, but there are other features which are found elsewhere. There is usually more than one way to find a feature on your computer. Rather than try to list them all, we'll focus on showing one way to get to each.
Here's how to find the accessibility features of your computer:
The text and icons on computer screens are by default small, so that lots of them can be shown on the screen at any one time. Here are two ways to make them bigger.
A computer screen is made up of dots called pixels, arranged in lines across the screen. The more pixels there are, the clearer and smaller text and images on the screen can be. A screen resolution of 1024 x 768 means there are 768 lines, each of 1024 pixels. Lowering these numbers will make everything on the screen larger, but may also make them look fuzzier. The exact numbers you can change your resolution to depend on the monitor you have, but a common size that most monitors can use is 800 x 600.
To change the resolution of the screen:
The system font is the text used to show menus and labels:
Computers use colour to separate screen elements or to indicate whether something is available for use. Most often text is shown as dark text on a lighter background. You can invert these colour options or choose specific colours to use for text and background:
Magnification makes everything on the screen bigger, but you can then no longer see the entire screen - imagine looking through a magnifying glass. If you move your mouse around, the magnified area of the screen will follow.
You can choose how much to magnify the screen, but at larger levels of magnification, text in particular can become very fuzzy. None of the built-in or free magnification facilities have the font smoothing or other advanced features of the paid-for options:
You can often change the size of the mouse pointer, and sometimes the shape and colour too. There may be options to make it more obvious, for example by adding trails to it.
All computers have a built-in screen reader, although its capability varies greatly. For Windows the built-in option (Narrator) is poor but there are lots of third party options. On the Mac, the built-in voice (VoiceOver) is very good - a lot of blind people believe the Mac experience with VoiceOver is better than Windows with even the most expensive screen reader.
Narrator is not designed to be your main screen reader. Instead, it's a fall-back if your screen reader malfunctions. Narrator has been significantly improved with Windows 8, and now has better quality and more responsive voices, more keystrokes and increased functionality in areas such as the Start screen, Control Panel, Internet Explorer and the new Windows 8 apps. A second screen reader is required if you want to use applications like Microsoft Office.
The voices used for Windows 8 Narrator can be downloaded to earlier versions of Windows, find out more about Windows 8 Narrator.
All new Apple computers contain a screen reader called VoiceOver. There is a version of it also on touch screen devices like the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. This means once you've learnt to use them on one device, you can draw on this knowledge on the other devices.
VoiceOver is the only screen reader, free or paid for, to provide speech output from the moment a new computer is switched on. This allows a blind user to set up a Mac computer unaided, which can be a liberating feeling.
VoiceOver also works with more areas of the Mac computer than other screen readers, including informative text that cannot be altered, which is usually completely ignored by Windows screen readers.
VoiceOver is highly configurable and the default voice is very clear.
The first time VoiceOver starts, a tutorial is offered. This runs through the default VoiceOver commands and method of use. Some commands may need you to press four or even five keys, which can make them difficult to remember and cumbersome to perform. However, there are other ways to work with VoiceOver:
Apple have an online guide to getting started with VoiceOver.
In Windows, keyboard accessibility is available at all times and is very well-developed. On the Mac, you can turn on full keyboard access with Ctrl-F7, or go to System Preferences > Keyboard Preferences.
Macs allow you to use the trackpad (built-in on laptops, or available separately for desktops) to perform gestures similar to those on the iPhone rather than using the keyboard or mouse.
Both Windows and Macs have good voice recognition built in - see our beginner's guide to voice control for more information.
Many applications have settings that can be helpful in terms of simplifying the screen or changing the way the application looks: