Desktop accessibility is a term used to describe the hardware and software technologies that help blind and partially sighted people to use a computer.

Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS operating systems have built-in accessibility that can be found on desktop and laptop computers. This factsheet discusses built-in accessibility, but specialist software can be purchased to give added functions.

The content from the computer can be accessed by a screen reader which will provide speech output (Windows Narrator and VoiceOver), magnification (Windows Magnifier and Zoom) or by changing the colour of how things appear on screen (high contrast and inverted colours). Many other elements of the display can be adjusted to suit the personal preference of the user, including the size, shape and texture of the cursor and the reduction of animations.

Virtual assistants (like Cortana and Siri) on your desktop allow you to use your voice to undertake tasks like sending an email, conducting a web search and opening applications and files. 

Voice recognition or dictation can also be used to compose emails and documents.

Setup

Accessibility on Windows desktops can be set up and configured by going into the Ease of Access centre. This can be found in the Windows settings.

The accessibility settings on an Apple Mac can be reached by going into the finder, choosing All Applications and then Accessibility.

Here you can personalise your accessibility settings by changing the speed, pitch and voice of Narrator or VoiceOver, the level of magnification, the way the mouse pointer and cursor appears, the colour of the background and the text.

Accessibility shortcuts, which consist of two or more keys pressed together, can also be used to launch some features quickly and easily without having to go into the settings. Examples of this are:

  • Windows Key + Enter to launch Narrator
  • Windows Key + the Plus sign on the numerical keypad to launch Magnifier
  • Command + Option + F5 to launch VoiceOver
  • Command + Option + F8 to launch Zoom

Use

The low vision accessibility settings on a Windows or Apple Mac machine are designed to provide access to content which may previously have not been possible.

Speech, magnification and other adjustments enable blind and partially sighted people to use devices on a more equal footing with sighted counterparts. Accessibility features, apps and tools and virtual assistants make main stream applications and services accessible.

Note that a microphone is needed to use dictation and virtual assistant features on a desktop computer. A laptop usually has its own dedicated microphone built in.

Verdict

Built-in Windows and Apple Mac accessibility features and tools can be used at home, in the work place, in education and in public places like libraries. These features make the content from the desktop or laptop computer more accessible meaning that a blind or partially sighted user can access and enjoy their device without many barriers or obstacles. Day to day tasks like emailing, web browsing, accessing documents, shopping, banking and navigating the device can become accessible.

The accessibility features found on Windows and Apple Mac computers are built into the operating system making the product accessible right out of the box.

It should be noted that although there have been significant advances in the development and implementation of Windows Narrator and Magnifier to perform basic operations, a dedicated screen reading or magnification solution should be considered for more complex tasks. Built-in accessibility functions may not be suitable in corporate and business environments for the best performance.

Further resources