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Reading from the computer screen

There are three main options to try if you experience difficulty viewing your screen because of your sight: equipment/hardware; computer settings or software. You may find you wish to use a combination of the three.

Equipment

Magnifying the screen
Magnifying screens are available which attach in front of a computer monitor. Alternatively you may wish to purchase a larger screen.

Computer settings

If you have difficulty seeing the content of your computer screen there are a number of settings you can try changing before considering purchasing screen magnifiers or software. Settings that can be changed include the contrast, the screen resolution, size of text and objects including the mouse pointer and flashing cursor.

Many of these settings can be turned on or adjusted in the Accessibility Options dialogue box. This can be reached from the 'control panel' which can be selected from the start menu.

Turning on high contrast
You can turn on a high contrast mode in windows from the display tab in the Accessibility Options menu. Alternatively you can turn high contrast on and off quickly by pressing the following keys together: Alt, left shift (the key you use to get a capital letter) and Print Scrn (usually found to the right of the F12 key).

Cursor width
Another option under the display tab in the Accessibilities Options Menu lets you adjust the width of the flashing | cursor that shows you where your typing. A wider cursor may be easier to spot.

Mouse pointer
The size of the arrow which your mouse moves around the screen can be increased. To do this open the 'control panel' which can be selected from the start menu. Double click on the Mouse and choose the 'Pointers' tab. Use the drop down box under scheme to select 'Windows Standard (Extra Large) Scheme' and press ok. This will enlarge the mouse pointer.

Using a lower screen resolution
Reducing your screen resolution will increase the size of objects and text on the screen. The resolution can be adjusted from the Display menu in windows. This can be reached from the 'control panel' which can be selected from the start menu. Choose the settings tab at the top of this box and then drag the little sliding pointer under the heading screen resolution to give a resolution of 800 by 600 pixels and then click 'Ok'. This should make text and images appear larger. If you do not like the affect repeat the process but slide the pointer back to the right.

Windows magnifier
You may wish to try using windows magnifier, this will magnify a portion of the screen. To start magnifier click on 'Start', point to 'All Programs', point to 'Accessories', point to 'Accessibility', and then click on 'Magnifier'. You can change several settings including the magnification level, the size and position of the magnification window and how the magnifier chooses which part of the screen to focus on.

Software

You may wish to investigate the use of specialist software such as screen magnifiers and screen readers. Contact the organisations below for more information.

When purchasing screen readers check that the screen reader is compatible with your computer's operating system. Visit a centre where you can hear a demonstration or install a demo version of the programme. Are you happy with the quality of the speech and pronounciation of words? Software which costs more may have more natural sounding voices.

Further information

The RNIB
The RNIB has a section on its website on Computers and Tablets. They give guidance on customising your computer settings, a range of hardware such as screen magnifiers and braille displays, and speech output software.

AbilityNet
The charity AbilityNet provide information and advice for people with a wide range of disabilities to help them access computer technology. They have a helpline 0800 269 545 and a comprehensive range of factsheets giving guidance on a range of computer topics. For guidance on options, software and hardware which may help when viewing or interpreting information from the screen choose their 'Vision Impairment and Computing'' factsheet.
AbilityNet also have factsheets to guide you through making specific changes to your computers settings. For example, there are skillsheets on 'Making Text easier to see in Microsoft Word', 'Making Text easier to see in Windows', 'Making Text easier to see in internet browsers' and 'Enlarging your mouse pointer'. Alternatively use AbilityNet's interactive tool for help with viewing the screen

The OATS Project
This website has a list of free open source software for viewing, interpreting or speaking information from the screen.

The British Computer Association of the Blind
The British Computer Association of the Blind is an organisation of blind and partially sighted computer professionals and users, promoting the use of information communication technology by visually impaired people www.bcab.org.uk

IT Can Help is a network of volunteers who offer free local computer assistance to disabled people. They diagnose and fix most computer related problems; install and set up hardware, software, internet, email and accessibility settings. They also give impartial advice on IT equipment and software.

For more information ring 0800 269 545 or visit their website www.abilitynet.org.uk/advice-information/IT-support-for-disabled-people


ICT software section kindly funded by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS)

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
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