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Windows Vista Accessibility options

This article explains what is in the new Ease of Access Center and how to find it. Also covered is the new speech recognition engine built into the Windows Visa™ Operating system.

By Jon Gooday, AbilityNet 

Introduction

Windows Vista is the latest operating system from Microsoft. An operating system (OS) is a computer program that manages the hardware and software resources of a computer.

Major accessibility improvements in Windows Vista are the Ease of Access Center and state-of-the-art speech recognition and magnification capabilities.  Accessibility features are also now available on the login screen something which has been long overdue.

Ease of Access Center

Windows Vista Ease of Access Centre LogoSimilar to Windows XP some accessibility options are built in to Windows Vista™. The majority of these options can be accessed through the new Ease of Access Center - the new icon is shown above. The Ease of Access Center is the replacement for Windows XP Utilities Manager and Accessibility Options in the Control Panel. It allows you to adjust your computer’s accessibility settings and manage some assistive technology programs.

The new Ease of Access Center in Windows Vista provides a centralized location where you can get quick access to adjust accessibility settings and manage assistive technology programs.

The Ease of Access Center includes:

  • Access to built in accessibility tools
    such as a Magnifier, Narrator, On-Screen Keyboard, and adjusting the screen colour settings. 
  • Get recommendations for your settings
    Based on your answer from set questions Windows Vista can produce basic recommendations of settings and programs that may help you perform tasks on a computer. 
  • Explore all the settings by category
    Unlike the Utilities Manager the Ease of Access Center allows you to explore the settings by related categories.

Make Things on the Screen Larger with Magnifier

Magnifier, the magnification program built into Windows Vista, enables you to choose magnification levels from 2 to 16 times the original and choose to track the mouse.

Hear Text Read Aloud with Narrator

The updated Narrator text-to-speech tool, now reads Narrator menus without leaving the active window. Individuals who use the Narrator will also find a more pleasant, natural sounding voice. 

Opening the Ease of Access Center

Below are instructions for finding and opening the Ease of Access Center:

  • Open the Start menu by clicking on the Start button or by pressing the Windows logo key (often located between the Ctrl and Altkeys) - or Ctrl + Esc.
  • Click onControl Panel or press TAB and then press C until the Control Panel option is highlighted then press Enter
  • Double click on Ease of Access or press Tab until Ease of Access is highlighted by a grey border and then press the Enter key.
  • Then Double click on the Ease of Access Center or press Tab on the keyboard until Ease of Access Center is highlighted (grey border) and then press the Enter key

The Ease of Access Center can also be opened by pressing and holding down the Windows logo key (often located between the Ctrl and Alt keys) on the keyboard then pressing the letter U (Windows logo + U).

Accessibility features on the login screen

It has been frustrating for many users of Adaptive technology such as on-screen keyboards that in previous versions of Windows the login screen did not support the inbuilt Windows accessibility features. Users typically needed to either pay for third party software or rely on someone else to help them login.

Accessibility features of Windows Vista login screen

Fortunately this has changed with Vista and in the screenshot above you can see the Ease of Access options on the login screen which can be accessed either by clicking on the Ease of Access icon in the bottom left of the screen or pressing Tab until the icon is highlighted and then pressing Enter to bring up the options. You can apply the options by either clicking on the relevant checkbox and then clicking ‘OK’ or Tabbing to the option you want for example ‘See more contrast in the colors (high Contrast)’ and pressing the Spacebar to select the option then either hitting Enter or Tabbing to the ‘OK’ button and the pressing Enter.

Speech Recognition in Vista

A major accessibility development in Vista is the integration of speech recognition in the operating system which goes way beyond anything available in previous versions of Windows. Speech recognition is one of the Ease of Access options as shown in the screenshot below:

Windows Vista speech recognition options

While Speech Recogntion is a very useful feature for people with mobility impairments that need to use a computer for an extended period of time, it will also be useful for many people who want a rest from typing in long documents.

While the speech recognition is good in Vista it is also important to know that its effectiveness also depends to some degree

  • How good your headset is
  • How much memory in your computer has,
  • The quality of your soundcard

…as well as your aptitude for speaking to your computer – it is not for everyone.

The sort of things you can do with the Speech recognition software is dictate emails and documents, do typical tasks within Vista such as open files, create folders control software and use your voice to surf the web. 

Microsoft have put a lot of thought into how to make it as easy as possible for you to use speech recognition – many people try speech recognition but give up because they find it too complicated and time consuming to make it work.

Specifically Microsoft have focused as much as possible on making things intuitive and Created a simple speech interface so you can quickly see if things are working (very similar to Apple's) – see screenshot  below.

Windows Vista simple speech interface

For example they have include a help feature called ‘What can I say?’ which will give context sensitive help on what commands you can say depending on what you are trying to do.

To Start Speech Recognition in Vista

Below are instructions for finding and starting Speech Recognition:

  • Open the Start menu by clicking on the Start button or by pressing the Windows logo key (often located between the Ctrl and Alt keys) - or Ctrl + Esc.

  • Click on  Control Panel or press TAB and then press C until the Control Panel option is highlighted then press Enter
  • Double click on Ease of Access or press Tab until Ease of Access is highlighted by a grey border and then press the Enter key.
  • Then Either double click on‘start speech recognition’ or press Tab on the keyboard until start speech recognition is highlighted (grey border) and then press the Enter key.

To Access the Speech Recognition options repeat the steps above and select Speech recognition Options rather than Start speech recognition. As shown in the screenshot below, you have a number of useful options such as setting up your microphone which is an essential step for successful speech recognition, and the Speech Tutorial which takes you through all the key features available within the software.

Screenshot, Windows Vista speech recognition options

Further resources

Accessibility in Windows Vista

Using the Ease of Access Center

Windows Vista Speech Recognition Step by Step Guide

About the author

Jon Gooday, AbilityNet
AbilityNet is a national charity helping disabled adults and children use computers and the internet by adapting and adjusting their technology.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.