This article is a guide on how to configure windows for visually challenged people (henceforth referred to in this article as VC). It describes a bunch of small changes/tweaks you can make to Windows in order to make it much more usable and simplify everyday tasks for those with a visual impairment.
Note: Some of these tweaks require editing the Windows registry. If you are unsure of your ability to do this, please consult a professional.
Logon & Logoff Wallpapers
The default wallpapers which come with Windows XP/Vista for the logon and logoff screens usually have light bright backgrounds. This makes the mouse pointer hard to see and makes it difficult for the VC to click on the user icon and logon.
It is recommended that presentations etc. normally be prepared on a dark blue background as it is considered ideal for reading (by the elderly). So switching to a dark blue background may make it easiest for identifying a “White Mouse Pointer”
For Windows XP Users
1) Goto Start>Run and open the registry editor by typing “Regedit”
2) Navigate to the following key in the registry: HKEY USERS\ .DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop
3) Double-click the wallpaper value, and enter the path where you image file is located
4) For Tiling the image, Set “TileWallPaper” to 1
5) For Stretching the image, Set “WallPaperStyle” to 2
6) Close the registry editor and restart the computer
For Windows Vista Users
The simple registry edit which is explained above has been removed in Vista. The same effect can be performed by editing the registry, but the method is very complicated and if improperly done, can result in causing damage to the operating systems files. An easier approach is to use a third party software such as “Logon Studio” by Stardock
Text to Speech Readers
Using Text to Speech readers may help the VC with reading mail/documents/e-books etc. Windows Vista has a Text to Speech reader software built in just for this. Also, many freeware and paid software are available which have text to speech capabilities. Microsoft Narrator can be used by navigating to Start>All Programs>Accessories>Ease of Access>Narrator.
Speech to Text Converters
Speech to Text converters have been around for a while and one of the most popular ones is the Dragon Naturally Speaking series. This can help the VC compose mails and prepare documents, especially if they have trouble identifying individual keys on a keyboard.
Using the resolution with the biggest texts and fonts as per the Monitor’s Display capabilities will go a long way towards making it easier for the VC to use the computer. The ideal resolution will vary from person to person depending upon the degree of vision impairment and can be identified via repeated trials (Recommended: 640X480 or 800X600)
Modified File Icons
Ensuring that each icon is individualistic in nature in terms of color/design can again help them differentiate between files easily.
Windows Vista comes with a host of accessibility features which sometimes tend to go unused. One of the tricks to make the computer more user-friendly for the VC is to always run the magnifier on the screen at the very top or bottom. This way, they can move the mouse pointer around and use the magnified image to help them navigate and click on files.
Creating a Special User Profile
Creating a separate user profile on Windows, with their resolution, suitable backgrounds and modified logoff and logon screens will increase their usability. Adding programs such as Magnifier, Text Readers and Speech Converters to the Start-up list will further increase their accessibility.