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Customizing Windows XP for Individuals with Disabilities

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How can we accomplish the goal of making it easy or even possible for all people (even those with vision, hearing, and mobility disabilities) to experience and benefit from technology? Discover how Windows XP provides an enhanced user experience.

Major computing companies such as Microsoft, Adobe, and Macromedia (to name a few) are throwing their weight behind accessibility—the new golden rule of technology. It's a great step toward making technology usable for everyone, not just those who have complete physical and sensory faculties.

The ongoing commitment toward accessibility must go beyond the computing "heavies" if we are ever to accomplish the goal of making it easy or even possible for all people to experience and benefit from technology.

As we fast-forward into the future, don't let others get left behind—take a moment to learn just one thing about accessibility in technology, and pass it on. Eventually, a wave of people will support and understand the need.

This article starts you off with an introduction to (and explains the practical usage of) Microsoft Windows XP built-in accessibility features.

NOTE

Need more information about accessibility? Read my article, "What's All This Talk About Web Accessibility?"

Windows XP Accessibility Overview

Windows XP accessibility features provide an enhanced user experience to those with vision, hearing, and mobility disabilities. It's not an out-of-the-box solution, and most disabled users need additional software or hardware that supply more sophisticated tools for every day use. The built-in tools are ideal for temporary use or for setting up a computer for the first time.

You're not disabled? Read on; you may find some helpful information for someone who is that can use your assistance. It's a good idea to pay attention to keyboard commands. Most disabled computer users rely on keyboard commands rather than mouse control.

Some Basics

Windows XP built-in accessibility features are divided into three categories, as described below. Each of these is explored in more detail further on in this article.

  1. Accessibility Wizard. If you are just getting started with exploring accessibility, you can save some time by using the Accessibility Wizard. This wizard guides you through settings that correspond to your situation.

  2. Accessibility Options. Make further adjustments to individual accessibility settings through this Control Panel program. You can fine-tune Keyboard, Sound, Display, Mouse and General settings.

  3. Accessibility Utilities. Four helpful utility programs—Magnifier, Narrator, On-Screen Keyboard, and Utility Manager—serve various needs for vision and mobility disabilities. Utility Manager allows you to check the status of (and start and stop) the other three utility programs. You may find some good uses for these utilities, whether or not you have a disability.

In addition to accessibility tools, you can customize your computer to suit your needs with everyday computer controls. For instance if you have trouble hearing, but are not deaf, adjust your computer's sound volume. If you have trouble using Microsoft Office XP menu items, learn how to assign a shortcut key, such as F2, to carry out a commonly used command.

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