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Working with Accessibility Utilities

Accessibility Utilities go beyond adjustments introduced in Accessibility Options. Utilities programs provide enhanced functionality without additional specialized hardware or software.

Accessibility Utilities are good temporary help, and most disabled users need additional software or hardware for everyday use.

Each of the four Accessibility Utilities serves a purpose and they are used together or on their own. In the following sections, I introduce you to each of these utilities.


Magnifier enhances screen readability. A separate window opens to show a magnified view of a section of the screen. This is ideal for those with low vision. To use Magnifier, follow these steps:

  1. Turn Magnifier on using any of the following methods:

    Select this option in the Text Size screen of the Accessibility Wizard.

    Press Ctrl+Esc (or the Windows logo key), press R, type magnify, and press Enter.

    Select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Accessibility, Magnifier.

  2. Magnifier begins, and a message window appears on screen. To close the message window, press Enter.

  3. Customize the Magnifier using the Magnifier Settings window. Usually this window is minimized upon opening Magnifier. You can set the following items:

    Magnification level: Choose from 1–9.

    Tracking: Determines if you want the magnified window to follow the mouse cursor, keyboard focus, text editing, or any combination of these.

    Presentation: You can choose to invert colors of the magnified window, set the Magnifier settings window to minimize each time Magnifier is started, or show/hide Magnifier.

Keep in mind that the smaller the display you are using, the smaller the Magnifier window. Although you can switch the size of the window or dock to another part of the screen, you cannot enlarge the magnified window beyond a particular size (that is not large enough to function on a daily basis). If you have low vision difficulty, there are screen enlarger programs that are better suited to serve your needs.


Narrator is an attempt to provide blind or low-vision folks with the capability to listen to the contents of the active window or text you have just typed. Although Narrator works with Notepad, WordPad, Control Panel programs, Internet Explorer, Windows desktop, and some aspects of Windows Setup, it falls short of fulfilling the daily needs of a blind user. It does not work with all programs, and if you missed something in the narration, you must start the narration over again from the beginning.

Microsoft Sam is the voice of Narrator. Although you can change the speed, volume, and pitch of Sam, you cannot switch voices. To change voices, you must have Microsoft Office XP and Speech Recognition installed on your computer. To use Narrator, follow these steps:

  1. Turn Narrator on using any of the following methods:

    Press Ctrl+Esc (or the Windows logo key), press R, type narrator, and press Enter.

    Select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Accessibility, Narrator.

  2. Narrator begins, and you hear Microsoft Sam's voice reading the active window. The active window is the Microsoft Narrator message window. Click OK, or press Enter to dismiss this window.

  3. Customize Narrator using the Narrator window. This window appears either minimized or onscreen when Narrator starts. You can do the following:

    Announce events onscreen.

    Read typed characters.

    Move the mouse pointer to the active item.

    Start Narrator minimized.

On-Screen Keyboard

On-Screen Keyboard is a virtual keyboard that is helpful for those who may use a joystick as a pointing device. Additional hardware or software may be necessary to provide additional functionality for daily use.

You can set On-Screen Keyboard to operate in three modes. If you switch modes or just start the On-Screen Keyboard, you must set the focus of the application window that you want to type in. Just click in the window that you want to type in, or use Alt + Tab to switch windows. To use the On-Screen Keyboard, follow these steps:

  1. Press Alt+S and then T to display the Typing Mode window. The following options appear:

    Click to select: Use the mouse to click each key on the virtual keyboard.

    Hover to select: Hover the mouse or joystick over a key for a predetermined period of time to select that key.

    Joystick or key to select: You can use a joystick or keyboard key to select keys on the virtual keyboard as it scans through the entire keyboard.

There are many more ways to customize the on-screen keyboard. You can change the font type and size for easier viewing, switch from a standard to an enhanced keyboard, and even add audible sounds each time a key is pressed.

Utility Manager

Utility Manager allows you to control and manage the previous three utility programs.

To open Utility Manager, press the Windows logo key+U. Once open, you see the status of Narrator, Magnifier, and On-Screen Keyboard displayed in a list. Each list item is displayed as Running or Not Running.

To start or stop any item, select it in the list, press Alt+A to start, or press Alt+O to stop. The Start and Stop buttons appear in the Options for the Magnifier pane of the window.

You can also set other options for each item displayed in the list, such as the following:

  • Start automatically when I log in: Starts a selected utility each time you log into your Windows XP user account.

  • Start automatically when I lock my desktop: Starts a selected utility when you lock your computer desktop.


    To enable desktop locking from the Ctrl+Alt+Del dialog window, you must switch the way users log on or off in User Accounts (Control Panel program). Deselect Use the Welcome Screen in the Select logon and logoff options window.

  • Start automatically when Utility Manager starts: Starts a selected utility each time you start Utility Manager.


Now that you have a better idea of how Windows XP built-in accessibility features work, you can better appreciate how disabled users experience the world of computing and technology.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020