Back to School: Personalizing technology for individual needs and preferences

The following blog post was written by Ellen Kampel, Public Relations Manager for Accessibility at Microsoft. Ellen holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) and works on technology issues related to aging and people with disabilities.


This month the nation’s children head back to school—many equipped with powerful new technology unimagined a decade or two ago. Technology plays a huge role in both teaching and learning, and is becoming more and more adaptable to personal needs and preferences. Students now routinely use technology to gather information, complete and submit school work, and enjoy interactive and stimulating lessons. 

For students with disabilities, computers are often the most essential tool they can employ for full participation in their classrooms. Specialized assistive technology, teamed with built-in accessibility features in Windows, can give all students the means to personalize their computers to make them easier to see, hear, and use comfortably.

Because accessibility benefits all students, and everyone has different needs and preferences, it’s important to know how to personalize your computer.  Here’s are some resources:

Make your PC easier to use. Find most accessibility features and options in Windows in one convenient location—the Ease of Access Center.  Here you can choose:

  • Magnifier. You can magnify your computer screen or portions of it for better visibility. You can position the Magnifier window anywhere on screen or minimize it when not needed.
  • High Contrast. Some color combinations, such as white on black rather than black on white, are easier for some people to see. And, some combinations compensate for color blindness in which certain colors are indistinguishable. Computer users can select the color combinations that fit their needs and preferences.
  • Increase the size of text on screen. You can make the text and other items, such as icons, on your screen easier to see by making them larger. You can do this without changing the screen resolution of your monitor or laptop screen. This allows you to increase or decrease the size of text and other items on your screen while keeping your monitor or laptop set to its optimal resolution.
  • Choose your keyboard. There are a number of keyboards available today including the familiar physical, external keyboard that you plug into your PC, or that is an integral part of your laptop. A PC with a touchscreen also has a touch keyboard. When you’re using a Windows 8 or Windows RT PC with a touchscreen, tap in a text field or other area where you can type and the touch keyboard appears.
  • Windows also includes On-Screen Keyboard (OSK), an Ease of Access tool that can be used instead of the physical keyboard to type and enter data. You don’t need a touchscreen to use On-Screen Keyboard. OSK displays a visual keyboard with all the standard keys from which you select keys using the mouse or another pointing device. Or, you can use a physical single key or group of keys to cycle through the keys on the screen.
  • Hear text read aloud with Narrator  Students who have difficulty seeing the screen, or who are blind, can use Narrator, a basic screen reader (converts text to speech) built into Windows to access a PC without using a display. Many students with vision impairments also use assistive technology with additional text-to-speech features.
  • Use Speech Recognition. Windows Speech Recognition makes using a keyboard and mouse optional. You can control your PC with your voice and dictate text instead of inputting it with the keyboard.
  • Use text or visual alternatives to sounds. If you are unable to hear computer sounds, or are working in a noisy environment, you can set your computer to send all system sounds, such as warnings and alerts visually rather than with sounds.


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