Follow-up: Accessibility in Windows 7

We’ve seen some comments recently posted on a previous post on accessibility and a member of the User Interface Platform team wanted to offer some thoughts on the topic.  Brett is a senior test lead who leads our efforts testing the Accessibility of Windows 7.  --Steven


Hi, my name is Brett and I am the test lead for the Windows 7 Accessibility team. Back in November my colleague Michael wrote a blog post about the work our team is doing for Windows 7, I’m following up to that and some recent comments about our new screen Magnifier. On a personal note I would like to mention that I’m a person with low vision and depend on some of the technologies that my team produces to help me in my work.

I’ve been using Windows 7 for my day-to-day work for several months, this is something we call “dogfooding”, which is using our own pre-release products long before the public ever sees a beta. I’ve been using Windows 7 as my primary operating system and have found our new Magnifier to be very useful to me.

Now, about our Magnifier, as you can imagine, the appeal of the many features in Windows varies from person to person, we often say that it is like making pizza for a billion people. The same is true for the features my team owns. I’ve read many comments since we released our Windows 7 beta about magnifier, some are from people that have really benefited from our new work, some have suggestions, and others have concerns. I will say thanks for the feedback, we appreciate all types. Those of you that have benefited are mostly people that need basic magnification and appreciate the easy ability to zoom in and out as needed; I fall into this category myself. Those of you that need magnification in combination with custom colors, high-contrast or some screen readers probably haven’t been able to benefit from the new Magnifier, for you we’ve made sure that the Vista magnifier continues to work. Let me explain a little more about what we’ve done in Windows 7.

To go into more detail about our implementation I need to start with our graphics system in Windows. Over the last several years GPU technology has made huge advances and in Vista we finally made the leap to a modern hardware accelerated graphics system, what we call Aero, which takes advantage of the GPU. We often use the term Aero to refer to the specific elements of Windows visuals, such as transparency and gradients. In practice it is more than that, the modern graphics rendering (technically the desktop window manager along with the DirectX APIs) is not just for aesthetics but for all forms of rendering including text, 2D, and 3D all using modern hardware assisted graphics and a much richer API. It takes time, however, for the diverse ecosystem to adopt this technology, perhaps even over the course of several OS releases. It also takes time for Windows and time for software developers and hardware manufacturers to adopt new technologies; so for a time we will have (and fully support) a mix of both old and new. For example, some screen readers do the great things they do by capturing the data that goes through the original Windows graphics system (GDI) and building their off-screen UI models which is why they need to turn off the new rendering. On the other hand, our new Magnifier is integrated deeply into the desktop window manager (“Aero”) to leverage this graphics horsepower and deliver smooth full-screen multi-monitor magnification.

While, as this demonstrates, these advances aren’t seamless, in Windows 7 my team has worked to make sure that we maintain Vista functionality and compatibility while making new investments. Magnifier is an example of this, we utilize the power of the GPU where we can to bring new capabilities to a broad spectrum of customers, and when Aero needs to be off, whether for screen readers, high-contrast or other needs, we maintain the existing capabilities in the product. And by maintaining compatibility as much as possible, many of the tools you depend on today will continue to work with Windows 7.

So, is Magnifier better for everyone? Not everyone, but certainly for many people, but more than that I can honestly say that we have made advances to accessibility for everyone in Window 7. As Michael noted in his posting, we invested in several areas, there’s not only the Magnifier and on-screen keyboard work, there is also significant work to the underlying accessibility APIs. We also actively support the community and recently made a grant to NV Access to help them improve their open source screen reader support for Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comments,


Comments (23)
  1. says:

    I am using Windows 7 beta full time on a cheap overclocked machine I built. Don’t really use magnifier but have just tried and I think it is better and is easy to learn. Just made one mistake (on 1st seeing it) in full screen – click to try and get controls – and must have clicked the back button – went away.

    Only remember the old one as having a box (window?) at the bottom of the screen.

    You have options to invert the colour and use keyboard, etc and to fine tune ‘clear type’ – for the mag. I guess.  Mine’s tuned – if I tuned again for the 200% view would it affect me when I returned to normal view?

    Only downside I see is there’s no 150%.  Only goes in 100’s.

  2. tryon says:

    When we try to use the new magnifier with high-contrast (which I don’t use as I don’t need 133% dpi is fine for me) it goes back to the old screen magnifier which if I read correctly is a "feature" rather than a bug? Doesn’t makes much sense to me … maybe the new magnifier should work even if aero is not the default themed, no ? (I mean if you have the hardware capability why not use them?)

    As a part-blind (legally blind) user I thank your team for the high-dpi custom settings although it would be awesome to have it in a per-application basis as legacy program sometimes hate it. (especially if their boxes are positioned using pixels like my old job’s support desktop application)

    Keep up the good work as it’s only a beta and there’s still time to improve these features, I hope 🙂

  3. says:

    (1)"..Here’s another great idea in this age of high-resolution screens and low-resolution middle-aged eyes: with one click, you can now enlarge the type, everywhere, in all programs, without affecting the rest of the screen picture..".

    Where is this?   Do they mean the Magnifier?  Because it doesn’t seem so….

    I enlarge (or decrease) type by holding down the [Ctrl] Key and rolling my mouse wheel.  Do you think this has killed a little of screen magnifier? Never thought of this till now…

    (2)"…Among other changes, the Pictures, Documents and Movies folders have been replaced by something very cool — but very confusing — called Libraries. They’re virtual folders. Click the Pictures library, for example, to see all the pictures on your entire PC or even your network, no matter what folders they’re really in…".

    Really?  It hasn’t put C:UsersuserPicturesCongo mercenariesCongo video folder shortcut there with my Windows Media Player (.flv) files.

    (1)(2) Quotes are from the New York Times article: Hate Vista? You May Like the Fix –

  4. d_e says:

    Where am I supposed to send my suggestions and comments?

    I think it’s sad that I can’t use the zoom-in-keyboard shortcut on my notebook, because it doesn’t have a seperate numpad. And Win+Shift+1 (Shift+1 = "+" on my keyboard) doesn’t work.

    I submitted one to Microsoft Connect. I was told that MSFT "[…] determined that the behavior or functionality mentioned in your report is normal and working as intended. There might be a Fn key that you may not be using while trying to get the plus sign. Please try.". Well, there is a Fn-key but it doesn’t work as shortcut.

    My two comments/suggestions:

    1. Change the keyboard shortcuts to something that’ll work on all computers and notebooks.

    2. Magnifier is not only an accessibility tool. It’s valuable for presentations as well. Please remember this.

  5. domenico says:

    I love new Magnifer,

    is very awesome.

    PLS ad possibility to configure shortcurt (mouse or keyboard)

    Windows + or Windows –

    is not always easy, more keyboard have WIndows key only in left side.



  6. dugbug says:

    Ok Im confused…. why does the high-contrast theme NOT use aero?  Wouldn’t this just solve everyone’s problem?

  7. billysielu says:

    My dissertation was entitled AJAX Accessibility. I spent time investigating the range of visual impairments, and was surprised that the vast majority of those termed ‘blind’ are quite happy with some extra magnification and have no use for screen readers whatsoever.

    I’m happy with the work done by Michael, Brett, and the team – and only hope the same considerations can be passed into Internet Explorer, to deal with things such as unexpected changes of focus, or indeed any subtle changes to the Document Object Model.

  8. marcinw says:

    beta 1:

    1. when you set higher DPI, many Control Panel windows are not scaled

    2. Clear Type tuner is more difficult than in XP (4 steps in wizard, not 2 like earlier; no ability of set options manually like earlier)

    3. options for setting various visual effects are put in very different screens (for example SystemAdvanced System Settings…).

    4. I don’t see easy/at all ability of enabling contrast font colors in menu with Areo effects (why there is no simple screen with options: enable transparency, enable Alt-Tab switch, etc. ?)…

    Generally magnifier is not enough…

  9. boen_robot says:

    Articles like the one you post are one of the few reasons I never trust such articles – I always MUST see and experience the software (regardless of whether it’s an OS or something else) before I judge it. In other words – many articles don’t really tell you how a certain feature works, leaving you to think that it "just happens".

    For the particular things you say:

    (1) The CTRL+scroll combo is also available in Vista (for the desktop at least; I assume that’s what you were reffering to). I haven’t tried Windows 7 yet (downloading it now btw), but either way – when *articles* say "one click", they mean "easy", but not necessarily in *exactly* one click.

    (2) You see, THAT is what I mean by they "don’t really tell you how a certain feature works". You must explicitly specify the directories which are included in the library, and Windows would then update them in the library view. Think of the libraries as the Windows Media Player library, only this time it’s about documents too, and it’s exposed by a single API to other programs (including WMP itself).

    Also, UAC is not about "warn you about virus and spyware installations". It’s about warning you when any program requires higher privilages to do its thing, including privilages that may compromise your system if the program was malicious. Anyone who critisizes UAC doesn’t really understand the idea behind it if you ask me. The opinion of any such person (IMHO) should not be trusted, or at least be taken with a grain of salt.

  10. says:

    The Magnifier is justawesome! It is a usefull tool for people that sees badly.

    But when you zoom too far, the screen gets pixelized, maby you guys at Microsoft could do something with this?


  11. AssistiveTech says:

    The pixelation is because Windows does not ‘smooth’ the fonts when magnified.  This magnifier is just magnifying the screen, it is not modifying anything — much like holding a lens to a newspaper.  ZoomText does smoothing the best with MAGic a distant second place, but both magnifiers are doing far more in the background than the Windows magnifier is designed to do.  They essentially redraw the newspaper before it is seen in the lens.

    What I would like is a simple hotkey to enable/disable magnification and the key combo Win+mousewheel or plus/minus to adjust magnification.  I hate to suggest it, but look at a modern linux install with compiz in place.  No smoothing there either, but you can easily change the magnification on the fly.

  12. oggyb says:

    When the option for "invert color" is selected in the new magnifier options, it reverts to the old vista magnifier.  How does one get it to go back to the new one?

  13. thoeg says:


    there is a brief comment in the original post about the grand given to the community who are developping the open source screen reader for blind users called NVDA non visual desktop access. Microsoft have given money so NVDA can work with the new replacement for MSAA I do not remember the name something like UI Automation. Does this mean that NVDA in some form will be part of Windows 7?

    On a previous topic I have posted about the problem or rather inability I as a totally blind user have with a clean installation of Windows 7. Maybe there is a deployment tool or script sollution, if so it would be nice to have a place where blind users can find this information! yes most of us can find some eyes that can help with installation, and it should not be necessary to do that often, except when you are running betas! but with the development by apple of the voiceover screen reader functionality to do all this without sighted assistance this  shortcoming gets more and more annoying!


  14. DFW says:

    I'm smoke testing this functionality… I'm using an EliteBook 8440p with W7 Enterprise and a standard Aero background (architecture) and no matter what I do, I'm not able to select the "full screen" magnifier… "Docked" is my only option (Full Screen and Lens are grayed out).  Can someone please help?

  15. I'm using windows 7, but I have problem with my account and activation. Could you give some advices about this? Thanks

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  18. quangcaoart says:

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  19. quangcaoart says:

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  20. logopro says:

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  21. Tota Viet Nam says:

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  22. nguyen minh says:

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