A couple of weeks ago, I started talking about how to make text and objects on your screens more visible and usable. It’s a step in my personal campaign to have technology work to our benefit instead of us having to accommodate small screens, tiny pointers, and hard-to-read text. The basic changes we covered help in many cases, but not all situations. While application developers are encouraged to accommodate changes in font size and other options in their programs, it has taken many years for this approach to become standard practice.
Applications Which Make Up Their Own Rules
iTunes, for example, is notable for not following the font sizes you chose in Windows or on the Mac. While going its own way gives iTunes a unique look, it can also challenge those trying to see its song lists and sidebar. Those items shown in their default size can be challenging on a high-resolution screen.
iTunes 11 provides a minimal solution to this problem. For the Mac you can go to Preferences under the iTunes Menu. On the PC, it is either the Edit Menu in the application or the app’s general menu (). Once in Preferences, you can go to the General tab and click the check box to “Use large text for list views.”
When in Doubt, Just Magnify Everything!
If that adjustment isn’t enough in iTunes or the application you are using doesn’t provide any font size adjustment, there is a still a “fall-back” option. You can use the magnification feature in the operating system to magnify the display.
For Apple Mac this is called “Zoom” that can be turned on in Accessibility settings In System Preferences. Microsoft chose to make its “Magnifier” a separate program in Windows that can be launched through an icon or keyboard shortcut. Both increase and decrease the screen magnification by using keyboard combinations.
With the exception of Windows Magnifier, these magnification tools first need to be switched on in their respective Accessibility or “Ease of Access” settings before zooming controls will work.
Expanding Your Web Browsing Experience
While complete screen magnification can relieve most screen “squinting,” it isn’t always the best viewing experience. An expanded view means that you have to move around to see everything, especially on busy web pages to find information or click links.
Fortunately, most web browsers provide ways to magnify and reflow page text and images. This is a much nicer way to display web pages, especially pages.
On the PC side, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google’s Chrome, and Mozilla’s Firefox web browsers all use Ctrl+Plus (∪) and Ctrl+Minus (‒) to expand or contract text on a web page. If you prefer to use the mouse’s wheel, you can perform the same actions while holding down the Ctrl key and moving the wheel back and forth. Touch systems with IE and Chrome can also use two fingers stretching apart to expand or pinching together to contract.
For Safari on the Mac, it’s a similar keyboard combination for expanding/contracting, Cmd+Plus and Cmd+Minus. In the more touch-oriented iPhone/iPhone works, the stretch/pinch technique works fine in Safari.
Fortunately, browsers on most other mobile devices running on Android and Windows Phone also use stretching and pinching to enlarge or reduce text size on web pages. It’s nice to see this level of conformity across web browsers. Now we just have to get other application makers to follow suit.
Playing with Your Sizing Options
Do you have applications with hard-to-read text or images? If the techniques I laid out in my last article on this topic don’t improve the situation, check the application’s preferences or display options for ways to control the size of these items. Failing that, you can try these tips to improve your experience and reduce the discomfort of accommodating your technology.
The tension is obvious. Head and neck pitched forward; shoulders hunched; brow furrowed, eyes squinting … all supporting the virtual manipulation of objects on a computer screen. I see it all the time, not just in client’s offices and home, but at internet-enabled cafes and in other public spaces. We work very hard to create, modify, read, and navigate our computers and mobile devices.
As a result, we develop CVS (Computer Vision Syndrome), a combination of headaches, eye and neck problems from staring fixedly at the screen. 90% of people who use a computer screen three hours or more are likely to experience these problems. Besides display-related problems, repetitive motions like typing and mouse clicking also take their toll in the form of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and RSI (Repetitive Stress or Strain Injuries).
Most of the time of we work harder than we need to, accommodating how information is presented on the screen or how information is entered, instead of having the screen or software, or input devices accommodating us. It doesn’t have to be that way, because there are many ways to adjust existing settings to improve the experience.
Making things easier to see
Most icons, mouse pointers, cursors, and text are too small to comfortably locate or understand at today’s high screen resolutions. Icons and pointers, for example are usually 16×16 or 32×32 pixels (picture elements). This was fine years ago on a 19” monitor with 1024×758 pixel resolution. However, a common scenario today is closer to a HD screen (1920×1080 pixels) on a 15” laptop. This reduces the relative size of these objects tremendously. Here are some ways your system can adjust this relative size.
Change the size of your mouse pointer
Mac: On older Macs, go to Universal Access in System Preferences, choose Mouse and Trackpad. For newer Macs, locate Accessibility in System Preferences (or press Command-Option-F5, choosing Preferences) and select Display. In all cases, locate the cursor size slide control and adjust the slider to your desire pointer size.
Windows: Choose one of the large or extra-large Schemes in the Pointer tab of Mouse Properties. In Windows 7 or earlier, you can quickly search for Mouse Properties by typing “mouse” directly in Control Panel (upper right-corner) or from the Start Menu. In Windows 8/8.1, use the Search charm to locate this Control Panel item.
Change the pixel size or DPI (dots per inch) of your text and icons
Mac: Right-click on the Desktop and choose Show View Options from the menu. This will display a panel that lets you adjust both icons and text for the Desktop. There are also additional options for adjusting finder windows and applications.
Windows: Right-click on the Desktop and choose Screen resolution from the menu. Click on the link “Make text and other items larger or smaller.” The Control Page that displays will let you switch from the default of 100% to 125% or 150% (the last item only appearing on systems supporting at least 1200×900 pixels). You can also set a custom or larger size using the “set custom text size (DPI) link on the left side. For Windows 7 and later, this is consistent. The procedure changes for Windows Vista and Windows XP.
For Windows 8/8.1, these settings do not impact the new Windows 8 UI or apps. For those, go to Ease of Access in PC Settings at bottom of the Settings charm and turn on “Make everything on your screen bigger.” This option is disabled on displays less than 1024 pixels high.
Other sizing and accommodation alternatives
Of course, your web browser also has the ability to resize text on web page. We will explore some of those options next week.
On Saturday, I attended Insight: a low vision expo put together by Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. With about 300 people preregistered and many more registering onsite, it was an interesting and diverse group of mostly older people. Some fell into traditional classification of blindness. Others could be placed more on a spectrum of vision ability due to a number of age-related conditions. Of adults age 40 or older in the United States, more than 2 million have glaucoma, more than 4 million have diabetic retinopathy, and more than 1.75 million have age-related macular degeneration, according to the National Eye Institute. They were all well-represented at this event.
For people with a range of visual impairments to continue functioning successfully and independently there is also a spectrum of accommodation and improvements to computer and software. As Microsoft Technical Evangelist Daniel Hubbell pointed out in his keynote to the event, many accommodations have evolved beyond traditional requirements into more mainstream usage or, in his words, “customer preference.”
Part of this is that a number of accommodations are simple customizations that simply make sense for our aging population. However, the disability label doesn’t sit well with people who still feel relatively independent. Dan mentioned the problem his dad had with clicking on the Control Panel’s wheelchair icon in Windows XP to get to the accessibility options he needed. “That is not me,” he told Dan. He didn’t feel disabled and wasn’t about to consider himself that way. Now Microsoft uses a more abstract icon to get to the same features and calls them “Ease of Access” instead of “Accessibility Options”…and we all use them in one way or another to see, hear, and move more successfully in Windows.
This shift from accommodation to usability is not surprising. While the Americans with Disabilities Act drove cities and municipalities to create “curb cuts” or ramps at street corners to accommodate wheel chairs, the primary users of those cuts are people with baby strollers and bicycles. A feature that I added to my kitchen during a remodel a few years ago was a cabinet that raised the dishwasher off the floor. While this is a feature initially designed for wheelchair users, it is now an option among cabinet makers. Why? Besides the offering it as an accomodation, it simply makes sense to raise the dishwasher loading area to a more comfortable level. The term Universal Design is now used to describe this approach and is now part of college curriculums for architects, product designers, and engineers.
Dan in his keynote highlighted some of the more dramatic Ease of Access features in Windows 7, an updated Magnifier application and Screen Recognition, a feature that first appeared in Windows Vista. Both are great option for Windows users who have difficulty seeing or controlling applications. He also made a brief reference in response to a question from the audience about changing font sizes in Windows. The shortness of time prevented Dan from doing into this area in more depth other than mentioning the option to make the text on your screen larger or smaller. This ability is also available in other versions of Windows besides Windows 7 but is less discoverable. Given that this feature is more useful if you understand a little be more about it, we will explore that option in an upcoming blog entry.
This is the first Insight expo hosted by Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted. Unlike a number of other disability conferences, the attendees for this event were not largely disability advocacy groups, accessibility aids vendors, or consultants. They were regular people from all walks of life in search of information and resources to help them be creative and independent as they grow older and deal with vision impairments. I had a great time and got to meet some very interesting people. Hats off to CSBPS and their sponsors for making this event happen!