Assistive technology in Windows 10 is known as “Ease of Access” and can provide huge benefits to those with accessibility challenges and those without. Windows 10 accessibility features allow you to utilize text to speech, change font color and size, and much more.
In fact, Microsoft has put more effort into accessibility options than most of the world's major companies. Former principal design director Kat Holmes implemented an “inclusive design” policy that touches everything the company does. Though this means a ton of accessibility settings, it can also be intimidating to sort through.
As a result, today we're going to walk you through Ease of Access in Windows 10 in simple English. We'll cover how to find the settings and which each does, in three distinct sections. Let's get started:
Windows 10 Ease of Access: Vision
Windows 10 can help you with anything from poor eyesight to color blindness or total blindness. Here's how you access the accessibility settings for vision and what each of them does.
- Open settings
Press the Start button and click the settings cog above the power button.
- Click on “Ease of Access” in the Settings app
- Make text and UI elements bigger
Click the “Display” heading under the “Vision” section to access the size settings. You'll see two main options:
Make text bigger: This Windows 10 Ease of Access option does about what you'd expect. By dragging the slider underneath this heading, you can change the size of the text throughout your system. Pay particular attention to the sample text, as that gives you a preview of what the final result will look like.
Make everything bigger: This changes the size of text, but also the interface in general. If you struggle to see small icons, for example, this could be useful.
- Change your brightness and effects
Scrolling further down the “Display” section you'll see two more headings:
Make everything brighter: This ease of accessibility option lets you increase or decrease the brightness of your display so you can see it better. It provides an additional link to night light settings, which allows you to adjust how warm your display is.
Simplify and personalize Windows: These accessibility settings help you reduce effects that may confuse your eyes. You can turn off animations, transparency effects, automatic scroll bar hiding, and desktop backgrounds. You can also change the amount of time notifications stay on your screen.
- Change your mouse pointer settings
By clicking the “Mouse pointer” heading in the sidebar, you can access various Windows 10 cursor settings:
Change pointer size and color: Drag the slider to make your cursor bigger until you can see it comfortably, to change its color to provide more contrast against different backgrounds.
Change touch feedback: Struggling to tell when you've pressed a UI element? Turning visual feedback on will display an animation when you tap. You can optionally tick the “Make visual feedback for touch points darker and larger” if you're struggling to see them.
- Change your text cursor indicator
The text cursor indicator is the small, black line that signifies where you are in a text document or search bar. If you struggle with your vision, this can be very hard to see. Thankfully, there are Windows 10 accessibility options just for this. You can access them by clicking the “Text cursor” heading under the “Vision” section of your sidebar.
You'll see the following accessibility settings:
Use text cursor indicator: The text cursor indicator is two fan shapes that show at the top and bottom of your text cursor. This makes it much easier to see. You can change the color below the toggle switch to one that suits your preferences.
Change the text cursor appearance: This Ease of Access setting lets you change the thickness of the line itself. You can drag the slider to make the text cursor wider and therefore stand out more against a background.
- Change Magnifier zoom levels
You've probably heard of Magnifier before, but you may not be aware of the customization options newer versions of Windows 10 offer. After finding it in the Vision section of the Ease of Access sidebar, you'll see the following important options:
Use Magnifier: This toggle turns the magnifier on or off. You can hold Alt and scroll to zoom in or out.
Change zoom level: This changes the amount your screen will zoom. 200% will make everything double the size. You can go up to a maximum of 1600%.
Change zoom increments: Changes the amount the magnifier “jumps” when you use the controls to zoom in or out.
- Change your magnifier view
The magnifier section of Windows 10 Ease of Access also offers the ability to change your magnifier view.
Under the “Choose a view” heading you'll see a dropdown with three options: “Full Screen”, which increases the size of your entire display, “Docked”, which creates a window at the top of your screen that you can move around, and “Lens”, which creates a box that automatically follows your cursor.
You can switch between these views at any point by pressing Ctrl + Alt + M on your keyboard.
- Change your Magnifier reading settings
The “Reading” section of Magnifier settings provides a dropdown from which you can change your modifier key. You have four options: Control + Alt, Caps Lock, Insert, and Caps Lock or Insert.
All of these will change the button you press the start and resume Magnifier's text-to-speech. You can see the shortcuts in your settings app or the image below.
- Enable color filters
Clicking “Color filters” in the Ease of Access vision section will provide you with various options, the first being the ability to turn them on or off via a toggle.
- Activate colorblind filters
Once color filters are activated, further accessibility settings let you choose between various colorblind modes. There are two red-green filters for deuteranopia and protanopia, and one blue-yellow for tritanopia.
- Turn on high contrast mode
In the vision section of the sidebar, you'll also find the “High contrast” section. High-contrast makes background elements black and text white, yellow, or green depending on its function.
- Choose your high contrast theme
Below is how the default “High Contrast Black” theme appears. You also have the ability to choose between three additional themes, “High Contrast Light” and two other variations of the black theme.
- How to use text to speech (Narrator) on Windows 10
You can turn on Windows 10 text-to-speech under the “Narrator” section of the sidebar.
If you're wondering how to have your computer read to you outside of the Magnifier, this is the answer. Turning on Narrator will cause text to speech to read out everything on your screen, including new notifications.
Further “Start-up options” allow you to customize whether the shortcut key for Narrator is active, whether it starts at sign-in, and more.
- Change your Windows 10 Narrator voice
If you don't like the default voice for Windows 10 text-to-speech, Microsoft provides several options under “Personalize Narrator's voice”. You may have fewer of these available if you use a language other than English, but most of the time there's a male or female option.
You can additionally customize the speed, pitch, and volume of the voice to suit your preferences.
- Change the level of detail the Narrator provides
By default, Narrator reads out all control details, which can be useful or frustrating, depending on your situation. You can modify this through the dropdown under “Change the level of detail Narrator provides about text and controls”.
- Change what Narrator reads when you're typing
You can also adjust what Narrator reads when you're typing, with the ability to choose whether to hear words as you type, hear letters, numbers and punctuation, and more.
The Narrator settings also let you change your keyboard layout under the “Change keyboard settings” section, as well as the key you use to select narrator.
- Turn the Windows 10 Narrator cursor on or off
The Narrator cursor allows you to point at text with your mouse and have the Narrator read it out. You can adjust this in the Narrator settings too, with the choice between a total of six different narrator modes.
- Turn braille on or off
If you have a braille display, you can also configure it in the Narrator section. As well as the ability to turn on braille for use with Narrator, you can add a braille display, change input languages, and change output tables.
- Manage your data and services
You can also sync your settings, give feedback about Windows 10 text-to-speech, and choose whether to get image descriptions, page titles, and popular links by sending them to Microsoft.
- Enable scan mode for faster reading
The final notable option is scan mode, which you can activate by pressing the Caps Lock and Spacebar keys. Once active, you can tap the up and down keys to read everything in an app or webpage.
Windows 10 Ease of Access: Hearing
Though many of the Windows 10 accessibility options focus on vision, it also has a section for those with hearing difficulties. Here you'll find volume adjustments, visual audio aids, and caption settings.
You'll find these settings under the “Hearing” section of your Ease of Access sidebar.
- Change your audio settings for easier hearing
In the “Audio” section you can move the slider under “Make your device easier to hear” to make everything louder. Additionally, you can turn on mono audio so that you get the same sound in both ears. This is useful if one of your ears is weaker than the other.
Another very useful feature is the ability to “Show audio alerts visually”. When you get a notification, you can choose whether to flash the active window's title bar, flash the entire active window, or flash the whole screen.
- Adjust your captions settings
In the “Captions” part of the “Hearing” section, you can modify how your captions look. There are several options available under the “Choose a caption style” heading.
- Change your Caption style
Windows 10's default caption options let you choose between white on black, small caps, large text, or yellow on blue.
- Create a custom caption style
Alternatively, you can click the “Create new” button underneath the dropdown to make your own theme.
- Adjust your custom style text, background, and window
When you create your own caption style, you can name it and adjust aspects like don't color and size, background color and opacity, and whether window content is dimmed to improve readability.
- Edit or delete custom styles
Once you have completed your custom style, you can edit or delete it at any point by pressing the “Edit” or “Delete” buttons under “Create new”.
Windows 10 Ease of Access Settings: Interaction
The final type of assistive technology in Windows 10 involves interaction. Here you'll find the Ease of access keyboard settings, dictation tools, eye control, and more. Let's dive into the different options:
- Enable or turn off voice dictation in Windows 10
One way Microsoft allows you to interact with your PC is through speech. After clicking “Speech” in the sidebar under the “Interaction” heading, you'll see a heading called “Talk instead of type”.
You can start using Windows 10 dictation commands at any point by pressing “Windows + H”.
Voice dictation in Windows 10 requires online speech recognition to be turned on in privacy settings, as well as “Turn on Speech recognition” under the “Dictate text and only your device using only your voice” heading.
- Enable the on-screen Ease of Access keyboard
If you struggle to use a traditional keyboard, the “Use your device without a physical keyboard” section allows you to disable it. You can instead toggle the “Use the On-Screen Keyboard” option. You can turn the on-screen keyboard on or off at any time with “Windows + O” and simply tap or click the keys on your screen.
While you're there, you may want to decide whether to turn off Sticky Keys or leave them on. If you're unsure what that means, you can check out the linked guide above for more info.
Toggle keys, meanwhile, play a sound whenever you press Caps Lock, Num Lock, or Scroll Lock. This is useful if, like me, you can a habit of missing the shift key.
- Enable Filter Keys or modify your keyboard shortcuts
The final keyboard options that are worth considering are Filter Keys, Underlined access keys, and Print Screen shortcut snipping.
Filter keys cause your keyboard to ignore repeated keystrokes so you can hold keys to type a letter. If your keyboard won't type as a result of this, you can follow our dedicated guide.
The “Change how keyboard shortcuts work” heading contains a toggle for underlining access keys. This highlights shortcut keys in menus. For example, if a program says “Save” and the shortcut for that is Ctrl +S, it will read Save.
The toggle under the “Print screen shortcut” heading lets you set it so the print screen button opens the snipping tool rather than taking an image of the entire desktop.
Make sure you don't miss the tick boxes at the bottom of the keyboard page, too. They let you show a warning message and sound when you turn on Sticky Keys, Toggle Keys, or Filter Keys.
- Control your mouse with a keypad
If you struggle to hold a mouse, you can control your cursor with the number keys instead. Under the “Mouse” section in the sidebar, you can toggle “Turn on Mouse Keys to use the numeric keypad to move the mouse pointer”.
4 and 6 will move your cursor left and right, 2 and 8 up and down, and 9 will click. You'll be presented with additional options to change the pointer speed, acceleration, and other options on toggle.
- Control your mouse with your eyes
If controlling the mouse with a keypad is still difficult, you can instead use a compatible eye-tracker. Eye control is currently supported on various Tobii and EyeTech devices.
That should sum up everything you need to know about Windows 10 accessibility features. We hope that this tutorial will help you to use your PC despite the physical challenges you may encounter.