What accessibility features are provided with the Windows 7 operating system?

Updated January 11th, 2013

Some individuals with disabilities require assistive technology (AT) in order to access computers, such as adapted keyboards and mouse pointers, or software to translate text to speech. Hundreds of Windows AT third-party products are available, making it possible for almost anyone to use Windows® applications, regardless of their disabilities. The Microsoft Windows operating systems also provides a core set of basic accessibility features and AT applications, which can be deployed on all computers in a computer lab, workplace or classroom without additional cost. These applications provide employees and students with basic accessibility features from any workstation, maximizing the inclusiveness of the work or learning environment.

It should be noted that the AT applications that are bundled with Windows provide only a minimum level of accessibility, not the full set of features that many users require for equal access to the operating system and other software applications. Therefore, many entities deploy the standard set of Windows AT on all workstations by default, but additionally 1) provide a small number of dedicated workstations that are equipped with commonly requested third party AT, and 2) are prepared to purchase and install additional AT as needed by specific employees or students.

It should also be noted that the availability of AT does not itself guarantee accessibility. Software applications must be designed in a way that is compatible with AT and other accessibility features of the operating system. For information about purchasing software products that are accessible, see the article How can I tell whether a software application is accessible?

Major accessibility improvements in Windows 7 are the Ease of Access Center with improved speech recognition and magnification capabilities.

Ease of Access Center Wizard:

The Ease of Access Wizard is designed to help new users quickly and easily set up groups of accessibility options that address visual, hearing and dexterity needs all in one place. The Ease of Access Wizard asks questions about accessibility needs. Then, based on the answers, it configures utilities and settings for individual users. The Ease of Access Wizard can be run again at any time to make changes, or changes can be made to individual settings through Control Panel.

Windows 7 Ease of Access Utilities:

Windows 7 offers two ways to set up accessibility features: Quick Access or Explore all Settings.

  • Magnifier —a display utility that makes the computer screen more readable by creating a separate window that displays a magnified portion of the screen.
  • Narrator —a text-to-speech utility that reads what is displayed on the screen—the contents of the active window, menu options, or text that has been typed.
  • On-Screen Keyboard —displays a virtual keyboard on the computer screen that allows people to type data by using a pointing device or joystick.
  • High Contrast —to increase the contrast in colors and make the screen easier to read.

The following is a list of basic accessibility features that are included with Windows 7.

Display and Readability:

These features are designed to increase the visibility of items on the screen.

  • Font style, color, and size of items on the desktop — using the Appearance and Personalization option, choose font color, size and style combinations.
  • Icon size — make icons larger for visibility, or smaller for increased screen space.
  • Screen resolution — change pixel count to enlarge objects on screen.
  • High contrast schemes — select color combinations that are easier to see.
  • Cursor width and blink rate — make the cursor easier to locate, or eliminate the distraction of its blinking.
  • Microsoft Magnifier — enlarge portion of screen for better visibility.

Sounds and Speech:

These features are designed to make computer sounds easier to hear or distinguish - or, visual alternatives to sound. Speech-to-text options are also available.

  • Sound Volume - turn computer sound up or down.
  • Sound Schemes - associate computer sounds with particular system events.
  • ShowSounds - display captions for speech and sounds.
  • SoundSentry - display visual warnings for system sounds.
  • Notification - Get sound or visual cues when accessibility features are turned on or off.
  • Text-to-Speech - Hear window command options and text read aloud.
  • Speech Recognition - Use spoken commands to control the PC instead of a mouse or keyboard.

Keyboard and Mouse:

These features are designed to make the keyboard and mouse faster and easier to use. Mouse Options:

  • Double-Click Speed - choose how fast to click the mouse button to make a selection.
  • ClickLock - highlight or drag without holding down the mouse button.
  • Pointer Speed - set how fast the mouse pointer moves on screen.
  • SnapTo - move the pointer to the default button in a dialog box.
  • Cursor Blink Rate - choose how fast the cursor blinks - or, if it blinks at all.
  • Pointer Trails - follow the pointer motion on screen.
  • Hide Pointer While Typing - keep pointer from hiding text while typing.
  • Show Location of Pointer - quickly reveal the pointer on screen.
  • Reverse the function of the right and left mouse buttons - reverse actions controlled by the right and left mouse buttons.
  • Pointer schemes - choose size and color options for better visibility.

Keyboard Options:

  • Character Repeat Rate - set how quickly a character repeats when a key is struck.
  • Dvorak Keyboard Layout - choose alternative keyboard layouts for people who type with one hand or finger.
  • StickyKeys - allow pressing one key at a time (rather than simultaneously) for key combinations.
  • FilterKeys - ignore brief or repeated keystrokes and slow down the repeat rate.
  • ToggleKeys - hear tones when pressing certain keys.
  • MouseKeys - move the mouse pointer using the numerical keypad.
  • Extra Keyboard Help - get Tool Tips or other keyboard help in programs that provide it.
  • Previous versions of Windows also included several of these same features. For more information about how to access these features and utilities in Windows 7or other versions of Windows products visit Microsoft's web site Windows Accessibility Resources.

    For a comparison of accessibility features across operating systems, see the article How does accessibility differ across operating systems?