The release of Windows 7 has been widely welcomed as a big step forward from Vista. But the benefits extend beyond obvious improvements, as it greatly enhances accessibility for disabled users.
The new Windows 7 On-Screen Keyboard (OSK) is resizable, with integrated word prediction. The old OSK was too small to be functional for many users. The ability to choose how much of the screen it fills is very user friendly, particularly when you combine it with a touch-screen device.
The magnifier now has a full-screen mode as well as a lens, allowing you to view a part of the screen at any one time. It is easy to use and quite readable at up to 200 per cent. This is now a great way to introduce levels of magnification to users without requiring any additional software. Display settings are now much easier to change and reset.
Voice recognition is a much-improved feature, facilitating easy creation of individual user profiles. For those unable to use a mouse or keyboard, a hands-free mode can also be used.
Windows 7 also comes with drivers to support tablet, touch and multi-touch interfaces – particularly important for those with learning disabilities – or unable to use a keyboard and mouse.
If there is a disappointment in Windows 7, it is that Narrator – the entry screen-reader in Windows – has not had much of an overhaul. But Microsoft can look towards its support of open-source NVDA software as an alternative approach. NVDA is free and available in a number of languages.
Windows 7 is faster while also offering a smaller footprint, making the uptake of some of these new technologies easier as well as cheaper for users.
The new compatibility wizard takes you through a step-by-step process to get software working with some simple changes. It is particularly helpful with older adaptive technology or legacy software.
Windows 7 is a giant leap forward for “non-standard” users real progress at last for the UK’s 10 million-strong disabled community.
David Banes is development director of national disability and computing charity AbilityNet