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2,862 Tutorials

How to use Windows 8's Ease of Access Center

Accessibility features make Windows easier and more comfortable to use

If you have problems seeing or hearing, Windows can be tricky to use. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make your life easier, from enabling the Narrator, which reads everything out loud (including keystrokes) to speech recognition.

In this article, we will be looking at Windows 8 and some of the core “Ease of Access” features and how to activate them.

Windows 8 Ease of Access: Narrator

Narrator is a simple reader that allows on-screen text to be a spoken aloud. It enables users to access their PC without a display and can be used for a variety of functions and will even tell you what you're doing with your mouse and keyboard to help you avoid making mistakes (and correct errors you do make).

To activate Narrator within Windows 8 there are 3 shortcuts.

1.    On the keyboard – press the Windows Logo Key and Enter together
2.    On a tablet – press the Windows Logo Key and the Volume Up Button simultaneously
3.    On the sign in screen – press the Windows Logo Key plus U or click the Ease of Access button in the bottom left hand corner – it looks like this: Windows Accessibility logo

If done correctly the following Window should Pop up:

Narrator Settings

With the Narrator active, there are a wide range of useful and innovative functions such as:

•    Keyboard strokes are echoed – the Narrator will read out each key as it’s typed.

•    Play audio cues – turn extra sounds on or off for certain actions performed.

•    Navigation using the mouse – when Narrator mouse mode is active, the Narrator reads what the mouse cursor is highlighting allowing you to move through Windows 8.

Windows 8 Ease of Access: Speech Recognition

Although you must first set up a microphone and train the PC to recognise your speech, Windows 8 speech recognition offers powerful functionality and accessibility features, which allow you to:

•    Control your PC using voice command – with a wide variety of simple short commands you can perform a range of actions such as accessing files, opening applications or simply asking for help.

•    Dictation – using speech recognition it is possible to dictate, navigate and construct spoken text using just your voice and series of structured commands.

To exit Narrator, press Caps Lock and Esc together.

How to set up a microphone in 3 simple steps:

1.    Navigate to Search (swipe in from the right-hand side on a touchscreen or navigate to the top or bottom right corner of the screen using the mouse to bring up the Charms bar). You can also press the Windows key on your keyboard and the C key together.

Windows 8 Start Screen Search Charm

2.    Enter the phrase “set up a microphone” in the search box or click Settings and Set up a Microphone

Set up a microphone

3.    Follow the series of instructions that then appear.

Train Windows 8 to recognise your voice in 4 steps:

1.    Navigate to Search (swipe in from the right-hand side on a touchscreen or navigate to the top or bottom right corner of the screen using the mouse to bring up the Charms bar). You can also press the Windows key on your keyboard and the C key together.

2.    Enter the phrase “speech recognition” in the search box or click Settings and Speech Recognition

Set up speech recognition

3.    Select Train your computer to better understand you

4.    Follow the series of instructions that then appear.

The exciting thing about this function is the more you use it, the better it becomes at understanding your commands.

Windows 8 Ease of Access: Magnifier

This function does exactly what it says, it magnifies portions of (or the entire) screen. This is perfect for those with either poor vision or who have trouble seeing their device. Magnifier allows them to see text and images more clearly and interact with the device more easily.

To activate Magnifier you can use the following simple steps.

1.    Navigate to Search (swipe in from the right-hand side on a touchscreen or navigate to the top or bottom right corner of the screen using the mouse to bring up the Charms bar). You can also press the Windows key on your keyboard and the C key together.

2.    Enter the phrase “Magnifier” in the search box or click Apps and select Magnifier

Windows 8 Magnifier

Magnifier functions in three separate views to suit the user’s preference:

Windows 8 Magnifier

1.    Full Screen – the whole screen is magnified likely meaning that the entire screen is not visible. Using mouse or touch functionality move along the borders to navigate the non-visible part of the screen.

2.    Lens - this view follows your touch or cursor and is like hovering a magnifying glass over the display, very Sherlock Holmes.

3.    Docked – when used the magnifier is “docked” to a portion of the screen, where only parts within the docking area are magnified. The rest of the screen remains the same. It’s a square magnifying glass!

So there we have it, some of the core accessibility features built into Windows 8 really do help you to use it more easily. We're just scratching the surface of the capabilities, of course. To find the rest:

1.    Navigate to Search (swipe in from the right-hand side on a touchscreen or navigate to the top or bottom right corner of the screen using the mouse to bring up the Charms bar). You can also press the Windows key on your keyboard and the C key together.

2.    Enter the phrase “Ease of Access” in the search box or click Settings and select Ease of Access

Windows 8 Ease of Access Center

You can then access a whole host of features like an onscreen keyboard, visual notifications and a high-contrast colour scheme.

Let us know what you think of the guide and whether you would like to find out more.

See also How to refresh and reset Windows 8: give your PC a free speed boost

About the author

Guest author Edward Jones looks after community engagement and content creation for Firebrand Training, writing technical articles and industry news for the IT certification sector. Edward has experience with Windows Server, SharePoint and multiple Windows OS platforms.

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