Improving The Appearance Of Your Computer

by Bill Takeshita, OD
Computers can be one of the most valuable tools for people with low vision to perform their work, shop, bank, and communicate with their friends.  Microsoft Windows XP and Macintosh OSX are the most popular software programs that allow computers to work efficiently.  This guide is designed to help those with vision problems use their computers more efficiently.  For VISTA computers, click here.

General Tips

Which glasses should I wear?

The first step of maximizing your vision when working on computer is to have the appropriate pair of glasses.   Distance glasses are designed to focus on objects at 20 feet.  Reading glasses are designed to focus at 12 to 16 inches when you look down.  Computer screens are generally positioned straight ahead at a distance of 20 inches from your eyes.  Ask your eye doctor to design computer glasses to focus specifically on your computer screen.  These glasses should also include a filter to reduce glare and reflections.

Where to position Your Computer

Computer screens tend to reflect light from windows, doors, overhead ceiling lights, and bright walls.  These reflections can cause eyestrain and make it difficult to see images on your screen. The following suggestions can help you to read on your computer more easily.

  • Turn off the overhead room lights.
  • Close drapes and vertical blinds.
  • Place a small desk lamp on the desk, or a floor lamp slightly behind the monitor, making sure you do not see any reflections from the lamp on your screen.
  • Use a dark desk or a dark blotter to absorb light.
  • Position your computer monitor at the distance your doctor has recommended.  The use of a desk mounted computer monitor arm can be very helpful to position the monitor at the best distance and optimal height.
  • Use an adjustable chair that can be raised or lowered and has adjustable armrests.

Selecting a Computer Monitor

There are two types of computer screens.  The most common is the CRT monitor, which has a cathode ray tube to project the image on the screen.  These are the most affordable and are available in screen sizes from 15 to 25 inches.  CRT monitors are available with “Flat Screen” designs, which reduce glare and reflections significantly.  CRT flat screen monitors are excellent for general use and for those who play video games on their computer.

The second type of monitor is called the LCD Flat Panel Monitor.  These monitors are more expensive than the CRT monitors but emit less radiation, use less energy, and take up much less desk space.  When purchasing a monitor, it is recommended to purchase a 19-inch monitor or larger if you have blurred sight.  If your clarity of sight is good but you need a brighter screen with more contrast, stay with a 17-inch monitor, which will be more affordable.  The price of LCD monitors range from $150 to $300. Before purchasing a new monitor, try modifying the settings on your computer to determine if you actually need a larger computer screen.

Customize Your Windows XP Computer

When you first turn on your new Windows XP computer, it will display a screen that is different than your old Windows 98 or Me  computer.

  1. The first screen will ask you to log in. Press enter on your computer keyboard
  2. You may then see a screen that displays a picture of clouds and a grassy plain.
  3. You are now ready to modify the settings on your computer by using the Accessibility Wizard Program.  This will allow you to customize the size of the text, color of the background, size of the mouse pointer, and many other features.
  4. Click Start, Programs, and select Accessories.
  5. Click Accessibility Wizard. Click Next
  6. Select the size of the text that is easiest to see by clicking on the text.  Click Next.
  7. If you want the size of the Title Bar and Menus to also be larger, click the box “Change the Font Size.” 
  8. Do not use the Microsoft Magnifier. Do not check the box that says “Disable personalized menus.” Click Next.
  9. Click box “I am blind or have difficulty seeing things on screen.”  Click Next.
  10. Select the size of the Scroll Bar and Window Borders. Click .
  11. Select the Icon Size.  Click Next.
  12. Choose the best Display Color Settings.  Go to the Scheme box and select the best color scheme for you. High contrast black and High contrast white is often the most helpful.  Click Next.
  13. Select the Mouse Cursor size and color.  ClickNext.
  14. Select the Blink Rate and Width of the Cursor.  A wider cursor is helpful when typing documents.  Click Next.
  15. Click Finish.  Your computer will now display all screens in the style that you programmed. Congratulations.

Customizing Specific Features of Windows XP

You can modify specific features of your computer without using the Accessibility Wizard Program.  This is also helpful when you want to modify some of the settings after you have completed the Accessibility Wizard Program.  For example, if you have used Windows 98 and want your computer to have the same style display as your Windows 98 computer, you can do so.  Another helpful tool is to change the resolution of the computer, which can provide you with even more magnification.  In order to change these settings, you must get to the Display Properties Screen.  Here is how to get there.

  1. Turn on your computer and get to the Desktop Screen.  This is the screen that is displayed after you log on.
  2. Move the mouse to an empty area of your desktop, NOT on an icon.
  3. Right click by pressing the right button on your mouse.  You will see a menu on your screen.  Select Properties.
  4. Now you are at the Display Properties Screen. You will notice that on the top  portion of the screen, you will see tabs that read “Background” “Screen Saver” and other settings that you can change.

Another way that you can get to this screen is by using the Start button on the lower left area of your computer screen.

  1. Click Start
  2. Click Control Panel
  3. Click Appearance and Theme

At the Display Properties Screen, you can modify any of the settings. The first tab will customize the Background settings.

  1. Select the color background that you like.  Go to the Wallpaper box and choose the style of background that you prefer. Many people with low vision prefer to have no wallpaper.  Select “None”.
  2. Click the Screen saver tab.  This is next to the Background tab.  Go to the box that reads Screensaver and select None.  Screensavers can cause problems when using magnification software.  Your computer will run faster when the screen saver is turned off.
  3. Click Appearance tab. This will allow you to change the way your computer looks.
    • Go to the Windows and Buttons Box.  Select Windows Classic.
    • Go to Color Scheme box.  Select the color scheme that works the best for you.  Many patients see best with High Contrast White or High Contrast Black.
    • Go to the Font Size box.  Select the size that you want- normal, large or extra large
  4. Click the Settings tab.  This will allow you to change the resolution of your computer screen.  The lower the resolution, the higher the magnification. The higher the resolution, the smaller images will appear on your screen.
    • Go to screen resolution. Click on the lever with your mouse and slide it to the left to 800×600 pixels.  This will magnify the fonts on your screen.

When you have finished modifying the settings above, click Apply and then OK.  These settings will remain on your computer.

How To Modify The Settings On Your Mouse

There are many things you can do to make the mouse easier to see.  Windows XP has larger pointers, different color pointers, pointers that have trails, and even a sonar locator to help you locate the pointer of your mouse.

To make these modifications:

  1. Click Start, Settings, Control Panel
  2. Click Mouse
  3. Click on the Pointer tab.
  4. Go to Scheme.  Select which pointer is best for you. I.e. Windows standard large.
  5. Click the Pointer Options tab.
  6. Go to the Motion box.  This changes the speed that the pointer moves across your screen.  Click on the lever and adjust the rate that is best for you.
  7. Look for the Snap to  box.  By checking the box, the pointer will automatically move to the default box.
  8. Go to the Visibility box. Here you can select to have Trails to help you see the pointer.  You can also select Show location of pointer when pressing control key.  These options can help you to see the pointer.  Click Apply and OK.

Modifying The Appearance Of Internet Sites

You can customize the computer so that it ignores the colors, font sizes and styles of Internet sites.

  1. Click Start, click Internet to turn on the Internet
  2. You will see File, Edit, and View etc.  Select Toolsand select Internet Options on the bottom of the menu.
  3. Click the Accessibility box.
  4. Click the boxes, “Ignore colors specified on web page.”  Click the boxes “Ignore the font sizes and ignore the font styles“.
  5. Click Apply and press OK.

Specialized Accessories

There are many accessories that are available to help you to use your computer if you are unable to read the text on your computer after making the adjustments stated above.

  • Screen magnification mouse such as the Microsoft Optical Comfort Mouse $30
  • Magnification software such as AiSquared Zoom Text, Dolphin Lunar, and Freedom Scientific Magic
  • Large Print Keyboards
  • Screen Reading software such as JAWS, Window Eyes and Super Nova
  • Scan and Read software such as Kurzweil 1000, Open Book, Cicero, and Zoom Ex

Macintosh Computers

Macintosh computers are now very accessible for children and adults with low vision.  Macintosh desktop and notebook computers that run on the Macintosh OSX operating system have many built-in features that can help those with low vision to perform computing tasks more easily without the need to purchase additional software.

Screen Magnification

The Mac computers have excellent magnification features that allow partially sighted users to read print and access the Internet easily.  Users can simply hold down the CTRL key (on the bottom left of the keyboard) and scroll the wheel of the mouse to alter the magnification.  The clarity of the images on high magnification is quite sharp and the amount of magnification is more than sufficient for effective reading.

Contrast Enhancement

In addition to having quick access to change the magnification, the Macintosh computers have easy access to change the brightness of the screen by simply pressing the function keys F1 to reduce the brightness and F2 to increase the brightness of the screen.

Black Background with White Letters

Many people with low vision respond very well to a change in color of the background.  Mac users can change the color of the background to a black background with white letters by holding down the APPLE Key, Option key, and the CTRL keys while pressing number 8.  Although this sounds complicated, it is very easy to do by simply holding the three keys to the left of the space bar with the left hand and pressing number 8.

Screen Reading Software

The Macintosh computers also have a program called Voice Over, which functions as a screen reader to read the text aloud.  We found it to be a very basic program that can be helpful to some people with low vision.  However, the power of the Voice Over program does not compare with screen reading programs for PC computers such as JAWS, Window Eyes, and Hal.  To turn on the voice, hold Function, Apple and F5.

Recommended Tips

Purchase a conventional PC Mouse used for personal computers.  This is easier to use than the mouse provided by Apple Macintosh

PC users may feel more comfortable attaching their conventional PC keyboard.

Mac Shortcut Keys

  • Hold CTRL and scroll the mouse wheel to change the magnification
  • Press F1 and F2 to change the brightness
  • Hold Apple, Option, and CTRL while pressing 8 to change the color of the background.  For PC keyboard, ALT, Window, CTRL plus 8.
  • Apple plus H hides the application window being used.
  • Apple plus N opens menu to find new document.
  • Apple Shift 4 takes a photo of the window.
  • Fn Key Apple F5 turns on the Voice Over speech screen reader.
  • CTRL Eject Enter turns off the computer.
  • FINDER, APPLICATION, SYSTEM PREFERENCES and UNIVERSAL takes you to mouse settings to change the size of the pointer.

This article was provided by The Center for the Partially Sighted in Los Angeles. If you live in the area, they can help you with:

  • Low Vision Optometrists – trained professionals insure that you get the proper low vision device to meet your visual goals.
  • Licensed Therapists – counselors address any emotional issues that can accompany vision loss.
  • Rehabilitation Training – instructors teach you how to perform daily living tasks and move about safely in your home, your community, or your workplace.
  • Low Vision Store – offers products that promote independent living for people of all ages with impaired sight.
The Center for the Partially Sighted
12301 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 600
Los Angeles, CA 90025