Windows Alternative Control

There are a number of built in accessibility features of the Windows Operating System that can help the process of inputing text or commands into a computer.

Features that support the process of writing and inputting text:

  • Auto-correct – create shortcuts for certain words or phrases (also known as “Abbreviation Expansion”) by creating new auto-correct entries (e.g. create an entry that tells your computer every time you type “#UDL”, it expands to “Universal Design for Learning”)
  • Cortana – Cortana is a digital personal assistant available in more recent versions of Windows. By responding to voice commands, Cortana can both control programs and input text (e.g. create a reminder or appointment, write an email, create a list)
  • FilterKeys – adjusts the keyboard response so the inadvertently repeated keystrokes are ignored. This is helpful for the user who gets keys repeated by mistake.
  • On-Screen Keyboard – a virtual on-screen keyboard can be used by touch or with a pointing device or switch instead of a standard keyboard.
  • Speech Recognition – allows the user to use their voice to interact with the computer, reducing their use of the mouse and keyboard. Read more about voice recognition.
  • StickyKeys – a feature that will allow those who may have difficulty pressing multiple keys at one time. StickyKeys allows you to press one key at a time instead of pressing them simultaneously.
  • ToggleKeys – will provide sound to specific keys when specific keys are pressed (e.g., Num Lock, Caps Lock, etc.). This is helpful for those who may be typing while looking away from the screen or for those with a visual impairment.
  • Word Prediction (part of the on-screen keyboard) – reduces the number of letters you press by predicting the word you are typing or the next word you will type based on letters typed and/or word frequency and context. Read more about word prediction.

Features that help with navigation around a computer

  • Cortana – Cortana is a digital personal assistant available in more recent versions of Windows. Cortana can perform tasks for you, so that you need to navigate through your computer less (e.g. create a reminder, open apps, manage a calendar).
  • Headings and the Navigation Pane – when using Word, use different Heading Styles to organize the content in documents. When heading styles are applied to content the Navigation Pane can provide a table of contents for quick navigation between sections reducing the need to scroll through documents to find specific information.
  • Keyboard Shortcuts – combinations of different keys perform different actions on the computer that can eliminate or reduce the need to use a pointer (e.g. ALT-F4, CTRL-W, and/or ESCAPE will close different programs or tabs within Windows to reduce the need to move your mouse to the “X” button and click to close). A list of Windows keyboard shortcuts can be found on the Windows Accessibility page.
  • MouseKeys – use the numeric keypad to control the movement of the cursor, arrow key and other functions conventionally controlled by the mouse.
  • Mouse and touchpad features – change settings such as:
    • The sensitivity of mouse or trackpad movement
    • Sensitivity and function of scroll wheel
    • Gestures on touchpad
    • Switch between left and right mouse button (e.g. if you are left-handed)
    • Change how quickly buttons respond to double clicks
    • ClickLock eliminates the need to hold the mouse button when performing drag and drop commands
  • Live Tiles – found in the Start Menu (Windows 10) to provide quick information (e.g. weather) without needing to open individual programs

Where to Adjust the Built-in Features

Many of these features are found on the different versions of Windows (e.g. Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and further back). However, there may be some differences in the features you have on your version of Windows that affects how each function works or where the feature can be found.

If you are using Windows 7 or older, most of these features can be found in the Control Panel under Ease of Access, Speech Recognition, Mouse, or Keyboard.

If you are using Windows 10 or 8.1, these features are found spread out between the older Control Panel (similar sections as above) and the newer Settings, either under Devices (Mouse, Touchpad, Typing, Pen & Windows Ink), Time & Language (Speech), and Ease of Access. Others might be found within specific programs (e.g. File Explorer Options to switch from a double-click to a single click to open items; Microsoft Office products for abbreviation expansion). While the newer versions of Windows have added new features, not all options can be adjusted in the Settings and you may have to still explore the Control Panel to make certain changes. Office 365, the most recent version of Microsoft Office, may also have features discussed above or new accessibility features to test out.

If you want Windows to suggest some features that you might like based on your needs, you can “get recommendations to make your computer easier to use.” Find this link in the Control Panel under Ease of Access Center.

Keeping Up to Date with Accessibility on Windows

Because technology is constantly changing, it is important to try and stay aware of new features that could be beneficial for you or your students. The Windows Accessibility Page is a good place for up-to-date information about Windows accessibility features.

Remember that everyone is unique and environments change, therefore, technology features and settings may be used for different purposes than they were originally designed for. Explore the different settings in your Windows operating system and the software applications you use – you may find additional tools or features that adapt to how you control your computer. And if you find something new and cool, send us your ideas to share on SNOW!

Additional Resources

To learn how this section relates to the core principles of the AODA Customer Service regulation, visit the AODA page on SNOW.

To learn of ways to innovate, develop, and design for accessibility, visit OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) website and the IDRC’s floe project website.