Screens and eyes – partners in the relationship between us and our computers. Yet they seem to be at war with each other sometimes, don’t they? Computers use print that’s too small, your eyesight changes, you get headaches and stress, and the computer gets called a lot of dirty names.
It doesn’t have to be that way! Remember that you command your computer. Just learn how and Windows can make reading easier for you. Of course, if you’re using a small or old monitor, you may want to upgrade your monitor to something newer and bigger. Let’s take a look at a few things that can help you enjoy your Windows computer screen whether you’re nearsighted, farsighted, young, or old. It’s called Accessibility and you can make it work for you.
For those of you that use Macs, don’t worry, Apple has lots of accessibility features for you too!
Which Am I Again? Nearsighted or Farsighted?
A simple way to remember what those terms mean is to know that the terms say what’s easiest for you to see: something near your face, or something farther away.
Let’s take a look at the biology of it. You know the eye is pretty much a sphere, after all we call it an eyeball. Think of the eye as being a giant movie theater and you’re sitting in the middle of it. The projector (or the world around us) shines light through a lens. If everything goes right, the lens focuses the light on to the movie screen (retina) and we can watch the movie quite nicely.
If the light gets focused in front of, or beyond the distance of, the screen everything is blurry. When it’s focused in front of the screen, that’s called myopia, or nearsightedness. If the movie screen was a bit closer to you, everything would be in focus.
When the light is focused beyond where the screen is, that’s hyperopia, or farsightedness. If you moved the movie screen back a bit, you could see the pictures just fine.
So what’s age got to do with it? The onset of myopia is fairly common in people as they enter their teens and may continue to worsen into their early 20s. For most people, the myopia stabilizes around that age and they don’t see much more change in their vision. It’s a bit more rare to spring up after that, but then it becomes common to manifest itself or worsen around the age of 40.
Hyperopia can present at any age, yet is not unheard of in young children and may also manifest itself around the age of 40. For young kids with hyperopia, it’s not uncommon for the problem to correct itself in early adolescence, when the eyeball stops growing. When it pops up in people over 40, it’s more accurately called presbyopia.
What happens is that the eye becomes less flexible, making it harder to focus on things closer to the eye. If you notice someone around 40-ish reading a newspaper at arms length, they might have presbyopia. Because the eye becomes less and less flexible, people over 40 can also develop difficulty with focusing on things far away, as well as close objects. It’s still called presbyopia.
Working with Nearsightedness in Windows
Myopia is a lot easier to accommodate through operating system features or programs than hyperopia. The basic principle of all these tools is that they make text and images larger, clearer, and easier to see. Windows comes with two significant ways to help.
Using Display Settings
First, try adjusting ClearType Text. ClearType is a method of making jagged letters on an LCD display have smoother looking edges. This can make it easier for some people to focus on the text, making reading easier.
Click on the Start button and type Display in the search area. The top search item that comes up is Display. Click on that.
On the left-hand side of the Display window, you will see a link that reads, Adjust ClearType Text. Click on that.
The next window that opens gives you the ability to turn ClearType text on or off by checking or unchecking the box that reads Turn on ClearType. It might already be turned on, and if it isn’t, then click on the checkbox.
When you do that, the box of text below the checkbox will change appearance. Chances are that when ClearType is turned on, the text will be somewhat easier for you to read. If that’s the case, click on the Next button to fine-tune ClearType to your needs.
The process is shown in the video below. It’s rather like when you’re getting an eye exam and the optometrist keeps asking you which version is easier to read – one or two? Step your way through that and by the end you should find the text on the screen easier to read.
If the clarity of the type isn’t so much an issue, look at changing the size of it. Again, in the Display window you’ll see that you have three choices to help make your screen easier to read;
Smaller – 100%, that’s the default size
Medium – 125%
Larger – 150%
The labels are shown at the size that the text and images will be when you choose that level. You can see that as the default size is increased, fewer and fewer things will fit on the screen. That may be a trade off that’s worth it for you, though.
If you don’t think 150% will be enough, you can use the Set custom text size (DPI) setting. Set it to what you feel will be appropriate. You may get a warning that, “Some items may not fit on your screen if you choose this setting while your display is set to this resolution.” Nothing to worry about. You can always change it back. Windows will ask you to log off and then log back on so that the settings may be applied.
Take a look at this video that shows you how to set a custom text size.
The downside to this is that some programs may not scale up well, so they might become difficult to use. Parts of the display may be too large to be shown correctly, as you can see in some of the pictures. If scaling up the entire screen doesn’t work well for you, the Magnifier might be a better choice.
If you do get the text on your screen to be more readable for you, that’s great! Yet, the text on your keyboard is just plain unchangeable. If you’re having difficulty typing due to this, consider a voice to text program. Using the software and a microphone, what you say is what gets typed.
Using the Magnifier
You can access the Magnifier tool either through the Display window or through clicking on the Start button and typing Magnifier in the search field. Click on the shortcut Magnifier.
A new, ironically small, window will open. The size of things on your desktop may also become magnified at the same time. The picture below is shown actual size and that pixelation is real.
By clicking on the plus and minus buttons you can zoom in, or zoom out, your view of the screen. Using the Views select box you can choose from different viewing modes.
You can have the full screen magnified, so everything is enlarged. Or you can have a virtual magnifying glass, which only magnifies the part of the screen you move your mouse over.
You can also choose to have a docked window that shows the part of the screen that your mouse is over, magnified inside the docked window. By docked, I mean the magnifying area stays in the exact same spot. See how the smaller text about Ryan Dube’s article is magnified up above?
Try each method to see which one you like best. If you haven’t used the Magnifier window for a few seconds, it turns into an icon that looks like a magnifying glass. That makes it a little less intrusive on the screen. Just click in the glass part of it to bring back the Magnifier window.
Color and Contrast
Different colour schemes and varying the contrast between items on the screen can help make the screen easier to focus on as well. This can work for people with tired eyes, Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), hyperopia or myopia, and even people living with dyslexia. If you’re working with dyslexia, look into Dyslexie, a font designed to help people living with dyslexia.
To set up High Contrast on your computer, click on the Start button. In the search field, type Ease of Access. You’ll see the result, Ease of Access Center, click on that. A new window will open.
In the new window you’ll see a choice for Set Up High Contrast. Click on that.
Next you’ll see some choices. Take note of the option to turn high contrast on or off using the key combination Left Alt + Left Shift + Print Screen.
What that means is that if you hold down the Alt and Shift buttons on the left side of your keyboard, and use your other hand to press the Print Screen button, you can switch into and out of High Contrast mode. Go ahead and try that.
When you do, a new smaller window will open asking ,”Do you want to turn on High Contrast?” Simply click on the Yes button.
You may hear an odd beep and it might take a few seconds for the change to complete. That’s okay. What you’ll find is that backgrounds in Microsoft programs are now black and regular text is now white. Some other parts of the screen will have changed colour as well. Following is an example of how Windows may look to you, in High Contrast Mode.
That does make it easier for some people to read. If you find reading easier in High Contrast mode, now you know how to turn it on. If it doesn’t help, you may as well turn it off and try the other methods above.
If using some combination of the above methods helps some, yet still there are some things that are hard to read, you may consider turning on the Narrator service. Open the Ease of Access Center again. You’ll see a choice called Start Narrator. Click on that.
You might hear a voice through your speakers. That’s the Narrator. A small window will have opened, as well. This is where you can set your Narrator preferences.
It can be a little odd at first, but one you get used to it, it can be a real help. Watch the video below, and hear how Narrator tells you what’s happening on your screen. Of course, Narrator is only useful if you can hear it. If there’s no sound coming from your computer, you’ll need to fix that first.
If you don’t care much for Narrator, remember it is just one way to have your computer read to you.
Working with Farsightedness in Windows
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot that an operating system, or a program, can do to assist farsighted people. Zooming in text or magnifying images won’t really help much if the screen is too close to your face. However, there could be help on the way. A University of California professor, Brian Barsky, is developing a technology that could help anyone use a computer without glasses.
Since hyperopia is often associated with presbyopia, it’s also good to take frequent breaks from the computer screen to give the focusing muscles of your eyes a break. You don’t want to develop Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
There are several apps available that help prevent eye strain. These are probably a good idea for anyone who uses computers for more than an hour or so at a time.
Do You See Clearer Now?
Microsoft has put together some helpful tools for people with vision impairments. Along the way, you’ll have noticed several tools to help make Windows easier to use for people with various needs. If you find that Windows is still difficult to use with these methods, contact your optometrist. They may be able to recommend additional tools, or put you in contact with an agency that can help. Many countries have organizations that help fund the cost of additional equipment if needed.
Are you working with a vision impairment or know someone who is? What sort of tools did you find helpful? What health care professionals or organizations were able to help? The comments are a great place to share this, it’s where we can all grow. We’re all in this together.