7 Steps to Make Computers Accessible for the Elderly

Tina Sieber 19-09-2009

eyesightLet me introduce this post by saying that it is primarily aimed at young people. After all it’s you guys who will be called for help. And it’s in your best interest to help your relatives and show them ways to keep in touch with you through ways other than the occasional family meeting.


Computers are definitely not just a toy for the young generation. In fact, computers are a lot more useful for people who have problems with mobility and keeping in touch with the world in the first place.

At the same time, people with reduced eyesight may have severe difficulties using computers because technology is still created to be attractive for the young. For example screen resolutions have become enormous, providing more desktop space, and as a result smaller icons and text. Everything is smaller, faster, and more sensitive. A nightmare for a slow person with bad eyesight and stiff hands.

Fortunately, Windows provides a lot of options to revert these “features” and make computers accessible for the elderly. Windows also comes with tools that enhance visibility and accessibility. Let me show you some of them.

1. Screen Resolution

A high screen resolution is wonderful because more things find space on your desktop. However, a high resolution also reduces the size of everything and text becomes very hard to read. Hence, it may help to reduce the screen resolution. It’s not a very elegant solution, but it’s quite easy.


Right-click onto a blank area of the > desktop and select > Properties. The Display Properties window opens. Switch to the > Settings tab and reduce the screen resolution to 1024 x 768 or 800 x 600 pixel. If you’re using a flat screen, you’ll see that decreasing the screen resolution will also reduce the sharpness. You’ll simply have to find the right balance for yourself.

To retain sharpness and visibility, you can also increase the DPI (dots per inch). Note that this step may require rebooting or the Windows setup CD. Within the > Settings tab click the > Advanced button, switch to the > General tab and under > DPI setting select > Large size (120 DPI) from the pull-down menu.

computers for elderly

2. Contrast

Besides larger text and icons (we will come to that), a good contrast enhances readability. Fortunately, there are some Windows default solutions.


We’re still in the Display Properties menu from the previous point. Switch to the > Appearance tab. Under > Windows and buttons select > Windows Classic style. Now you can select a > High Contrast > Color scheme from the respective pull-down menu.

computers for elderly

3. Sizes

We already touched on that in the first point. Size matters. And while we’re in the Display Properties, let’s see what else we can do here. For example you can increase the > Font size.

Furthermore, you can click the > Effects button and check the > Use large icons option.


Finally, back in > Display Properties, click the > Advanced button and look at the > Items you can edit here. For example you could increase the font size in menus or the size of caption buttons or the text size in message boxes. Font styles and colors are also under your control.

computers for elderly people

Before we leave the Display Settings, let me give you one more piece of advice. You can save all these settings as a theme. This way you can easily restore or share them. Within the > Display Settings window, switch to the > Themes tab and click > Save As. I’m sure you can figure out the rest.

4. Start menu buttons

Through the start menu you can quickly navigate to frequently used or standard programs. You can customize the start menu to display large icons.


Right-click onto the > taskbar, select > Properties. Switch to the > Start Menu tab, click > Customize and select > Large icons for programs. Here you can also change your default Internet and E-Mail programs.

computers for old people

5. Magnifier

computers for old peopleWindows comes with a tool that lets you magnify things you can’t see despite all your settings.

You will find the tool under > Start > All Programs > Accessories > Accessibility folder > Magnifier. In the same folder you might also find an Accessibility Wizard, a Narrator, and the On-Screen Keyboard.

The magnifier will reserve a bit of screen in the top and open a > Magnifier Settings window.

Through the settings you can increase the magnification level and change the tracking and presentation. Inverting colors can enhance contrast and readability.

The magnification window itself can be moved around the screen and you can change its size. Since it will push away your open windows when launched, you might want to select > Start Minimized for the next time you need it.

6. Keystrokes

Hitting the right keys or several keys at once may be a problem when fingers are stiff. Windows provides some relief.

Go to > Start > Control Panel (classic view) > Accessibility Options and switch to the > Keyboard tab. The options you see here are > StickyKeys, >FilterKeys, and >ToggleKeys.

When > Use StickyKeys is checked the keys [SHIFT], [CTRL], [ALT], and [WINDOWS] are stuck once pressed, which will allow you to press one key at a time. For example to produce a capital A you can press [SHIFT], release the key and then press [A].

Clicking > Use FilterKeys results in a less sensible keyboard. Brief or rapidly repeated keystrokes will simply be ignored. This should reduce the amount of mistakes. However, it’s a bad choice for touch typers.

Check > Use ToggleKeys to be notified of hitting the [CAPS LOCK], [NUM LOCK], and [SCROLL LOCK] keys with a sound.

The respective > Settings buttons provide even more options to fine-tune the behavior of your keyboard.

computers for old people

Within Accessibility Options you can alter many other settings, for example translating system sounds into visual warnings, increasing the display contrast and cursor blink rate and width, and more.

7. Mouse

The mouse another important item to be considered.

Open the > Mouse Properties through > Start > Control Panel (classic view) > Mouse and switch to the > Pointers tab. Changing the scheme and selecting a large pointer will increase its visibility. Within the > Pointer Options tab you can further adapt its visibility and speed. Don’t forget the adjust scrolling with the mouse > Wheel.

computers for elderly people

With these default Windows options you can do a lot to make computers accessible for elderly or handicapped people. What is the oldest person you know using a computer? Is your grandma online yet? I think it’s about time!

Image credits: Brybs

Related topics: Computer Monitor, Fonts, Parental Control.

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  1. Jean-Luc Allemand
    July 13, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    These functions do not allow a 93 old man/woman to continue using his computer. My father uses XP and his computer is dead. He has no longer sufficient memory to learn and memorize new icons and display of Window 7 or else up to 2019.
    By changing the look always, MS literally send oldies to Nursing Home by force. If MS was improving instead of changing cosmetic of Windows and MS office, old people could continue to use their computer and stay part of the society.
    This, without talking about the cost of pushing oldies to the side and have to pay young people to do the works for them.
    MS has just scandalous practices.

  2. Angela
    March 26, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    Some great tips here thank you. Going to try to set my 94 year old father in law up with a laptop. I will get him a mouse, which I think is easier than a touchpad. He does have trouble with the 'double clicking' . I am wondering if you know of a mouse that might be particularly helpful with this? Thanks


    • Tina Sieber
      March 27, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Angela, I'm not aware of a particular mouse for the elderly, but get a big one. You can also change the double click speed under Buttons from fast to slow.

  3. Paul
    March 16, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I'm trying to help my 91 years young neighbor. She uses email and Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends.

    • Tina
      March 16, 2015 at 3:28 pm

      That's amazing! Have you found anything else that helped her use the computer?

  4. Tina
    February 7, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Diane and Nigel,

    glad to hear you enjoy reading MakeUseOf! :)

    Nigel, I can assure you that it's mainly Mark and Jackson who are cracking the whip, not Aibek. ;)

  5. Nigel Wason
    February 7, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Re Diane Page's comment: what she said with knobs on (British expression meaning, double the sentiment, of praise, in this case.
    I'm coming up on my one year anniversary with MUO. I have now concluded - after ditching most of a folder full of also-rans - that I only need ONE excellent apps blog to replace the dozen, or so, merely good ones I read before.
    Aibek's well-oiled machine pumps out the real goods day after day. I figure he has a few hundred "contributors" chained in his dungeon with a promise of release only after they have each coughed up 1,000 superlative posts each.
    It don't get no bettah than this.
    Thank you, Gang. Long may you wave at the Webbys!

  6. diane page
    September 23, 2009 at 7:00 am

    I want to thank each and everyone of you who contribute to the "Make Use Of" newsletter. The name itself is right on target. I smile the minute I see it in my inbox - as I know fun and learning have arrived.

    You should win top honors at the Webby Awards - you deserve it!

  7. Joleta
    September 22, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    As a recent convert to a Mac, I now understand what my husband has been complaining about all these years. You should change the title to "7 Steps to Make WINDOWS Computers Accessible for the Elderly"? Nothing here for me.

  8. Henry Lahore
    September 22, 2009 at 7:45 am

    I have been helping many seniors get into using computers.
    The link has my notes on low-cost ways of improving vision and use of computer which includes the a section which has information on:
    Larger icons, larger pointers, larger scroll bars, text and graphics by setting browser and other options We changed about 12 features in XP and Internet Explorer.
    FireFox 3: cntrl+ increases both text and graphics magnification
    cntrl- decreases both text and graphics magnification

  9. whs
    September 22, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Nice collection of useful hints and tips. I am 72 like Terry Richards. Fortunately I can still manage because I have been a programmer since 1958. It's only with my eyesight where I need some help. My browsers are set to 150%.

  10. Mary
    September 22, 2009 at 8:08 am

    I found this article and the comments very helpful. I am both elderly (80) and work with the residents of two campuses of a local retirement community to help keep their computers running and useful to them. I would like to add another suggestion:

    This is an add-in which separate the text of web pages and enlarges it to allow it to be easily read by those with smaller screen or serious vision impairments. It has a low learning curve and really helps.

    • MelangeX3
      September 22, 2009 at 9:55 am

      Wow, great tip Mary. One additional thing about readability, to get back all the extra details on the page, you need to refresh the page to switch right back to the original view. Thank you all for the tips.

      • Mary
        September 22, 2009 at 10:42 am

        Thanks, Melange. Computers can make a great difference in the lives of the elderly and the more we can make it possible, the better. It really exbands their small world and makes them feel much better about themselves and their lives.

  11. Lu
    September 20, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    These are wonderful suggestions for improving the experience for anyone using a computer. I've taught computer classes where many of these suggestions have helped different individuals at different times. One other suggestions is to keep in mind that not everything has to be done with a mouse. Some have trouble with double clicking, but can single click to select and press the enter key to execute an option.

  12. Terry Richards
    September 20, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Hi, I'm 72 years old. I do appreciate that there are youngsters out there that want to help us oldsters and plenty of grease to their elbow for doing so. There are a lot of people that need that help. Don't forget though that it was also the older generation that helped to get computers and programs to where they are today. My first computer didn't have Windows. Then there was Windows 3.1. Then windows 95 which took 27*3.5" disks and over half a day to install. It could also take 25 minutes to load in a database from an audio tape to do a 2 minute update. Now thats computing. Remember one day you'll have memories about computing that your grandchilden won't even believe.

    • Tina
      September 21, 2009 at 10:03 am

      That's the way of the world. We will all be old and we won't believe it until we are...if ever. ;)
      Thanks a lot for the comment!

  13. Ashutosh Mishra
    September 20, 2009 at 1:23 am

    Nice article. :)
    Well, my sister and I are the first generation in our family to seriously use computers. Even mom and dad aren't very comfortable with them (dad knows stuff but doesn't use our PC much, mom knows how to switch it on, look at photos, and fire up Skype). And my granny was like 70 years old when PCs became mainstream here, so yeah she doesn't know anything.

  14. A. Nony Mouse
    September 19, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    As far as vision, you don't have to be that old to have trouble seeing really small type. Expect to start having problems as young as 35 or 40.

    Flat panel displays help.

    Getting proper glasses or contacts are good. Get single vision ones that are for "computer use" optimized for about 18 to 30 inches distance.

    Something that would be nice would be modes that basically use the native resolution of the flat panel divided down.

    So if your display is 1920 x 1080, a 960 x 540 resolution would make display pixels 2 x 2 on your display, and help preserve sharpness.

    • Tina
      September 21, 2009 at 10:01 am

      Very true Nony, thanks for the comment and the advice!

  15. macuser
    September 19, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Also, it would be great if they are using a large OLED display.

  16. Gerry
    September 19, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Great post and good information. The elderly are a great market that many are ignoring. Information such as tips for purchasing online and information like this is very useful for the elderly.