What accessibility features are provided with the Windows operating system?

DO-IT Factsheet #1012

Some individuals with disabilities require assistive technology (AT) in order to access computers. Hundreds of Windows AT third-party products are available, making it possible for almost anyone to use Windows® applications, regardless of their disabilities. The Microsoft® Windows® operating systems also provides a core set of basic accessibility features and AT applications, which can be deployed on all computers in a computer lab or classroom without additional cost. These applications provide students with basic accessibility features from any workstation, maximizing the inclusiveness of the learning environment.

It should be noted that the AT applications that are bundled with Windows provide only a minimum level of accessibility, not the full set of features that many users require for equal access to the operating system, educational programs, and other software applications. Therefore, many educational entities deploy the standard set of Windows AT on all workstations by default, but additionally 1) provide a small number of dedicated workstations that are equipped with commonly requested third party AT, and 2) are prepared to purchase and install additional AT as needed by specific students.

It should also be noted that the availability of AT does not itself guarantee accessibility. Software applications must be designed in a way that is compatible with AT and other accessibility features of the operating system. For information about purchasing software products that are accessible, see the AccessIT Knowledge Base article How can I tell whether a software application is accessible? [1]

The following is a list of basic accessibility features that are included with Windows XP. Previous versions of Windows also included several of these same features.

Display and Readability:

These features are designed to increase the visibility of items on the screen.

Sounds and Speech:

These features are designed to make computer sounds easier to hear or distinguish - or, visual alternatives to sound. Speech-to-text options are also available.

Keyboard and Mouse:

These features are designed to make the keyboard and mouse faster and easier to use.

Mouse Options:

Keyboard Options:

Accessibility Wizard:

The Accessibility Wizard is designed to help new users quickly and easily set up groups of accessibility options that address visual, hearing and dexterity needs all in one place. The Accessibility Wizard asks questions about accessibility needs. Then, based on the answers, it configures utilities and settings for individual users. The Accessibility Wizard can be run again at any time to make changes, or changes can be made to individual settings through Control Panel.

Windows Accessibility Utilities:

For more information about how to access these features and utilities in Windows products visit Microsoft's website Windows Accessibility Resources [2].

For a comparison of accessibility features across operating systems, see the AccessIT Knowledge Base article How does accessibility differ across operating systems? [3]