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Getting the most from IE, Opera and Mozilla

This article relies heavily on an original written by Loughborough University computing services. Some editing has been done to bring it up to date.

Introduction

There are various facilities available within your browser program to make web pages and web sites more accessible for the disabled, less able, and indeed almost everyone. This page will describe Microsoft's Internet Explorer (versions 5, 5.5, and 6), the most commonly used browser. Users of Mozilla/Firefox should find similar options under the "Tools" menu, under "Options".

This article will also cover some Windows and Office facilities, and e-mail with Outlook Express.

Contents

This lists the topics covered, with an indication of who may find the topic of most use.

Changing the Font size

This can be useful for anyone with any sight difficulties (but some sight) - or for anyone trying to read a badly designed web site!

In the "View" menu, the "Text Size" option will allow you to change the size of the font on many web pages.

In addition, you can use the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "General" tab, and select the "Accessibility" option. Here you can set "Ignore font sizes specified on Web pages" to override settings made by web designers which stop you from adjusting the text size.

Please note that these options can not make images larger, so that navigation buttons and any other text which is actually stored as a picture will not be affected. (The Opera browser, however, does make images larger).

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Changing the Font

This can be useful for some people with dyslexia. Many people with dyslexia prefer a font without serifs (a sans serif font), such as "Arial" or "Comic Sans MS". Serifs are the extra "tails" given to printed letters.

  • Example of a serif font
  • Example of a sans serif font

To change the default font for web pages, select the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "General" tab, and select the "Fonts" option. Here you can set the default Web page font from a scrolling list. You can also set the default "Plain text font" - this font is (more rarely) used on web pages to designate computer instructions, and uses a non-proportionally spaced font (like this). In a non-proportionally spaced font the letters "i" and "w" have the same width. In a proportionally spaced font (like this), the letter "i" is narrower than "w".

You may also need to use the "Accessibility" option (also from the "Tools" menu "Internet Options" "General tab") to set "Ignore font styles specified on Web pages", in order to override settings made by web site designers.

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Changing the Font colour and Paper colour

This, too, can be useful for some people with dyslexia. You can specify the colour for the paper (i.e. the background) and for the font (ink). People with dyslexia should be properly evaluated to find out which colour combinations are most useful.

To change the default colours for web pages, select the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "General" tab, and select the "Colors" option. Ensure that "Use Windows colors" is not selected, and you can specify the colours for both the background and the foreground. A set of basic colours will be offered to you, or you can use the "Define Custom Colors" option to specify your own choice.

Note that, especially if you change the background colour, you may need to turn on the "Accessibility" option "Ignore colors specified on Web pages" option to override settings made by web site designers. (Again, from the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "General" tab, and select the "Accessibility" option).

Changing the colour of hyperlinks

Especially if you change the background colour to a dark option, you may want to change the colours of hyperlink text. The "unvisited" colour (usually blue) can be changed; the "visited" colour (usually red) is used for links to pages which you have recently visited and can also be changed. In Internet Explorer (and some other browsers) you can specify whether to use a "hover" colour, which is used when a mouse (or pointing device) pointer is on a hyperlink, and if so you can change this colour.

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Including or excluding the Paper colour or background image when printing a page

Select the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "Advanced" tab. Under "Printing" you can elect whether or not to "Print background colors and images".

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Avoiding images

This can be useful for any visitor to a web site who is using a (slow) dial-up modem connection. It can also be useful for those with a severe visual impairment, who won't see the pictures anyway.

Select the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "Advanced" tab. Under "Accessibility" ensure that "Always expand ALT text for images" is selected. Scroll down to "Multimedia" and ensure that "Show pictures" is turned off.

From now on, pictures will not be displayed in web pages; they will be replaced by "alternate text" (the "ALT text" mentioned above), provided that the web site designer has included this alternate text.

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Avoiding animations and videos

This can be useful for people who have epilepsy (even simple animations can cause unpleasant sensations or even worse); this can also be useful for people with a visual impairment. This can also be useful for any visitor to a web site who is using a (slow) dial-up modem connection.

Select the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "Advanced" tab. Scroll down to "Multimedia" and ensure that "Play animations" and "Play videos" are turned off.

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Avoiding sounds

This can be useful for people with a hearing impairment. It can also be useful for people with a visual impairment, or dyslexia, who are using a screen reader. This can also be useful for any visitor to a web site who is using a (slow) dial-up modem connection.

Select the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "Advanced" tab. Scroll down to "Multimedia" and ensure that "Play sounds" is turned off.

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Using web pages without a mouse or pointing device

This may be useful to people with a visual impairment who are using a screen reader or screen magnifier, or people with dyslexia using a screen reader. It may also be useful for anyone with an impairment which makes using a mouse or pointing device difficult or impossible.

The "system caret" is used by some accessibility tools such as screen readers and screen magnifiers to determine which area of the screen to read or to magnify.

Users can move through web pages by using the TAB key to move from one hyperlink to another (if there is sensible text for the hyperlinks, this can provide a good summary of the contents of a web page, and allows the visually impaired to "speed read" web pages). Users can also move through the data entry areas in a web form with the TAB key. With the following option selected, screen readers or screen magnifiers will read or magnify the area tabbed to.

Select the "Tools" menu, "Internet Options", then select the "Advanced" tab. Under "Accessibility" ensure that "Move system caret with focus/selection changes" is selected.

You may also be interested in the Windows 2000 (and XP) On-screen Keyboard. From the Windows Start menu (click on the Start menu in the bottom left of the screen, or press the Windows button), select Programs, and then Accessories, then Accessibility, and finally On-screen Keyboard.

Windows 2000 also uses a system called "personalised menus" which "hides" menu items which you do not use often. To turn this option off, from the Windows Start menu (click on the Start menu in the bottom left of the screen, or press the Windows button), select Settings, then Taskbar & Start Menu, ensure that the "General" tab is active, and press ALT+P or use the mouse to ensure that the "Use Personalised Menus" checkbox is not selected.

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Other accessibility aids

Screen magnifiers

Screen magnifiers can enlarge areas of the screen for people with a visual impairment. This usually leads to having to "scroll" sideways through text, which can lead to feelings not unlike seasickness! However, screen magnifiers are often a cheap and readily-available accessibility aid.

Screen readers

Screen readers will use a synthesised speech system to literally read the contents of a web page to the user. They are designed for people with a visual impairment, but can also be used by people with dyslexia. There are free screen readers available, but serious users may need to purchase more sophisticated software.

Braille readers

This is a piece of hardware which provides a Braille output for people with a severe visual impairment, and is usually a more costly option.

In all cases

Windows 2000

Windows 2000 provides some accessibility aids; these are limited, but may be a useful starting-point. From the Windows Start menu (click on the Start menu in the bottom left of the screen, or press the Windows button), select Programs, and then Accessories, and finally Accessibility. The options provided are:

  • Magnifier. A screen magnifier for people with a visual impairment.
  • Narrator. Reads on-screen text, dialogue boxes, menus, and buttons (if speakers or a sound output device are set up).
  • On-screen Keyboard. Displays a keyboard controlled by a mouse or switch input device.
  • Accessibility Wizard. Configures your system to meet your vision, hearing, and mobility needs. This includes such things as changing Windows text size settings and colour schemes for Windows.
  • Utility Manager. Starts and configures accessibility tools from one window.

From the Windows Start menu (click on the Start menu in the bottom left of the screen, or press the Windows button), select Settings, then Control Panel. The Accessibility Options entry allows you to perform various functions:

  • Show extra keyboard help in programs will show additional help on keyboard options in programs where available.
  • StickyKeys enables simultaneous keystrokes while pressing one key at a time.
  • FilterKeys adjusts the response of your keyboard.
  • ToggleKeys emits sounds when certain locking keys are pressed.
  • SoundSentry provides visual warnings for system sounds.
  • ShowSounds instructs programs to display captions for program speech and sounds.
  • High Contrast improves screen contrast with alternative colours and font sizes.
  • MouseKeys enables the keyboard to perform mouse functions.
  • SerialKeys allows the use of alternative input devices instead of a keyboard and mouse.
Office 2000

In Microsoft Office 2000 programs such as Word, enter the help system (from the menu select Help and then Microsoft Word Help, or press F1), select the Index tab and enter "accessibility". Select the first option "Accessibility options for people with disabilities" for information on:

  • Changing the size or magnification of text and objects.
  • Customizing toolbars and menus.
  • Using keyboard shortcuts.
  • Automating entry and editing of text and graphics.

You may also be interested in:

Outlook Express

You can change the font used to display plain text e-mail messages which you receive. Select the Tools menu, and then Options, and then use the Fonts... button.

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Style Sheets

Style sheets can be used by web designers to specify rules for how they want web pages to be displayed. They can also be used by people browsing web sites to override rules specified by the web designer (or even the people who programmed the browser), providing that your browser is sufficiently up-to-date. There is, however, no guarantee that overriding a web-designer's rules will result in a usable web site! Building style sheets is, however, not simple. The following style sheet (one line long) will remove the underline from all hyperlinks. This may be useful for people with dyslexia who find reading underlined text difficult.

a { text-decoration: none ! important }

Copy and paste the line above into a text editor such as Notepad. Use File, Save As to save the file as your-name.css - the suffix must be .css and not .txt; in Notepad, ensure that the "Save as type" option is set to "All files" and not "Text Documents (*.txt)" before specifying the file name. Students may wish to use their Individual File Store (U: drive).

In Internet Explorer, select "Tools", "Internet Options", and from the "General" tab, select the "Accessibility" option. Select "Format documents using my style sheet" and specify the file you created earlier as the "Style sheet" or use the "Browse" option. You should now see that hyperlinks are no longer underlined.

Aural Style Sheets

Aural style sheets can affect how screen readers "speak" web pages. For example, you can specify how much faster or slower (or deeper or higher) elements of web pages (such as headings or emphasised text) should be spoken. Sadly, we have yet to find a screen reader that pays any attention to them. Should you know of one, please do email us! Anyone who wishes to find out more about this area should investigate the World Wide Web Consortium web site for HTML and Cascading Style Sheet information.

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