Technology should be accessible to everyone, which is why Apple and Microsoft develop features for people with hearing or vision impairments. In our handy walkthrough, we run through some simple ways to make your computer easier to use.
You might not know about accessibility tools as they're tucked away in your system settings. Windows, for example, has a host of options – in a couple of clicks or taps, you can make on-screen text bigger, or use speech recognition to control your PC without a keyboard.
Keep scrolling for our tips covering Windows and Mac.
Here, we cover Windows computers. If you're a Mac user, keep scrolling for advice aimed at you.
If you find it difficult to see what’s on screen, you can customise your display in system settings. In Windows 10, select Start > Settings > Ease of Access > Vision (which is on the left-hand side). For Windows 11, select Settings > Accessibility.
The on-screen text can be enlarged so it's easier to read. Select Display and then play around with the slider under Make text bigger. When you're happy with the new font size, click apply.
Text effects aside, Windows has lots of visual features designed to make the OS look smart and modern – transparencies, animations and more. But if you find these effects distracting, look under Simplify and personalise Windows for options to disable them.
You can also try selecting Mouse pointer on the left side of the screen, which lets you adjust the pointer size and colour. You might, for example, find it easier working with a large, brightly coloured mouse pointer if you have lots of tabs open.
Windows has a magnifying glass-like feature that lets you zoom in on tiny text or get a better look at smaller icons, menus and images.
From the Ease of Access screen, click Magnifier, then select the switch under Turn on Magnifier. Your entire screen will zoom in by the amount shown under Change the zoom level (200% by default). You’ll also notice a small Magnifier toolbar, which you can use to increase or decrease the zoom level.
The magnifier can be configured to automatically launch every time you load up your PC – just tick the box next to Start Magnifier after sign-in.
If you or someone you know finds it difficult to see certain colours or tell the difference between them, click the Colour filters option, then the switch under Turn on colour filters.
You can also tick the box below the switch to enable a keyboard shortcut (Windows key + Ctrl + C) that toggles colour filters on or off – this saves you from having to open your system settings every time.
Select the filter that suits you best. Greyscale, for example, will effectively turn your display black and white. The Red-green or Blue-yellow filter makes colours easier to distinguish.
If you experience light sensitivity or eye strain, switching to a high-contrast theme can help. This replaces the standard Windows colour palette with a more basic set of colours that contrast with each other – such as yellow on black – making text stand out more.
To try this out, click High contrast under Vision in the left panel, then click the switch under Turn on high contrast to enable it.
Now, use the dropdown menu under Choose a theme to select the theme that suits you best. You can click individual elements in the box below to customise the colours used.
Windows has a powerful screen reader called Narrator, which can describe what’s on screen. It can be controlled via keyboard and mouse or a touchscreen, but is also compatible with braille display devices.
To try it out, click Narrator under Vision, then select the switch under Turn on Narrator. The Narrator Home window will open and guide you through using the tool, as shown below.
Back in the Narrator settings screen, you can set the tool to launch automatically at startup – tick Start Narrator after sign-in for me. Scroll down for further options, including the ability to choose a different voice, or alter the voice’s speed, pitch and volume.
Click Audio under Hearing for settings aimed at making your PC’s sounds easier to hear.
You get a volume control slider here, but this is no different to the standard system volume control – it's also accessible from your taskbar’s audio icon in the bottom-right corner of your screen.
Potentially more useful is the Turn on mono audio option, which combines left and right stereo channels into a single channel. This can make sounds more audible for those with a hearing impairment.
We also suggest you explore the Show audio alerts visually option. This adds a visual accompaniment, such as a brief on-screen flash, to any system audio notifications you receive.
Windows has built-in support for closed captions. With most video player apps, such as YouTube, you can enable captions by right-clicking on the video and selecting the CC option that appears.
If you’re finding the default captions tricky to read, visit the Closed captions settings (under Hearing in Ease of Access). Here, you can customise the captions to better suit you. You can change the colour, transparency, size and style, as well as add effects (such as a drop shadow) or background.
Use the preview at the top to see how your changes look.
To make it easier to work with your keyboard, click Keyboard on the left to access options. For example, you can opt to do without a physical keyboard and use an on-screen one instead – click the switch under Use the On-Screen Keyboard to enable this.
If you find key-combination shortcuts difficult to carry out, enabling Sticky Keys lets you press one key at a time. Toggle Keys can be useful, as it sounds an alert when you press the Caps Lock, Num Lock or Scroll Lock keys. Filter Keys can help reduce accidentally typed characters by ignoring repeated keystrokes.
Instead of using a mouse, you can try enabling Mouse Keys by clicking Mouse and turning on the switch. This allows you to control the mouse pointer with the numeric keypad on your keyboard instead.
Windows supports Eye control, but you’ll need a supported eye-tracking device (around £200) to enable this.
Windows computers support speech recognition, which allows you to dictate text and control your PC with your voice.
You’ll need a microphone to do this. Most modern laptops come with a built-in mic, but you may need to buy an external mic if your computer doesn’t have one. You can get a basic USB microphone online for less than £20.
With your microphone installed, click Speech under Interaction in the Ease of Use settings, then the switch under Turn on Speech Recognition. Follow the on-screen steps to set it up.
Mac users can click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of the toolbar and select System Preferences > Accessibility. Here, tools are organised under Vision, Hearing, Mobility and General.
Apple has equivalents for pretty much all of the Windows tools we've mentioned already, including a magnifier (Zoom), a screen reader (VoiceOver), closed caption support and voice control. You also get options for customising visual and audio elements to make your computer easier to work with.
If you own a Mac, note that macOS supports many third-party adaptive devices, such as joysticks and switches (click Switch Control). It can also make and receive real-time text (RTT) calls, which lets you text to communicate during a phone call.
All Windows 10 and 11 devices support touch control (where a touchscreen is present), but Macs lack this ability, with Apple preferring to keep touch control exclusively for its iPads and iPhones.
Additional reporting by Tom Morgan.