Student using Zoomtext to write notes in class.
Guide

Getting started with screen magnification

Resource for teaching screen magnification computer applications to students with low vision.

Fully Updated June 2023; original post December 2016

Screen magnification is a topic that I feel strongly about because I am a full-time screen magnification user for all my computer work and I have had the opportunity to teach children in kindergarten through high school about these programs. If you want to learn more about this topic, please explore the curriculum section of Paths to Technology. You can find a more in depth “Zoom to Success: video presentation (recorded in 2016), PowerPoint, and resource packet at this link under “Magnification Curriculum”.

Screen magnification software, sometimes called screen enlargement software, is computer screen.  Because the screen image is enlarged, the user only sees part of the screen at a time. Examples of screen magnification software include Windows Magnifier, Zoom on Macs, and ZoomText. This software is for people with low vision who can interact with computers visually. In addition, Fusion combines the visual components of ZoomText with JAWS for those who simultaneously need access to a full screen reader and magnification, and SuperNova Magnifier & Screen Reader offers similar features. Please note that this article does not discuss screen reader software, such as JAWS or NVDA.

Things to know

It’s worthwhile!

Screen magnification software can help students manage eye fatigue, use good posture and a good viewing distance, and access the same activities as their peers. This helps them learn academics, complete tests, and build technology skills. Using screen magnification software can impact many areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum, such as Assistive Technology, Independent Living Skills (finding recipes and paying bills), Social Interaction (accessing social media sites), and Orientation & Mobility (pre-planning destinations, routes, and maps). Competency with screen magnification software enables students to succeed in postsecondary education and jobs.   

It’s free to get started

You can start by using the built-in screen magnification program on your computer or downloading a free trial of the software you are interested in. For those in the United States, the full version of ZoomText and Fusion are available through federal quota funds for students who qualify. 

Windows

On Windows computers, press Windows Key + Plus on your keyboard to launch Windows magnifier (minimize it to not have the magnifier icon). You can also search “magnifier” in the search bar on your start menu.

Mac

The following link walks you through launching Zoom on Mac. Option + Command + F5 launches the accessibility controls panel. The interface for setting up zoom may vary depending on which operating system your Mac is running. Option + Command + 8 launches Zoom directly and Option + Command + Plus or Minus Sign controls the level of magnification. Siri can also perform commands related to accessibility, such as turning on Zoom. This article details the preferences that can be adjusted with Zoom on Mac.

Premium software

Here are links to download free trials of these programs:

Use full screen mode

Full screen mode is the most effective way for most people to use screen magnification; set your settings accordingly to be successful.

Windows Magnifier

Once Magnifier is on, press Control + Alt + F for full screen. You can also access all of the Magnifier settings by going to Accessibility (can use Windows + U for this) and choosing Magnifier.  

ZoomText

Go to Magnifier>Window>One Monitor>Full

ZoomText magnifier panel with Zoom Level, Window, Color, Pointer, Cursor, Focus, and Navigation listed.
ZoomText magnifier panel with Zoom Level, Window, Color, Pointer, Cursor, Focus, and Navigation listed.

Set goals

Most people find using screen magnification disorienting initially. Whether for yourself or your student, it is worthwhile to set a goal of using the screen magnification program a certain amount of time (e.g. I will use this program for 15 minutes per day each day the next two weeks). This gives your brain time to flip a mental switch for only seeing part of the screen to make sense to you. Goals are especially important when working with a student who is evaluating whether or not they want to use the software. Do not let them reject it in one session. Ask them to set a goal for initial use and then have them give you their feedback.

Start with a mouse

People who use screen magnification software can use it with it a touchpad. If you are just starting out (even more so if you’re working with young children) using a mouse may help you move more effectively.  Now that so many computers have touchscreens many of the screen magnification programs have touchscreen options. My general belief is that it is most efficient to control the screen magnification software with a mouse (or touchpad). There are gestures to navigate with touchscreens with magnification. Those gestures are less efficient and more tedious than using a mouse.  In addition, if someone begins using pinch to zoom on the touchscreen on top of the magnification program, gestures and navigation get complicated quickly. This is one problem in heavily emphasizing pinch to zoom from a young age instead of beginning early with screen magnification. I have recently worked with a high schooler who is long into the habit of pinching to zoom on his touchscreen. Although he is willing to use screen magnification, he almost immediately reverts to using the touchscreen inefficiently during our lessons.     

Stay oriented

As previously mentioned, it can be disorienting when you initially use a screen magnification program.  Starting on a low zoom is a good strategy. If you or your student eventually need a higher zoom, you can gradually bump up the zoom as your skill level increases. You can also zoom out or disable zoom to get oriented to the page you are looking at and then enable zoom to use the program or website (see attached key command lists). Your student may need to be taught general concepts of where certain features are located on the computer screen (e.g. “The address bar is at the top in web browsers” or “Program menus are normally at the top”). I always begin student instruction by making sure they can locate specific areas of the screen. People who have trouble staying oriented, especially those who use a high level of screen magnification, can use commands to jump to certain sections of the screen. For example, Caps + Control + Left Arrow jumps left and Caps + Control + Right Arrow jumps right in ZoomText.

Explore

Explore the menus of whichever program you are working with. There may be features and settings hiding there that you do not realize the program has. If you think you should be able to change something about how the program works, you probably can if you look around. Exploring will help you have more confidence in showing your students various features. You may also find useful help resources, such as key command lists. These programs will not bite. If you wonder what something does, try it out. Exploring can apply to the manual, too. Flip through the table of contents to see if there is something that jumps out to you that you do not already know about.

Windows Magnifier

My favorite thing hiding in the Windows Magnifier settings is the ability to change the increments by which the zoom increases. You can either use Windows + U to go to Accessibility settings or click the gear on the Windows Magnifier screen and click “Go to Settings”.  You can then change the “Zoom Increment.”

Screenshot of Magnifier Zoom Increment setting with slider button for voice speed.
Screenshot with magnifier settings: Magnifier, zoom level, zoom increment, view, more about magnifier, invert colors, and smooth edges of images and text

ZoomText

This is an example showing the Program settings (Settings>Program). One of the first things you may want to do if your student shares a computer is uncheck the “Start ZoomText automatically…” option. 

Save your settings

Let the students pick out settings during the first session and save them as default.  Kids get excited to pick exactly the settings they want.  Nothing can frustrate a student faster than needing to spend the first couple minutes every time they use a program getting the settings the way they want. This is especially true if they do not normally want speech on and it turns on every time the program launches. 

Windows Magnifier

This program automatically saves whatever your last setting is when you exit it. Windows now has a larger number of mouse pointer options to provide customizability similar to premium programs. You can access these within accessibility settings (Windows + U).

ZoomText

To save your current settings as the default that the program will open with each time go to File>Configurations>Save As Default.

Screenshot of ZoomText Magnifier/Reader with Configurations > Tools highlighted.

Students need instruction to be successful

This is not something that students pick up instantly. The younger and less experienced with technology the student is, the more instruction the student will need.  Motor skills, other disabilities, and level of magnification are additional factors that may impact how much instruction the student needs. You may need a few sessions or years depending on all of these factors. 

Teach built-in programs

Can be in addition to premium programs!

The built-in options have improved greatly through the years for Macs, PCs, and Chromebooks. For many students, the built-in magnification programs are likely sufficient  Even if you have determined that your student needs a premium screen magnification program as their primary program, you should instruct them in built-in programs, especially whichever program is most prevalent in your school district.  This gives the student access to screen magnification when they unexpectedly need to use a computer not set up for them. More importantly, it gives them free access after they graduate when the cost of premium screen magnification may not be justifiable/affordable for them. Skills will translate between programs.  Just a basic introduction to the user interface and a few commands will be sufficient.    

Learn hot keys/key commands

Please teach your students keyboard commands (also called hot keys or keyboard shortcuts). The commands that run these programs will help them efficiently use them. The most important are zooming in and out, disabling zoom, and enabling zoom. This helps them quickly adjust the level of magnification. Teach the commands that are relevant to them (see attached cheat sheets). They will be much more efficient computer users if they practice using operating system and program keyboard commands. You can look up commands you do not know by searching on the Internet or accessing resources.

Do not forget the reader functions

If the version of screen magnification software you are using has reading functions (or if you are using screen magnification with the support of a screen reader), do not forget to teach your students to take advantage of these features. Letting the computer read long articles to them is a good way to manage eye fatigue. Turning on typing feedback can be helpful to prevent typos. Having the computer read aloud what they have written can help them with editing. These supports may also come in handy if a student has a reading learning disability or deficit. For example, the computer announcing what their mouse is hovering on could help them find the link they want if they cannot read the words. 

Windows Magnifier has now added a reader function that starts from wherever you push Control + Alt + left mouse-click. If it is just one line like on a menu, that will be all it reads, but if you click in a document, it will continue reading through the document. While this is far inferior to the advanced options on premium screen magnification programs, it could meet the needs of someone like me, who only uses reading functions to manage eye fatigue. With or without Magnifier on, you can select text in Microsoft Word or Edge and choose the “Read Aloud” option.   

Don’t overwhelm students and don’t frustrate yourself

All of that being said, students should only be introduced to the features that are relevant to their visual functioning (and projected future visual functioning). You do not want to teach full screen reader features, such as in Fusion, to a high functioning low vision student. They are likely to get frustrated and choose not to use any of the magnification features if they feel pushed to use features they do not see the value of. Just having “free” access to a program through USA federal quota funds, does not mean that you must teach that program. I hope to write a future article about considerations when choosing a screen magnification program.  

Older students are often “set in their ways” of how they prefer to perform computer tasks. The best you can do sometimes is to make them aware of the features that exist and ensure that they have a basic proficiency with screen magnification skills. Once you have demonstrated what is available to them and helped them have the skills to be successful with those features, you may need to take a deep breath and release the tech decisions to them. By ensuring they have these skills in “their toolbox,” hopefully they will go back to them when they realize they need them and have the confidence to know that there are ways to make the computer more accessible to them, whether it is now or five years from now.  

Keep it fun and relevant

I am a huge believer in using games and fun activities to teach screen magnification programs. These vary by age. Activities as simple as “I Spy” and “Simon Says” can be good starting places for young students. An elementary student can be asked to use a web browser to navigate to an educational game they like using screen magnification. For example, imagine how much good scanning practice is involved to find the game you want on this webpage:

Screenshot of PBS Kids website with 12 educational video options.

An older student may do an Internet research project on a preferred topic like their favorite hobby or sports team. One of my favorites for late elementary and up is letting them go on an imaginary shopping spree where they have to search for their favorite toys or items they would like to have and copy and paste links and prices into a document (this is a great chance to practice keyboard commands, too).  Another older student idea is to have them plan an imaginary vacation. Planning orientation and mobility trips or working learning self-advocacy information can allow you to “double-dip” and work on more than one goal at once (these may not “keep it fun” always but they do “keep it relevant”). Please see the attachment for useful websites for school-appropriate games and further explanation about why this is worthwhile. 

Attached files

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Faheem Khan, Aubrey Flores, Jennifer Soltis and Nancy VanderBrink Irwin for feedback about Fusion.

Resource

 Windows Magnifier: Have Magnifier Follow (Windows 10 Magnification) 

By ljonesTVI

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