One of the key philosophies I hold is that I should teach my students to use AT solutions that are easily attainable after they graduate from high school. The point I raise with my students is that we need to discuss what they are hoping and planning to use for accessibility after graduation. You’d be surprised how many students and families get used to all those years of education where AT is essentially provided to them free of charge. Well, IEPs don’t follow you to college, and district devices don’t either. What I do not want to see is students and families blindsided by the cost of purchasing commercial accessibility software. Of course, that may be an option for some families, but many would have difficulty with such decisions. So, I introduce free options that are as functional as possible for what a student needs, so that it is attainable both financially and with regards to availability.
For those who are used to screen magnification software, this conversation typically revolves around the use of ZoomText and Windows Magnifier, as well as MAGic to a lesser extent because word on the street is that it is going to stop being offered. ZoomText and MAGic are similar, fully-featured commercial screen enlargement software. They are capable magnifiers, allow for specialized mouse cursors, and even have auditory reading features built in. However, outside of school their cost is rather high: for example, ZoomText costs $80 annually, or $500 (no speech) one-time purchase, or $700 (with speech) one-time purchase. Furthermore, in my experience at least 3/4 of my students only use screen enlargement, with no additional features; they don’t use ZoomText’s “fancy” features. Why pay such a high price when there might be free alternatives that provide the functionality you need?
Enter Windows Magnifier, the screen magnification software that is built-in to all Windows computers. With a quick stroke of the Windows key + “+” key, Magnifier will come on. Magnifier runs really smoothly with no lag, something ZoomText and MAGic cannot always claim. It can adjust the magnification increments based on your needs.
All that said, the feature I want to highlight is “Have Magnifier Follow.” The best way for you to understand what it does is to open up a blank Word document. Turn Magnifier on, to a very high level of magnification, 500% or up. Then, type your name and a few sentences. What do you notice? Did you have to move your mouse to bring Magnifier’s focus (field of view) to be on your text? Did you end up typing off the edge of Magnifier’s field of view and have to move the mouse again to keep seeing what you typed? The “Have Magnifier Follow” feature is here to help with this.
Use the Windows + U shortcut to open up the Ease of Access Center (Windows 10). On the left you will see various sections, one of which is for Magnifier. Select this and scroll to the bottom of those settings where “Have Magnifier Follow” is the last section. Here, you will see that by default Magnifier is set to follow the mouse cursor. No objections here! It also follows the Narrator cursor, which doesn’t usually apply to those who use screen magnification, so that is fine to leave checked. The two settings that are not checked are “Keyboard Focus” and “Text Insertion Point.”
First, let’s check the box for “Text Insertion Point.” This setting will ensure that as you type, Magnifier will automatically move to follow the keyboard cursor if it moves out of the field of view as you type. THis could be moving sideways to track with you, and it also could mean moving to the beginning of the next line as you finish typing on a given line. I love this setting specifically, because you don’t need to waste time taking your hand off the keyboard to grab the mouse!
Next, we’ll check the box for “Keyboard Focus.” This setting takes advantage of the fact that in Windows 10 most of the operating system menus, links, buttons, and toggles, etc. can be navigated to using keys like Tab and the arrows, with a black box outlining the system focus; this feature behaves something like a visual user’s version of a screen reader focus. In my opinion, this feature is very helpful to visual users who have their magnification set to a high level. With Keyboard Focus turned on, users can use keystrokes to navigate certain settings and menus without having to search for certain features with the mouse.
So what do you think? Do you use these follow focus settings when you use Magnifier? Have you ever considered using Magnifier? Please let me know if you find these settings useful, my students certainly do!