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Guide for Aging Computer Users

Ten Tips for the Awkward Age of Computing

Baby boomers can use Microsoft Windows XP to customize their computers and counter the effects of age-related difficulties with vision, hearing, and dexterity.

If you rack up enough birthdays, sooner or later you're going to experience some loss of vision, hearing, or physical dexterity. It's as inevitable as puberty. Fortunately, accessibility settings and programs in Windows Vista and Windows XP make it easy to resolve most age-related computing problems without additional software or devices. And, if you need more help, Windows is compatible with a wide array of assistive technology products you can add on for high-powered assistance.

Either way, getting older doesn't have to interfere with your ability to use a computer and remain a top performer at work. If PCs can be easily customized to meet the needs of people with severe disabilities such as blindness, deafness, and quadriplegia, they can certainly handle diminished vision, muffled hearing, and stiff fingers. Accessibility features also make it easier to cope with temporary injuries, such as a broken arm, or to manage routine inconveniences such as blurred vision following an eye exam.

Here are ten tips on how you can use Windows XP to counter the effects of the awkward age. We encourage you to copy, print, or post these cartoons, reproduce them in company publications, or forward them to friends and colleagues.

A Screen Too Far
Squinting to see his laptop screen, Adam gets so close that his nose creates a bulge in the back of the screen.


Do you find yourself fighting the urge to press your nose against the screen because you can't see text and objects clearly? Windows XP and Microsoft applications offer several options that can help, from changing your monitor display settings to increasing the icons or text size of individual documents and Web pages. Review the tutorials:
Built-in Bifocals
Adam types at a regular keyboard while viewing a tiny computer through two giant lenses suspended in front of his monitor.


Having trouble seeing things that are close up? Around age 45 for most people, eyes start to lose the ability to adjust their focus to see objects that are near. Microsoft Magnifier, one of the accessibility features in Windows XP, opens a floating window that enlarges different parts of the screen—just like a magnifying glass. Review the tutorial:
Lights, Camera, Action
Adam sits in a film director's chair wearing sunglasses and shouting instructions to his computer through a megaphone.


If stiff joints or other dexterity issues are slowing you down, try using the speech recognition features in Office XP and Office 2003 to combine voice commands and dictation with mouse and keyboard commands for a more flexible work environment. Review the tutorial:
Tune Out, Tune In
Adam sits at his computer smiling, a cork in each ear as his children argue in the background.


Are you having trouble hearing email alerts and other audible notifications of system events? With SoundSentry, you can make parts of your screen flash whenever a system sound occurs. To "see" speech and other sounds, use Windows XP to display closed captions. Review the tutorial:
Talk to Me
Adam's computer shouts, "Meeting at Noon," the sound blows back his hair and scatters his papers.


If your vision is beyond the point where magnification is enough, Narrator in Windows XP can help by converting text and captions to speech. If this problem is persistent, you may need a device called a screen reader. Review the tutorial:
Cursor in a Haystack
Adam is searching through hay on top of a haystack; a mouse pointer is stuck in his backside.


If you find yourself searching for your cursor or mouse pointer more often than you search the Web, use Cursor Options to change the size, appearance, width, speed, color and blink rate of your cursor, or the mouse setting in the Control Panel to modify your pointer, to make them easier to see. Review the tutorial:
Losing Your Grip?
Adam's computer mouse squirts from his right hand, arcs through the air, and lands in his coffee cup.


Use MouseKeys to transfer mouse functions to your numeric keypad, or try a Microsoft mouse that is designed for maximum comfort. Review the tutorial:
All Together Now
Adam twists himself into knots using both hands and feet to press different keys at once.  His wife calmly pushes one key for the same result.


StickyKeys allows you to hit one key at a time to execute commands that usually require simultaneous key combinations, such as using SHIFT to type a capital letter, or CTRL+ALT+DEL to display the task manager. Review the tutorial:
All Shook Up
Adam shakes so badly his coffee spills everywhere.  His computer says, "Maybe you should try decaffeinated first."


If you have a mild tremor or your stiff fingers are creating typos and other keyboard errors, FilterKeys can give you the equivalent of a steady hand by enabling your computer to ignore brief or repeated keystrokes that you make accidentally. Review the tutorial:
Easy on the Eyes
One panel, black on white, shows Adam with tired eyes; second panel, white on black, shows Adam happy and rested using high contrast.


If the images on your computer screen appear indistinct or don't seem quite as sharp as they once did, choose one of several high-contrast displays to make text easier to read. This is also a great feature if you find that using your portable computer in certain types of light makes text on the screen all but disappear. Review the tutorials:

Re-publication of Illustrations

If you would like to use any of the illustrations shown here for re-publication, please follow the instructions below:

  1. Position your mouse over the illustration
  2. Right click on your mouse
  3. Select "save picture as" from the pop-up menu
  4. Save the .gif file to your local machine
  5. In any accompanying text, please include the following credit: Courtesy of Brian Basset and Microsoft Corporation

More Information

More Tutorials

Aging and Accessible Technology

Interview with Cartoonist Brian Basset
Cartoonist and creator of the syndicated cartoon Adam@Home talks about adjusting to the Awkward Age of Computing

Search for assistive technology products compatible with Windows

Last updated: Friday, October 20, 2006