5 Tips to Make Your Digital World More Visually Accessible

Need help when looking at your computer screen? Stop squinting (assuming you can read this ok) and start living! Francesco Schiavon shows how to make your digital devices more visually friendly.  

On January 24, 2014 the Mac turned 30! The Mac is not the young kid it once was, and many of us in the same boat. As time goes on we're all more experienced, one would hope wiser, and inevitably we all get older.

In the past few years I've notice my vision changing, and my ophthalmologist explains that's normal. In simple terms, I have a harder time seeing small things up close. My problem is not only that, but it looks like the tools of my trade are conspiring against this vision changes. I'll give you 2 examples that I'm sure the more seasoned audience can relate:


My desktop computer has multiple displays, and sometimes finding the mouse pointer becomes a hand exercise in giggling the mouse plus neck exercises going from side to side. The "little fly" is really tough to find!


iOS 7 is beautiful, with super sharp text and graphics. Who designs these things? Clearly these guys are in their late 20's, or Jonathan Ive has the vision of an attack eagle! Sometimes it's just plain difficult to see the detail on some apps because it's so sharp and my eyes are not the same anymore.

I don't have a MacBook with a Retina display, but I dread the day I'll replace my iMac with one with a Retina display. Just because I know that everything will be so minuscule that I will need some sort of visual aid just to find the Apple menu.

But there are options out there. I can think of 2 major hurdles, though. One is finding them, and the other is coming to terms with my vision that it is changing. Here are some options I thought you'd find useful:

Making the cursor larger, easier to see on the Mac

This one is not that difficult to find and in my case has made a huge difference. 

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Open up the System Preferences, click the Accessibility button and under the Display group on the side bar, take the Cursor Size slider and push it towards "Large".

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Note: If you use Photoshop and probably other software where the size of the cursor implies how a tool works, this may be an issue for you. For example, if you use the brush tool to paint something, the cursor will appear to be much larger than the actual brush size. In that case, you could go back to the Accessibility System Preferences and return the cursor size to normal while you work with Photoshop.

Making the text bold in iOS 7

I kind of hate doing this, because the whole design of iOS 7 is based around super sharp text and graphics. But if you're having a hard time reading your phone, you may find the following useful:

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In the Settings app, tap "General", then on the second group of options tap "Accessibility". Here you'll find an option that reads "Bold Text". Unfortunately to toggle this option you will need to reboot your iOS device, so it takes a few seconds to go through the cycle.  Other options you see I've got on are "Increase Contrast" that should make the text easier to read, specially in the home screen, and "Reduce Motion" which turns off the parallax effect from the lock and home screens.

Reduce the Mac's display resolution (making everything larger)

For many people the concept of screen resolution is a bit confusing. Without getting into the details, the logic is that if you reduce the resolution of your display, in effect you make everything larger.

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On the Mac, go to the System Preferences and click the Displays option. Switching Resolution to "Scaled" will allow you to reduce the number of pixels. You may need to find a compromise between larger objects and how much you can fit in your display.

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Accessibility on Android and Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 and Android also have similar options to the ones above.

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In Android (I was using 4.3) I found 2 different places, both in the Settings app. The first one is under "Display", then tap "Font size".

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Here you have some options to make the text larger or even smaller.

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The other, also from the Settings app, is in "Accessibility".  There is a "Large text" checkbox that you can toggle.

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In Windows 8.1, the setting to make thing larger is a bit buried with some very informal wording. Personally I find Windows the most confusing, at least to get to the settings I want to change.

To get to the settings there are many ways. Maybe one of the simplest is from the Start Screen by typing "control panel". You can also find the Control Panel from the Settings charm, but you must invoke the charm from the Desktop (not the Start Screen or from a Windows Store app).

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Once you get to the Control Panel it may open showing 2 kinds of layout. If you get the View by Category, click the "Appearance and Personalization" text, then click on "Display".  If you get the View by Small icons or by Large icons, directly click on "Display".

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In the Display control panel you'll see either a slider to "Change the size of all items", or radio buttons to make text larger. To try the settings you may need to log out and back in. Especially on a tablet like a Surface, making things larger on the Desktop helps when tapping around.

I just learn that you can also change the size of the cursor in Windows, and it also has a couple of other goodies that would help you find it.

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For the cursor, go to the Control Panel and view by small or large icons and look for "Personalization".

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You'll see some themes you can select, but to the left, look for and click the "Change mouse pointers" link.

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From the Scheme, the above screenshot shows I've selected "Windows Default (extra large) (system scheme)", and I've also checked "Enable pointer shadow" close to the bottom of the windows to increase the contrast of the pointer.

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You can take a look at the Visibility options under the "Pointer Options" tab in the same dialogue box. A friend of mine likes to "Display pointer trails" (I find it annoying, though), which helps find the pinter if you jiggle the mouse, or the "Show location of pointer when I press the Control key", which shows like a radar animation if you quickly tap the Control key on the keyboard. Again, useful to find the mouse, specially if you have more than one display.

Once you're done, do not forget to click the "Apply" button at the bottom of the dialogue box.

Your iPhone camera as a magnifier glass

Ok, I recognize that this tip is a variation of how some teenage girls use their phones. Sometimes they use the front camera on their phone as a mirror to fix up their hair or whatnot.

The image is not simulated or enlarged in any way.  This is what I was able to zoom on the list of ingredients with my iPhone!

The image is not simulated or enlarged in any way. This is what I was able to zoom on the list of ingredients with my iPhone!

That inspired me to try the back camera as a magnifier glass, and it works like a champ! The back camera often has better resolution than the front camera, and you can point it at, say small text on a package, and see it on screen. Even better, in photo mode you can un-pinch on the screen to zoom and make the image even larger!  

Too dark for you? Switch the camera to video mode and turn on the flash. The only drawback is that you won't be able to zoom when in video mode, though.

In either mode, taping on the screen will show a square and the camera will try to focus on wherever you touch.

So, embrace your years of experience and try to make your work environment an easier place to be.

Francesco Schiavon

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It all started with a TSR-80 in the late 80s. At that point it was more a toy than anything else. Since then, my interest in computers materialized with a PS/2 80 while I was in university in Mexico. Before I graduated I already had a couple of Macs, an LC-II and a Centris 660 AV, which was the catalyst to becoming an expert in both Qu... Read More


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