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My Method for Assessing for Optimum Text Accessibility

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Before you Begin

This document looks at the text accessibility options built into Microsoft Word and which can apply to some other parts of Windows and the Internet. It also takes you through the strategy I use for a successful assessment of visual needs, and needs related to reading barriers associated with difficulties such as dyslexia. If you haven't already you might want to read the background information that makes up the first half of this tutorial.

Setting the Stage

I am currently using Microsoft Word 2003 for my assessments. Most older versions of word still in use should work just as well. You can identify your version of Microsoft Word by going to the Help menu and selecting About Microsoft Word.

Set the View mode to Print Layout by selecting Print Layout from the View menu in Microsoft Word. Now set the zoom level to be as high as possible without losing the edges of the page. Do this by choosing ‘Page Width’ from drop-down box on the toolbar or by selecting Zoom... from the View menu.

Word XP users should press Ctrl and F1 to ensure that the Task Pane panel is visible on the right of the screen. This is because although the panel takes up valuable screen space and therefore affects the attainable zoom level, it is also almost always visible as it’s very useful and people don’t seem to know how to get rid of it.

Make a mental note of the zoom size (e.g. 118%) as shown on the toolbar or in the Zoom… dialog available from the View menu.

Now in order to carry out the assessment we need to get rid of as much screen clutter as possible. This also gives us plenty of room to work and lessens the need to scroll up and down the page while we're assessing (a real distraction). I accomplish this by using Word’s Full Screen mode.

Word in Full Screen mode

Go to the View menu and select the Full Screen item which can be found towards the bottom. Don't panic when everything disappears - by hovering the mouse pointer right at the top of the screen you should see the menu bar termporarily re-appear. Alternatively you can use the ALT and arrow keys to navigate the menu as usual. You can always exit Full Screen mode by pressing the Close Full Screen button or returning to the View menu and selecting Full Screen again.

We are going to need three toolbars in order to carry out the assessment. Go to the View menu, open the Toolbars submenu and select Standard. Repeat these steps for the formatting and Tables & Borders toolbars. The standard and formatting toolbars should appear neatly at the top of the screen. The Tables & Borders toolbar tends to 'float around' so tidy it away by docking it vertically by dragging it to the far left of the screen.

I assess vision by allowing my client to look at two options simultaneously so they can choose which is best for them. I accomplish this with two separate tables. Ensure that your page is set to the correct zoom level by entering the percentage noted from earlier into the zoom box on the Standard Toolbar and pressing Enter to confirm.

Insert Table button

Insert Table

Now insert a table on to your document by clicking the Insert Table button on the Tables & Borders toolbar. Set the number of columns and of rows each to just 1 and click OK.

Click below the table and press Enter a couple of times to insert a bit of space line. Now insert another table as before.

Borders Optiosn

Borders: None

Click inside the top box. Remove the visible border by clicking the Borders submenu button (the tiny black triangle) and selecting No Borders.

Repeat this for the second box.

Return to the first box and enter the text you would like to use for the assessment. It's obviously important to use a vocabularly that your client will understand and is age-appropriate. You need to have a decent block of text as this affects the accessibility greatly but not too long as then you won't fit both boxes on the screen at once - making it hard for your client to compare their options side-by-side. I generally use Microsoft Word's handy "The Quick Brown Fox" trick by typing =rand(2) and the pressing Enter followed by Backspace (It's important to use Backspace to delete the extra line insert by the Enter command). This nifty trick quickly generates two paragraphs of text. Copy and Paste the same text from the top box (BOX 1) into the bottom box (BOX 2) or type =rand(2) again. The content and font styles of the two boxes should begin identical.

The two boxes will allow your client to to compare different styles, sizes and colours side-by-side.

The Assessment

During the assessment I usually explain to my client what I’m doing on each stage and how I’m accomplishing it. I don’t assume that the recommendation at the end of the assessment will be the absolute final solution so I like to think that the client has gleaned enough information to experiment themselves at a later date.

Font Styles

Font Style

Leaving the Box 1 as it is, highlight all the text in Box 2. The quickest way of accomplishing this is to triple-click on the lowest paragraph inside the box. Choose an alternative font for Box 2 (I usually try Arial as this is already present on all Windows PCs).

Let your client compare the two.

If you think further experiment with font typefaces is worthwhile simply leave the text in the prefered font as it is and change the font in the least favoured box. Other than Arial I personally often recommend the Tiresias font.

Format Painter

Format Painter CTRL+SHIFT+C

Font Size

Highlight text in the 'successful' box and click the Format Painter tool. Now highlight the text in the top box and you should see its style immediately change to reflect that of the other box. Both boxes should now contain the prefered font at equal point size.

Now return to the lower box and try making the font a little larger or a little smaller (If you highlight the text you can use CTRL+[ and CTRL+] to decrease and increase the font. Be sure to lose the highlight each time before asking your client to compare). There are two font sizes I try to assess for: the minimum size the client can read and the minimum comfortable size. It’s important to remember that people can often read isolated words in smaller fonts outside of blocks of text. Watch to see if your client is leaning in to the computer - if they are ask them to sit back a bit. Leaning in all the time won't help their back! (Some users will also lean in towards the screen to increase their ability to concentrate on the task).

Fotn Color

Font Color

Shading Color

Shading Color

Font & Background Colours

The correct colour combination can have an enormous effect on the legibility of text for all sorts of people. Choosing subtler colours (such as dark blue on light blue) can reduce the glare of a computer screen and consequently reduce eye fatigue and lengthen computer sessions. This is especially useful for people who have photophobia but really can apply to everyone. Certain colour combinations work well for people with Scotopic Sensitivity and it’s worth experimenting with some classic combinations such as yellow-on-blue and white-on-blue as well as other combinations. For people who need to text to appear as clearly as possible I have found combinations like yellow-on-black or white-on-black can yield good results, but don’t assume that just because your client has a vision-related disability that they will automatically benefit from some alternative colour scheme. Using the two boxes method you can compare many different colour schemes, but be sure to allow your client’s eyes to settle after each change. You can change the background colour using the Shading Color button on the Tables & Borders Toolbar and the font colour using the Font Color button on the Formatting Toolbar. Once you have settled on a colour scheme you can use the Format Painter tool again to copy the style from the 'successful' box to the other, but the background colour won't go with it. You will have to set this using the Shading Color button.



Font Weight

Many prefer to read and write using a bold font. Additional font weight can make text stand out but it can also lead to letters running together. Some clients can see bolder text at smaller font sizes. Increase the weight by highlighting the text in the box and pressing CTRL+B or clicking the Bold button on the Formatting toolbar.

Line Spacing

Line Spacing

Line Spacing

This is a great idea for people who find it hard to locate the start of the proceeding line when they are reading blocks of text. It also has a startling affect on some people with dyslexia as the added space can stop or reduce their perceived movement of the words on the screen. After highlighting use the Line Spacing button that can be found on the Formatting toolbar. Alternatively press CTRL+5 to set a gap of 0.5 lines between each line of text (Line Spacing = 1.5), or CTRL+2 to set a gap of 1 line between each line of text (Line Spacing = 2). Return your line spacing to normal by pressing CTRL+1

The screenshot, left, shows the availability of larger line spacing of 2.5, 3.0 and beyond. Very large line spacing usually makes the text much harder to read and involves a lot of scrolling for the user.

Character Spacing Options

Character Spacing

This is an underused feature but has proven to be very effective for people with visual impairment and specific learning difficulties. It allows extra gaps to be placed between the letters of words often making the text far more accessible. Most children’s books are written with some degree of extra character spacing. I find that 1pt of space is almost always appropriate for people who need it. Any extra and it can become less clear how the groups of letters are forming individual words as the space between words becomes less visually significant.

There is no handy toolbar button for this setting (unless you make one!) so you'll have to move your mouse to the very top of the screen so that the menu bar appears. From this open the Format menu and select Font. On the Font dialog select the Character Spacing tab. The dialog should appear similar to the one pictured left.

Change the value in the Spacing: drop-down box to Expanded and you see "1pt" appear in the By: box, and the sample text near the bottom of the window expands slightly to preview the effect of this extra 1pt.

Applying this solution to a Windows computer

The settings can be applied to a great or lesser extent to programs across Windows, including the Internet. Obviously all the above settings could be immediately fixed as default in Microsoft Word using the Normal Style.

Font style, size and colour can be applied in a lot of places across Windows including the Menus, dialog boxes, messages and so forth, although there are some limitations on these. See my tutorial on fine-tuning the Windows Display.

Font style, size, colour, line spacing and character spacing can be applied to websites but it gets a little technical. Expect an article on this soon.

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