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Better Web Browsing: Tips for Customizing Your Computer
[Draft updated 24 May 2010]

This document provides references to resources, including detailed documentation and step-by-step guides, to help you customize your particular web browser and computer setup.

Page Contents

Introduction

Websites often have text that is difficult to read, controls that are difficult to click, or audio and videos that are difficult to hear. Fortunately your computer can be customized to improve your web browsing experience. This includes customization options in the operating system which runs your computer, in software such as web browsers and media players, and sometimes for hardware devices such as any external loud-speakers or microphones. Sometimes changing your web browser, using additional software or hardware, or otherwise customizing your computer can further improve the accessibility of the Web for you.

Note: Sometimes, websites are not designed to be accessible and do not support customization. Consider [draft] contacting the website owners if you are experiencing accessibility problems despite the approaches outlined in this document. The document How People with Disabilities Use the Web provides further information about alternative web browsing strategies, user requirements, and accessibility solutions.

Disclaimer: W3C does not endorse specific references or vendor products. Inclusion of references in this page does not indicate endorsement by W3C. References are provided with no quality rating and may be changed at any time. W3C does not verify the accuracy of these references. This page is not a review of the information or guidance provided by the resources, nor a complete or definitive listing of all available resources.

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Optimize Your Computer Setup

Customizations are generally easily reversible and do not delete files or otherwise disrupt the functionality of your computer. Customization options and accessibility features are usually documented in the "help" menu of your software. Look for customization options in menu items such as "options", "preferences", "settings", and "accessibility". Experiment with changing some of the settings you find to see if the changes improve your web experience. Exploring and getting to know your computer are the first steps to an accessible and enjoyable web browsing experience.

In some cases it may be necessary to download and install a web browser or media player that works better for you. In other cases it may be necessary to obtain and install additional software, including browser-based tools (sometimes called "add-on" or "extension"), or hardware devices. Some of these steps, such as installing a new web browser or browser-based tools, do not require technical expertise or particular skills. However, finding the optimal setup for you will greatly improve your efficiency.

Note: Several public institutions such as libraries and schools, user organizations such as those for people with disabilities or older people, and assistive technology vendors, provide computer training courses.

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Difficulty Seeing and Reading Websites?

Before changing the settings on your computer, make sure the screen and screen settings are optimal for you. Some screens will allow you to adjust the brightness, contrast, and other settings that effect the display. Also, make sure that the room lighting and your position in front of the screen are optimal for you.

Enlarging Text and Images

In Your Web Browser:

Most web browsers will allow you to simply enlarge and reduce text and image sizes through the options in the menu bar, or by pressing "Ctrl +" and "Ctrl -" or other keyboard combinations (see browsing the Web by keyboard for more information on keyboard commands). However, these changes are often temporary and may be lost when you open a new browser window or the next time you start your web browser. To make text and images appear larger by default in your web browser, you need to modify the settings of the web browser.

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In Your Operating System:

You can also change the default display settings in the operating system of your computer, which will apply to all your applications, rather then changing only the settings of your web browser. You can increase the default font-size which will make the text, but not the images, appear larger in all your applications. Alternatively, you can decrease the resolution of your display which will make all content appear larger but generally reduce the quality of the text and images. Increasing the "dots per inch - DPI" value has a similar effect on enlarging the text and images without losing quality. However, this feature is not supported by all operating systems and computer screens, so that it may not be available to you.

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Using Additional Tools:

There are screen magnifiers, some of which are built directly into your the operating system of your computer. These software tools enlarge the text and images, and can sometimes be set to read the text and the menus out loud. Vendors of such software usually provide detailed documentation on customization options and may sometimes provide training and support directly or through third-parties.

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Changing Colors and Fonts

In Your Web Browser:

You can change the default colors for text, background, or links, and change the default font styles to make the content easier for you to distinguish and read. Several web browsers provide simple options for defining such color and font schemes, including options to reuse the color schemes of the operating system, in case you already defined custom settings. Some web browsers also provide high color contrast schemes or allow you to override the presentation style of the website using custom "style sheets". While this is approach is quite powerful, it is not easy to set up and may require guidance or assistance by someone with technical skills.

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In Your Operating System:

You can change the default color and font schemes in the operating system of your computer, which will apply to all your applications rather than to your web browser alone. You can set your web browser to reuse these color and font schemes or define different schemes for the Web, for instance to better highlight links. Some operating systems provide a selection of desktop schemes, including schemes with higher color contrast.

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Listening Rather than Reading

There are several tools that will read out loud the text on websites for you, some of which may already be installed on your computer. Talking browsers (sometimes also called "voice browsers") are web browsers that read aloud the text on websites. Screen readers and some screen magnifiers are specialized software that read aloud any text on the screen, including that in your web browser. Screen readers and magnifiers often provide a variety of functions such as summarizing the contents of web pages, highlighting the text being spoken, or providing the text on a refreshable braille display. Setting up and learning how to use such tools effectively may need some initial guidance and training. Vendors of such tools usually provide detailed documentation for the customization options and may sometimes provide training and support directly or through third-parties.

Note: Other approaches and strategies for improving the understandability of websites are included in the section understanding and navigating websites below.

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Difficulty Hearing Audio on Websites?

Make sure that any multimedia devices attached to your computer such as loud-speakers, headphones, or earplugs are properly attached. Some devices may have buttons or controls on them to switch them on, adjust the volume, or to make other adjustments. Make sure that these devices are setup optimally for you.

Adjusting the Volume

Some keyboards have volume-increase and volume-decrease buttons that will adjust the volume level to your preference. In addition, you can adjust the volume and other sound options from the settings in the operating system of your computer. Depending on the loud-speakers and other sound devices attached to your computer, there may additional volume and sound controls to adjust. Software tools that are used to show video or listen to audio are called "media players". Sometimes they are embedded into the web browser, and they usually have additional volume controls too. Be sure to adjust these options, and to make sure that the sound output of the system or the speakers is not muted.

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Captions and Transcripts

When audio and videos with audio are produced to be accessible for all users, they contain captions (in some languages "captions" and "subtitles" are the same word). Often these captions are not displayed by default but need to be switched on in the customization options of the software tool that is used to show video or listen to audio (called "media player"). Sometimes text transcripts of the audio are provided in addition or instead of the captions. Ideally these transcripts are provided directly below or nearby the audio content. Sometimes they are provided as external files or separate web pages.

Note: Sometimes, the media players are embedded directly in the content displayed in your web browser. Check the settings of these media players too.

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Sign Language Videos

Some website owners provide sign language videos as an alternate to text or audio. Usually these are clearly marked with an icon symbolizing a signing gesture or similar. Sometimes sign language is displayed directly within the video, and sometimes the sign language track in a multimedia presentation needs to be switched on, like for captions. In some countries, sign language interpretation services (sometimes called "Video Remote Interpreting - VRI" or "Video Relay Service - VRS") may be available. See also information about sign language avatars below.

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Difficulty Typing and Using Your Keyboard?

Typing can be strenuous if the keyboard is not in an optimal position, or if the keys or keyboard design are not comfortable for you. Keyboards have keys with various shapes and sizes, and with different levels of softness. They also have different layouts and shapes that effect your arm and wrist positions. Make sure your keyboard is optimal for you, and consider replacing your keyboard if needed.

Browsing the Web by Keyboard

Many software applications, including web browsers, can be operated through the keyboard. Web browsers generally support the "Tab" key to jump from one link or form control to the next. Sometimes these links or controls may not be visible on the screen, or it may be difficult to identify which one is selected. The status bar of the browser window may indicate where a link leads to, and sometimes enlarging text and images helps you identify the links or controls on the web page. Other common keyboard commands include:

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Customizing Keyboard Functions

Keyboards can be adjusted through the settings in the operating system of your computer, to help you type more effectively with less effort. Examples of such customization include:

Shortcut Keys
Assigning actions, such as selecting menu items or typing in pre-defined text, to an individual key or a combination of keystrokes. For instance, most word editors and web browsers provide a shortcut on the key combination "Ctrl s", as an alternate method for selecting the menu item "save". You can define additional shortcuts for frequent actions that you perform on your computer.
Sticky Keys
In order to facilitate single-handed typing, you can customize your computer so that functions keys, such as "Ctrl" or "Alt", do not need to be pressed at the same time as other keys to invoke key combinations. For instance, by switching on the sticky keys function, you can press "Ctrl" then "s" to save, rather than needing to press them at the same time.
Key Filters
Filters can be set to avoid repeating the input through a key that has been pressed down for too long, a key that has been pressed down several times within a short interval, or keys that have been pressed and are immediately surrounding a key that was pressed in advance. This is useful for people with reduced dexterity or who may press keys unintentionally.

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Using Your Mouse Instead

For people who are more comfortable using the mouse (or other types of pointing devices) rather than using the keyboard, most computer operating systems provide "on-screen keyboards" (visual display of a keyboard on the computer screen) that can be used with a mouse rather than typing in the information through the keyboard. In addition, many web browsers support "mouse gestures" and other types of enhancements for using the mouse. Sections adjusting the mouse settings and customizing the mouse-pointer provide further information about improve your efficiency in using the mouse.

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Using Alternate Keyboards

There are a number of ergonomic or specialized keyboards that can be used instead of the regular keyboard. Ergonomic keyboards have special designs and key layouts to reduce strain or to help you type more effectively. Specialized keyboards include ones with larger keys or larger key labels, ones with illuminated keys, ones that compensate for trembling and other dexterity limitations, ones with only a single switch, and many more. While ergonomic keyboards are often available at ordinary computer retailers, specialized keyboards are usually developed by assistive technology vendors.

Note: Laptop users can attach external keyboards in addition to the one built into the computer.

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Using Voice Commands

Voice recognition can be used to dictate text or to control the entire computer. For instance, so called "voice commands" can be used to launch or to close applications such as the web browser, or to perform actions such as selecting links or scrolling on a web page. Some computer operating systems include such voice recognition capabilities. Voice recognition tools usually need training to better learn your voice, and may still be prone to substantial error rates. However, these software can be effective for people who have difficulty typing and using the keyboard or mouse effectively.

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Grammar, Spelling, and Other Tools

Grammar and spelling checkers can help you identify mistakes and avoid needing to re-type text in an online form. Most web browsers have spell-checking capability, and sometimes the spelling functionality can be extended using browser-based tools (sometimes called "add-on" or "extension"). Some users prefer to type long texts in word-processing software (such as "Microsoft Word" or "Open Office Write") with which they are more comfortable. Then, they can copy the text into the online forms.

Word-prediction tools highlight a selection of matching words based on the characters that you type, to avoid needing to type out the complete word each time. These tools are used in addition to word-processing tools or web browsers, and are sometimes used by typists and captioners among others.

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Difficulty Using the Mouse?

Pointing devices, such as the mouse or the touchpad on some laptop computers, can be difficult to use. There are a number of alternate devices which may be more optimal for you, and there are many settings that can be customized, including slowing down the mouse or enlarging the mouse-pointer on the screen.

Adjusting the Mouse Settings

Most computer operating systems provide options to adjust the mouse settings. In particular, you can adjust the sensitivity of the mouse to movement, in order to slow it down. You can also adjust the period between two clicks that is needed to initiate a "double-click" (typically used to launch software applications from the desktop), or you can adjust the configuration of the mouse buttons for left-hand or right-hand use. Many web browsers also support "mouse gestures", so that specific mouse movement or mouse-button patterns can be set as shortcuts to computer commands.

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Customizing the Mouse-Pointer

The size and color of the mouse-pointer on the screen can be adjusted to make it easier for you to identify and locate it. In addition, most operating systems provide options to show a trail when the mouse-pointer moves on the screen, or to highlight the mouse-pointer when a specific key (such as the "Ctrl" key) is pressed.

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Using Your Keyboard Instead

Accessible websites and software applications can be operated entirely through the keyboard. The sections browsing the Web by keyboard and customizing keyboard functions provide information about using your keyboard effectively and comfortably, to control your computer and navigate on the Web.

In addition, most computer operating systems can be set to control the mouse-pointer and simulate mouse interaction through the keyboard. Typically this is achieved by using the arrow keys and other keyboard commands, so that a keyboard with dedicated arrow keys is neccessary. Sometimes this may require replacing the existing keyboard or using an additional external keyboard on laptops. The section Using Alternate Keyboards provides information about selecting an optimal keyboard for yourself.

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Using an Alternate Mouse

Similarly to using alternate keyboards, there are a number of ergonomic or specialized mice to help you be more effective and comfortable. Ergonomic mice have special designs and sizes to reduce strain. Examples include trackballs which are controlled by rotating a ball in different directions with your fingers rather than moving your hand, or joysticks which are controlled by moving a leveler in different directions. Specialized mice include ones with custom designs for specific users, ones with additional keys, ones that compensate for trembling and other dexterity limitations, and many more. While ergonomic mice are often available at ordinary computer retailers, specialized mice are usually developed by assistive technology vendors.

Note: Laptop users can attach external mice in addition to the pointing device built into the computer.

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Difficulty Understanding and Navigating Websites?

Understanding and navigating websites can be difficult when the structure or the content is overly complex. Often these types of difficulties relate to usability and accessibility shortages in the design of the websites. However, some software tools and approaches may help you use such websites more effectively.

Reading Assistance

Long text is often difficult to read and understand, especially when it is not written clearly and simply. Some users prefer to copy long texts into word-processing software (such as "Microsoft Word" or "Open Office Write"), and generate automated summaries. Other users prefer listening rather than reading, including listening and reading at the same time, to help them read and understand the content. Some browser-based tools (sometimes called "add-on" or "extension") provide additional functionality to assist reading.

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Animation and Pop-Up Window Blockers

Most web browsers provide options to control potentially distracting content such as pop-up windows or animations. Some browser-based tools (sometimes called "add-on" or "extension") provide additional capability to identify and block animated, blinking, flickering, or otherwise distracting (sometimes hazardous) content.

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Symbols Instead of Text

Some specialized web browsers and online services convert text into symbols and icons, that are easier to understand and use by some people with learning disabilities. There are different approaches and initiatives in several countries so it is important to become familiar with the services and developments in your region. Local disability organizations may have more information about available services and products.

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Sign Language Avatars

Sign language avatars are software tools that convert text into computer-generated sign language animations. While these do not achieve the quality of professional sign language interpreters, they can be used individually and independently to convert text into sign-language. Some websites provide sign language videos as an alternative to audio and text.

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Terminology

assistive technology
Assistive technologies are software or equipment that people with disabilities use to improve interaction with the web, such as screen readers that read aloud web pages for people who cannot read text, screen magnifiers for people with some types of low vision, and voice recognition software and selection switches for people who cannot use a keyboard or mouse.

Editors Draft: $Date: 2012/10/31 17:47:31 $ [changelog]
Status: This document is an in-progress draft. Please send comments to wai-eo-editors@w3.org (a publicly archived list).