Optimizing Windows for Assistive Tech Users – Practical Tips to Improve Efficiency and Accessibility

In this article, I will explain many settings that I tweak to enhance the usability and accessibility of Windows for my customers. If you happen to be a member of my Tame your tech services, I’ve already done these for you. However, this list could be beneficial for anyone looking for some shortcuts to get a computer ready for screen reader users. The suggestions here are based on Windows 11, and many of them will also apply to earlier versions of Windows but may be in a different location.

Note: Setting categories are grouped by headings for easy navigation. Also, each setting category has a link so that you can jump to it directly from this article.

Settings

Note: In Windows 11 or higher, you will find buttons that either read as More or Show All Settings.

These buttons will expand out the settings so that more are visible. This will allow you to tab through all available settings. You may need to expand settings more than once in the same area.

To access Windows Settings, simply press the WINDOWS key and the letter I at the same time. From here, we can explore a variety of settings that will help streamline your computing experience. So, let’s get started and discover the power of Windows customization!

Notifications

Under System, Notifications, look for a setting called Show the Windows Welcome Experience After Updates and When Signed in to Show What’s New and Suggested

This setting shows what is new in major versions of Windows. It can also give tips on how to use hardware in different ways. Many find this setting to be intrusive when updating Windows and would rather just get into Windows. Disabling this setting can make upgrading just a little quicker.

Get Tips and Suggestions When Using Windows

This setting can give general tips on how to use Windows more efficiently. However, it doesn’t take into account access technologies. Disabling this setting can eliminate unneeded notifications.

Disable Programs from Popping Up Notifications

In this same area, you may have noticed a list of programs. Pressing ENTER on a program will allow you to enable or disable notifications for that program. If you know a program gives you too many notifications, sometimes it is just easier to disable that notification. Of course, you can also disable all notifications, but that can be overkill as you can miss important notifications such as Windows updates or security notifications.

Power and Battery

These settings allow you to control how long your device remains idle before entering Sleep Mode, and how long your screen stays on when not in use. These settings prolong battery life by reducing power consumption when the device is not in use. They allow you to decide how you want to optimize your computer performance and battery life. Check out the settings below to help you find the best options for your workload.

Power: Screen and Sleep

Screen settings control the power consumption of your display. The screen is one of the most significant power consumers in most devices.

  1. Turn off My Screen After: This setting determines the period of inactivity before your screen turns off automatically. Turning off the display when not in use can save a significant amount of power, especially with larger or brighter screens. You can choose a specific time (e.g., 2 minutes, 5 minutes, etc.) or select Never if you don’t want your screen to turn off automatically due to inactivity.

Note, turning off the display also locks your computer. Because of this, many prefer to keep their display on, but it will also deplete the battery quicker. You can set different values for when your computer is plugged into power, and when your computer is running on battery.

Screen Brightness

Screen Brightness: Adjusting the screen brightness is another way to manage power consumption. Higher brightness levels consume more power, while lower levels can help conserve battery life. It’s essential to find a balance between visibility and power consumption. Some devices may also have an adaptive brightness setting that adjusts screen brightness based on ambient light conditions.

If you are using a screen reader, the brightness may not matter, so you can set this to 0% and save battery consumption.

The easiest way to get to brightness settings is to press WINDOWS+X, followed by the letter B.

This gets you into the Mobility Center.

Note: you will only be able to do this on laptops.

Once you get to Mobility Center, press TAB until you get to the brightness slider. You should only need to tab once or twice.

You can adjust the brightness with HOME/END, ARROW keys, or the PAGE UP/PAGE DOWN keys.

When done, just press ESCAPE.

Put My Device to Sleep After:

Sleep Mode is a power-saving state that allows your computer to quickly resume full-power operation when you want to start working again. When your computer enters Sleep Mode, it saves its current state, including open applications and documents, to RAM (Random Access Memory). The computer then enters a low-power mode, where most components are shut down except for the RAM. This allows for a quick start-up when you need to use your computer again.

There are two main settings related to Sleep Mode:

A. Sleep After: This setting determines the period of inactivity before your computer enters Sleep Mode. You can choose a specific time (e.g., 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.) or select Never if you don’t want your computer to enter Sleep Mode automatically due to inactivity.

B. Hibernate After: Hibernate is another power-saving state that saves your computer’s current state to the hard disk instead of RAM, and then completely shuts down the system. This setting determines the period of inactivity before your computer enters Hibernate Mode. Hibernation takes longer to resume compared to Sleep Mode but consumes even less power.

Battery Saver

Battery Saver is a feature that helps conserve battery life by limiting background activities and reducing the performance of your device.

Advantages:

•Extends battery life when you need it most

•Automatically activates at a specified battery level

Disadvantages:

•Reduces overall system performance

•May affect the user experience in multitasking or resource-intensive tasks

Battery Usage by App

This feature displays detailed information about battery usage by individual apps, allowing users to identify which apps are consuming the most power.

Advantages:

•Helps identify power-hungry apps that may need to be optimized or replaced

•Can lead to better overall battery life by addressing problematic apps

Disadvantages:

•May require time and effort to optimize or replace identified apps

Storage Sense

Enabling Storage Sense will automate the process of deleting unnecessary files on your device, freeing up valuable disk space. Storage Sense monitors your device’s storage usage and applies certain rules to determine which files to delete, such as temporary files, system files, and other files that are no longer needed by Windows. This is an excellent way to optimize your device’s performance and maintain a clutter-free system.

Multi-Tasking

Show Microsoft Edge Tabs When Snapping or Pressing ALT+TAB

By default, Windows shows Microsoft Edge tabs when using the ALT+TAB keyboard command to switch between open windows. However, this feature can be confusing for some users and may cause difficulty for keyboard and screen reader users. To avoid any potential issues, I recommend changing this setting to Don’t Show Tabs. This will help ensure a more streamlined and efficient navigation experience for everyone.

Personalization

Taskbar

Task View

This setting is on by default and allows you to manage virtual desktops. If you don’t use this feature turn it off. It will help to prevent accidentally getting into a new virtual desktop. It will also remove an icon from the Taskbar.

Widgets and Chat

Both of these settings are also shown on the Taskbar. Widgets provide quick access to information and tools from a variety of sources, such as weather, news, sports, and productivity. These widgets can sometimes get in the way or be distracting. If you don’t use them, turn them off. The chat button places a Microsoft Teams icon to make it easy to chat and to use Microsoft Teams features. If you don’t use it, turn it off.

System Tray Icons

These settings control what icons are shown in what used to be called the System Tray, but is now called the Notification Area. You can also show or hide icons. Hidden icons will only be shown by activating the Show Hidden Icons button in the Notification Area.

Taskbar Behavior

This group of settings allows you to set the following aspects of the Taskbar itself:

• Leave the Taskbar Centered or Set it to the Left as in Earlier Versions of Windows.

• Automatically Hide the Taskbar

• Show Badges on Taskbar Apps

• Show Flashing on Taskbar Apps

These are the most common settings changed in this area.

Apps

Installed Apps

This is where you can remove apps or programs that are installed on your system. It is always recommended to look through and take out anything that is not needed, especially when you get a new computer.

Advanced App Settings

By default, Windows limits you to only getting apps from the Microsoft Store. Changing this setting to Anywhere is recommended, as you will be able to install any software regardless of where it came from.

Default Apps

This settings area allows you to set default apps for mail, browsing, and media playback. You can also set default apps for various filetypes here.

Startup

Here, you can view a list of apps and programs that automatically run when Windows starts. Each item is labeled with its impact level, indicating how much it affects system performance. You can choose to disable any unnecessary items to speed up the startup process.

Accounts

Windows Hello

Here you can specify for Windows to use a pin, face recognition, or finger recognition to log into Windows. This is based on your hardware, and you also need a Microsoft account to make this work.

Time and Language

Date and Time

Here is where you can change your time zone and set if the clock settings are automatically synchronized with internet time servers.

Typing

Show Text Tuggestions When Typing on the Physical Keyboard

Ever feel like your computer is trying to finish your sentences for you? It’s not always helpful, is it? Well, this setting is the culprit. Turn it off and save yourself from the constant annoyance of your computer thinking it knows you better than you know yourself.

Autocorrect Misspelt Words

This setting allows the computer to try and automatically correct words that you don’t spell right. Some want this turned off.

Highlight Misspelled Words

When this setting is enabled, any words that are not recognized by the installed language dictionary as correctly spelled will be underlined with a red squiggly line, indicating a possible misspelling. The screen reader does announce these spelling errors. This feature can help users catch spelling errors and improve the accuracy of their writing, especially if they do not have Microsoft Office installed.

Accessibility

This section could stand alone as its own article. For the moment I’ll stick to some general accessibility settings that could apply to anyone. Let me know in the comments if you’d like more in this or another section.

Visual Effects

If you can’t see them, you don’t need them. Here is where you can turn off some of this so called eye candy, which can sometimes speed things up a little.

Always Show Scrollbars

When this setting is enabled, scrollbars will always be visible in applications that use them, such as web browsers, text editors, and File Explorer. This can make it easier to navigate through large amounts of content and provide a better visual cue of the current location within the content. It can be helpful for low-vision users to always have the scrollbars on so they can find them quicker. Screen reader users don’t really need this since they are navigating via keyboard commands.

Transparency Effects

This is a setting that makes some parts of the Windows user interface partially transparent, such as the Taskbar, Start Menu, and Action Center. When this setting is enabled, these interface elements appear semi-transparent, allowing users to look through them to the desktop or other open windows. Screen reader users are not affected, but low-vision users can be.

Animation Effects

This is a setting that creates visual effects that occur when windows are opened, closed, minimized, or maximized. When this setting is enabled, users will see visual animations such as fades, slides, and other effects when they interact with windows. Low-vision users can find these effects distracting, so this could be a good thing to turn off.

Dismiss Notifications After This Amount of Time

This setting allows you to specify how long a Windows notification stays on screen. Because it can take time for users of Access Technology to get to these notifications, you should adjust this accordingly. By default, this is set to a mere 5 seconds. You can adjust this to up to 5 minutes if needed.

Well, that is it for the accessibility settings. As I said before, let me know if you’d like more on a particular topic in the comments. For now…

Qapla

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