1999 Conference Proceedings

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This paper discusses and demonstrates not only why application dependent settings are needed in a Microsoft Windows environment, but also how they can be implemented in a user-friendly and uncomplicated manner.


The original concept of Windows, an operating system that provided a standard and consistent user interface across all of it's applications, seemed in theory to be the ideal environment for visually impaired computer users, and their sighted counterparts alike, to work and be productive in. A consistent user interface across all applications meant, in theory at least, increased user productivity and a shorter learning curve for all of its users.

However, because of the natural laws of competition and computer software evolution, bespoke user interfaces in Windows applications have now proliferated. Assistive technology developers, such as Dolphin, are now faced with the same thorny old problem that they had in the days of DOS, i.e. a whole plethora of different application user interfaces.

In a Windows environment, developers are no longer challenged on an individual text character basis but on a pixel by pixel basis. However, the purpose of this paper is not to talk about the difficulties that we've faced as developers, but is to discuss, and where appropriate to demonstrate, how we can overcome many of these challenging problems.

Why do we need application dependent settings?

Having application dependent settings in a Windows environment is program in one form or another.

How do we implement easily configurable application dependent settings?

Baring in mind that ease of use is the key element in the design of our customization user interface, we have split our application dependent settings into two main types of setting. These are:

  1. Detection Settings.
  2. Output Settings.

Detection Settings contain anything that affects the way that the screen reader or screen magnifier detects what's on the screen.

Output Settings contain anything that affects the way that the screen reader or screen magnifier interprets what it has detected, and therefore determines what it speaks, Braille's or displays on the magnified screen.

Within the Output Settings are one or more subsections that contain settings for certain "situations". A situation can be defined as, for instance, when a specific dialog box pops up, such as the spelling checker dialog box in a word processor.

New situations can easily be created or deleted using a simple user-friendly control panel. A dialog box will then appear allowing you to define the conditions for your new situation and also give the situation a name. The situation conditions can use, for instance, the text in the title bar of a pop up window within an application, or the class name of the pop up window. The situation conditions, such as the class name of the window, can be automatically filled in by the screen reader, rather than the user having to find the window's class name by some other means. i.e. It makes sense to put all the intelligence in the screen reader and let it do these tasks for the user automatically.

Detection Settings and Output Settings are treated completely independently. The user therefore has the option to create output settings for a specific application without changing its detection settings.

There are also a set of "default settings" that are used if there are no specific settings for the current situation or application.

This means that when a Windows application is running, our assistive technology program will determine independently which settings to use for detection and output. If the application has a detection settings file, it will use it, if it has an output settings file it will use it. Otherwise, it will pick the default settings for detection and/or output.


This paper has so far discussed the theory behind how Dolphin has attacked the problem of implementing application dependent settings in a Windows environment. Now there follows a practical demonstration of how we can easily customize Dolphin's combined screen reading and magnification program, Supernova, for different situations within a Windows application.

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