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CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCREEN MAGNIFICATION PROGRAM

Mark M. Uslan, Manager
Technical Evaluation Services
American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300
NY, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 502-7638
Email: muslan@afb.net

A screen magnifier refers to either a software program loaded into a computer's memory that will magnify text and graphics that appear in most common applications, or a hardware/software system that does the same thing. The full-featured screen magnification programs on the market today range in price from $200 to $1,350. The two screen magnification systems on the market, Telesensory's SuperVista and Vista PCI, cost $2,495. Additionally, there are many simple and inexpensive screen magnification programs on the market that cost under $30 or are available as shareware. The focus of this article is on the full-featured screen magnification programs and the screen enhancement features found in Windows itself.

The first step in selecting a screen magnifier should be to gather information. The table below presents the screen magnification programs on the market as of this writing. Each manufacturer is listed with contact information and information on their product/s.

Screen Magnification Programs on the Market

AI Squared
P.O. Box 669, Manchester Center, VT 05255
Phone: (802) 362-3612
Fax: (802) 362-1670
Website: http://www.aisquared.com 

Product/s: ZoomText Xtra Level I (v.7.01); supports Windows 95/98/NT and DOS. ZoomText
Xtra Level II (v.7.01); supports Windows 95/98/NT, DOS, and sound card speech.
Arctic Technologies
1000 John R Rd., Ste 108, Troy, MI 48083
Phone: (248) 588-7370
Fax: (248) 588-2650
Website: http://www.artictech.com 

Product/s: Magnum 95; supports Windows 95/98.
Dolphin Computer Access
100 S. Ellsworth Ave., 4th fl., San Mateo, CA 94401
Phone: (650) 348-7401
Fax: (650) 348-7403
Website: http://www.dolphinusa.com

Product/s: Lunar (v.3.03); Supports Windows 95/98/NT. Supernova (v.3.03); Supports Windows
95/98/NT and comes with Hal, a screen reader.
Henter-Joyce, Inc.
11800 31st Ct. N., St. Petersburg, FL 33716
Phone: (800) 336-5658
Fax: (727) 803-8001
Website: http://www.hj.com 

Product/s: MAGic for Windows NT (v.6.1); Supports Windows NT and the screen reader JAWS.
Visionware Software, Inc.
P.O. Box 1676, Brookline, MA 02446
Phone: (617) 738-4757
Fax: (617) 566-4812
Website: http://www.largeprint.com 

Since September of 1997 the American Foundation for the Blind has published a series of product evaluations of full-featured screen magnification programs ( Su and Uslan, 1998; Su, Uslan, and Schnell, 1999; and Uslan and Su, 1997; Uslan, Su, and Hsu, 1999). While some of the products reviewed have undergone revisions in the last six months, much of the published information is still relevant. Other useful references include the following:

"Enlarging the Windows 95 Desktop: Hints and Tips for improving Screen Visibility," by John Lodge and published in the December 1998/January 1999 issue of Closing the Gap Microsoft's web site on Windows 98: http://www.microsoft.com/enable/download/ctg98w98nt5.txt A web site on screen magnifiers: http://www.plex.nl/~pverhoe The next step should be to try out the products. Manufacturers distribute demonstration disks free of charge and make them available on their web sites. Since the various programs on the market are relatively similar, it should not take long to get to know them and compare their features. Trying out a screen magnification program is also a good way to test for program compatibility with your video card. Five features to consider when evaluating and selecting a screen magnifier are magnification, color and contrast, locating items on the screen, ease of use, and synthetic speech capability.

In Windows 95 it is possible to enlarge some, but not all on-screen items through Control Panel settings. Icons such as Recycle Bin, My Computer, and the mouse pointer can be magnified to about two times their original size. Windows 95 also provides a variety of mouse pointer shapes to help identify it. However, making these setting changes entails doing so without magnification. Windows 98 has added more size options for the mouse pointer and Microsoft Magnifier, which displays an enlarged (up to 12x) portion of any screen in a separate window. It can be used to select settings in the Control Panel, enabling users to make any setting changes with magnification.

Full-featured screen magnification programs offer up to at least 16x magnification and some offer considerably more magnification. Most can magnify all screen items including the mouse pointer, windows, icons, and buttons. Some allow for selectively magnifying a portion of the screen, and some can split the screen horizontally or vertically, so that one portion is magnified and the other is not. Some full-featured screen magnifiers offer "font smoothing," the ability to smooth-out the jagged appearance of computer graphics and text. Another common feature is "stretching," the ability to magnify the screen display in the horizontal direction, which makes a screen object appear wider, and in the vertical direction, which makes an object appear taller.

Choosing colors and inverting colors, such as changing from white on black or black on white is an important feature for many low vision users. It is also helpful to be able to chose a high contrast mode where, for instance, black is "more black" and white is "more white."

Windows 95 provides 27 different preset color schemes for the desktop and high contrast selections for some on-screen items, including the title bar, pull down menus, and desktop backgrounds.It also provides many colorful mouse pointers. It is possible to set black on white and white on black on some preset items on the screen, such as text and text background and the menu bars. Widows 98 provides additional high-contrast schemes for desktop and application environments. There are also additional color options for the mouse pointer including the ability to invert its color to opposite the background color.

All full-featured screen magnifiers can invert foreground and background in black and white and most can invert colors in the Windows environment.

Windows 95 offers some help in finding the mouse pointer. It is possible to slow it down, use a "sonar" feature whereby a shrinking concentric circle identifies its location, and activate a comet-like tail that traces its path. Windows 98 offers several higher-visibility mouse pointers.

Most full-featured screen magnifiers offer two unique options for keeping track of where you are on the screen: tracking and panning. Tracking allows users to jump to a location on the screen when Windows event occurs, such as the opening of a dialog box. For example, if the user is three screen displays away from the center of a text document where a pop-up menu occurs, it is possible to jump to the location of the menu automatically. It is also possible to track the text cursor and the mouse pointer. Panning allows for scrolling through lines of text, or up and down a magnified page at a preset speed. Using panning it is possible to read a cramped web page at high magnification with relative ease.

Using Windows 95 access features requires knowing how to get to them and how to activate them without magnification. For example, changing icon size requires going into the Control Panel, finding and clicking on the Display icon and then the Appearance Tab, and cycling through the options until the desired icon and size are found. Windows 98 offers an Accessibility Wizard which greatly simplifies setting up accessibility options. The user selects examples instead of having to change numeric values or individual settings in the Control Panel. If magnification is needed, Microsoft Magnifier is available.

All full-featured screen magnifiers provide magnification when selecting features. In general, they also provide shortcuts to features such as using a keystroke to zoom in or out.

Specialized speech programs for blind users, or full-featured screen readers, read text and can be customized to read control buttons and specific items on the screen such as graphical objects. Users can vary the amount of speech spoken for each control and change the punctuation level of speech. However, these programs are quite sophisticated, they can conflict with screen magnifiers, and they have separate, often complex command structures. Solutions offered by screen magnifiers include integrating a simplified screen reader, integrating a full-featured screen reader, and making sure that an existing screen reader is fully compatible with the screen magnification program.

Summary

When selecting a screen magnifier it pays to be deliberative. Be aware of the accessibility features in Windows. Gather information about the various products on the market and consider how the products handle magnification, color and contrast, locating items on the screen, ease of use, and speech capability. Always try out the various products, comparing similarities and differences and weighing benefits and drawbacks.

References

Su, J.C. and Uslan, M.M., 1998a. A review of ZoomText Xtra screen magnification program for Windows 95. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB), Vol. 92, No. 2, pp 116-119.

Su, J.C., Uslan, M.M., and Schnell, B., 1999. A review of Supernova screen magnification program for Windows 95. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB), Vol. 93, no.2, pp 108-110.

Uslan, M.M. and Su, J.C., 1997. A review of two screen magnification programs for Windows 95:Magnum 95 and LP-Windows. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness (JVIB), Vol. 91, No. 5,pp 9-12.

Uslan, M.M. and Su, J.C., and Hsu, C.Y., 1999. Product Evaluation: Henter-Joyce's MAGic for Windows NT. AccessWorld, preview issue, pp 1-6.


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