Perhaps the most obvious difficulty in using the computer for an elder is the size of print on the display. Add to this the difficulty of seeing the computer display when wearing bifocals, and many elders find the computer uncomfortable to use.

The Microsoft Accessibility Wizard offers settings that accomplish some of the Elder Interface changes, but does not address all of the visual changes that are recommended.

(For younger readers, bifocals are designed so that when wearers look down at a desktop or book, they are looking through the "near vision" portion of the lens. When looking at eye-level, wearers are looking through the far-vision portion of the lens. But when looking at a computer screen which has been set up appropriately, the upper portion of the screen is viewed through the far-vision part of the lens, and the lower portion through the near-vision portion, with an annoying line across the middle of the screen. In order to view the computer screen, bifocal wearers often find themselves craning their necks to see the entire screen through the near-vision lens.)

The most effective method of accommodating bifocals is having the elder invest in "computer glasses." (These are the same thing as reading glasses, but sound fancier.) If the individual has vision in both eyes that is nearly the same, low cost reading glasses can be purchased at many pharmacies that will be adequate. If the individual has significant astigmatism or different levels of vision change in each eye, a custom prescription might be required. Depending on the degree of vision corrected, the cost of these glasses can be significant, but they can also be used for other "close work."

Changing the Visual Presentation of Windows

Obtaining a High Readability Font

The Windows Operating system is delivered with a wide range of typefaces (called, inappropriately, "fonts") that can be used to make printed documents more "interesting." However, very few of them are designed to accommodate readers with limited vision.

The American Printing House, however, and designed a typeface, "APHont," specifically for individuals with limited vision which is highly readable. This typeface can be obtained and distributed at no cost.

APHont can be downloaded from the website of the APH at Clicking the "Download APHont" link will advance the browser to a page asking for basic information about the intended user of APHont, who is the elder in question. This information is used by the American Printing House to track the use of the font, but does not result in any unsolicited email.

Use the button on the upper right to unzip the file into the Font folder.Click image for a larger view

Once the font (typeface) file is on the computer to be adapted, it must be installed. The downloaded file is a "zip" compressed file, and can be opened directly in Windows. Double-clicking on the file should produce a window labeled "WinZip Self-Extractor-aphont.exe." Ordinarily, zipped files are expanded into a "temporary" folder, but we want these files to be available in the operating system immediately.

Click the "Browse..." button in the WinZip window to open a dialog box in which you will specify where the font files will be stored. In this dialog, folders that contain other locations have a small box with a "+" symbol if they are "closed," and a "-" symbol if they are "opened." If the "Local Disk (C:)" is closed, click the "+" symbol to open it. This will reveal a list of the folders on the computers hard drive.

The Fonts folderClick image for larger view

Near the bottom of this list, locate the "Windows" folder, and click the "+" to the left of it to open that folder. In the resulting list, locate the "Fonts" folder, which will generally not be preceded by a "+" symbol. Click once on the "Fonts" folder to select it, then click the "OK" button at the bottom of the window. This will close the file dialog, and return control to the WinZip folder. Click the "Unzip" button at the top-right of this window to install APHont on the computer. After a moment, a small window should announce "5 files(s) unzipped successfully." Click "OK" to dismiss this window, then close the WinZip window to complete the installation. THere will be no obvious changes in the operation of the computer, but APHont will now be included on the font menus of all applications.

Window and Button Styles

In the change from Windows 2000 to Windows XP, Microsoft took advantage of the enhanced abilities of displays to make more "attractive" icons and window borders. However, for individuals with limited visual acuity, these softer, rounder buttons, windows, and icons can be more difficult to identify than the older, blockier style. In addition, some portions of the text information provided within window components cannot be changed in the new style, but can in the older style of display.

Right click on the destop, then select Properties.

Fortunately, Windows XP provides the option of returning to the older, less colorful display style, and making more of the interface easily accessible.

To revert to the older, more visible display, open the Display Properties control panel. This can be done by selecting Start>Control Panels, then double-clicking on the Display control. If the Display control is not visible, your display may be set to display in "categories." On the left, find the text to "Switch to Classic View," or click on "Appearance and Themes" to get to a display that shows the Display controls.

Alternatively, you may right-click on the desktop, and select "Properties" from the contextual menu that appears.

Click the "Appearances Tab" of Display Properties to change the look of Windows.Click image for larger view

The exact appearance of the Display Properties window varies depending on the hardware that is present in your computer. At a minimum, the Display Properties window should show a row of tabs across the top which include Settings and Appearance. Click the Appearance tab.

In the resulting display, below the tabs you will see an area that shows foreground and background windows, and a Message Box. This area shows what the screen will look like with the current settings.

Just below this area is a set of three "drop-down" menus. The upper menu, labeled "Windows and buttons:," offers settings for "Windows XP style" and "Windows Classic Style." Select "Windows Classic Style" and then click "Apply" at the bottom of the screen. The screen should change to show blockier windows and graphical elements.

The middle menu offers a number of color schemes that can be applied to the Windows interface. These include high-contrast and lower contrast, as well as a range of colors and hues. When configuring for a particular individual, it may be worthwhile to explore the options of this menu to find a color scheme that the user finds restful to the eye.

The bottom menu allows selection, under Windows XP style, of Normal, Large, or Extra Large font sizes. Under the Windows Classic style, however, only "Normal" is offered. This is not an issue, because the we will be adjusting the settings in more ways that simply font size.

Adjusting Windows Feature Sizes

The Advanced Appearance Tab offers additional control over the interface.Click image for a larger view

Once the Windows Classic Style and the desired color scheme are selected, you are ready to set the scale of the Elder Interface. Click the "Advanced" button of the Appearance tab to open the "Advanced Appearance" window.

This window, like the Appearance window, has an upper area showing the effect of selected settings. Below this area, on the left is a menu labeled "Item:" which is a list of the features that can be adjusted. To the right of this are controls for the size and the primary and secondary colors of the selected feature. Below these are settings for the font to be used in the feature, the font size, font color, and bold or italic display of font for that feature.

The Elder Interface involves changes to many of these features. Select the features listed in the table below, and adjust the settings as indicated. For each entry, select the feature from the "Item:" list. This will show the current settings in the other controls of the window. The settings for Font will not be active for those features (such as the window border) that do not display fonts. Similarly, the upper size control may not be active for a feature that only has font characteristics.

The recommended settings are those that we tested in the Elder Interface, and will be functional for most typically developing elders. For elders with visual anomalies that are not typical, other settings may be required.





Active Title Bar

Font: APHont

Size: 14 pt.


The Active Title Bar is the area at the top of a window that gives the window name. The default size of this name is 8 points, which is very difficult for most elders to see. A setting of 14 points improves visibility without occupying excessive screen space.

Active Window Border

Size: 5

Color: contrast with the rest of the window background.

The Window Border is the area that can be used to adjust the size of a window. By default, this is 1 pixel wide, and on modern displays, and with limited hand control, it can be very difficult to grasp with the mouse. Changing the setting to 5 makes the window easier to resize. The size can be increased up to 50 pixels, but this reduces the space available for actual content.

The border color change makes finding the active window in a complex display much easier. A shade of green connotes "Go," which can act as a cue. The colors presented in the default pallet may be too extreme for the client. Click "Other" to select a more desirable shade.


Size: 64

Font: APHont

Font Size: 14 pt.

The Icon Size is the length of the side, in screen pixels that an icon square occupies. If the icon is resized in even multiples of 32 pixels, it will be more recognizable than if sized to alternative scales. The default 32 pixel size can, on a high resolution screen, be very difficult for an elder to see and discriminate. Setting the side to 64 pixels makes the icon four times larger, and is generally sufficient.

Font: APHont is generally more readable than the default "Tahoma" font of the interface.

Font Size: This is the size of the program name that is displayed below an icon. 14 point will be readable for most elders, and it can be increased if needed.

Icon Spacing (Horizontal) & Icon Spacing (Vertical)

Size: 75

The icon spacing sets the size of the grid that icons align themselves to both on the desktop in within folders. If the grid is too small, the full name of files and programs will not be displayed on the screen. If the size is too large, the user will spend excessive time scrolling to find the desired icon. On a complex desktop, icons may "fall over the edge" and be invisible to the user.

The 75 pixel setting should be considered a starting point for experimentation. Any spacing can be used without changing the appearance of the icons and screen fonts.


Font: APHont

Font Size: 14

The default font size is 8 points for drop down menus in the Windows desktop and within most applications, a very difficult to read size for most elders. This is especially true since the effective point size has gotten smaller on newer monitors. Setting the font to 14 provides a large enough display for readability by most users without extending off the bottom of the screen. In some applications, if the font is set too large, menus will extend off the bottom of the screen without scrolling, making the lower items impossible to access.

Message Box & Palette Title

Font: APHont

Font Size: 14

Occasionally, Windows opens a box to provide information to the user. The default size of the text in these boxes is 8 points, much to small to be read by many elders. Changing the font size to 14 makes this information available to the user. In most cases, the size of the box will increase to accommodate the larger font size.


Size: 25

The scroll bar, used to move up and down or side to side through windows, has a default width of 16 pixels. Many elders, when clicking at the ends of the scroll bar or attempting to grasp the "slider" will move off the edge of the scroll bar. When moving through a long list of options, a common means is to click repeatedly on the scroll bar to advance an item or a screen at a time. If the elder accidently moves into the list, an accidental click will select from the list rather than advancing on the desired item on the list. Changing this setting to 25 makes this a less frequent occurrence.


Font: APHont

Font Size: 14

When the mouse pointer is positioned over many system controls for a few seconds, a small window opens to provide a description of the item. This is presented in 8 point font, which is very difficult for many elders to see. Changing the font to APHont, and the size to 14 point, makes the tip easier to read.

Once all of these changes have been made, select "OK" to close the Advanced Appearances window, then OK to close the Display Properties window. After a few seconds, the menus, title bars and other windows features will adopt their new appearance. Important note: in many places within the Windows environment, clicking the "close" icon is the same as clicking "OK" or "Apply." That is not true here. Unless "OK" or "Apply" are clicked, all of the changes will be discarded.

iTunes creates its own menubar, but uses system menu settings, with odd results.Click image for a larger view.

Not all programs use the system settings fully. In Microsoft Word, for example, the program menus will use the new, larger font, but the embedded menus in tool bars will not. Some programs generate all menus and dialogs, and ignore system settings. Quicken, the home money management program, will allow the font size in the check register to be adjusted by the system preferences, but all menus, dialogs, and displays use fixed font sizes that cannot be adjusted by the user. In some versions of iTunes, the menu bar will ignore the larger font settings, but the menus themselves will be readable. These settings will not make all of Windows more readable, but will do much to improve usability by elders.