Microsoft Accessibility Tools for Low Vision

Creating accessible documents is a vital practice; if you haven’t checked out my entry about the Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker, or Responsible use of Color in Documents please do! To continue on this subject, I thought we could talk about some Microsoft Windows and Office tools for people with low vision. If you are somebody with low vision, or know somebody with low vision, check out some of your options below. By the way, even if you do not have low vision, you might find some of these tools handy, for a variety of reasons.

Dictate button

Microsoft Zoom Tool

Microsoft’s Zoom tool is an excellent resource and comes with the default installation of Windows 10. This tool will instantly magnify your entire screen.

Zoom Tool

Within the Zoom tool, you can adjust the zoom level with the + or buttons, the settings of which will be saved the next time you access the feature.

To quickly access the Zoom tool, press the Windows key + plus sign (+).

Take a look at more key commands below for the Zoom tool.

Key Command Action
Windows key + plus sign (+) Zoom in (activate zoom tool)
Windows key + esc Turn off zoom
Ctrl + Alt + Space bar In zoom mode, show whole screen (context)
Windows key + U Ease of Access Center: Make default text bigger, apps bigger, change size of cursor and mouse pointer (more on this below)
Windows key + minus sign (-) Zoom out by one increment


When the zoom tool is activated,  select the gear to view more settings.

Zoom toolThe settings offer the ability to collapse the magnifier window and create me screen space. To change this setting, select Collapse Magnifier Window.

Collapse magnifier settings

Display Settings

There are several ways to access display settings. You can always press the windows key and search for display:

Windows key search for display setting

…or the keyboard shortcut is Windows Key + U.Display screen options from numbered list belowWithin this screen is the ability to:

  1. Make all text bigger
  2. Make the entire screen larger by default
  3. Change the size of Apps and text on other displays
  4. Change the size of the cursor and mouse pointer


Windows 10 has a built in screen reader called Narrator. To access Narrator either:

  • Press the windows key and type Narrator,or
  • Use the command Windows Key + Ctrl + Enter

To access more settings for narrator:

  1. Press the Windows Key and go to Settings
  2. Select Ease of Access
  3. Select Narrator

Narrator in sidebar

High Contrast Settings

There are several ways to access high contrast settings in Windows. One way is to select the Windows Key and type “High Contrast”. Within the High Contrast options is the ability to turn on high contrast and adjust the settings.

High contrast settings

High Contrast mode can also be activated with the command:
Alt + left shift + Print Screen

Microsoft Office

You know this Byte wouldn’t be compete without some discussion about the Microsoft Office suite.

Quick Access Toolbar (QAT)

Don’t forget that in all of your Microsoft Office Programs is the ability to add your favorite tools to the Quick Access toolbar. This is the tiny toolbar that appears above the ribbon in Microsoft Office Programs.

Quick Access ToolbarYou can customize your QAT with any command in the program, eliminating the need to hunt for frequently used features.

To add something to the QAT, either right click on the item and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar…

Right click menu when right clicking on object in the ribbon: Add to quick access toolbar circled… Or press the dropdown arrow on the right of the QAT, and select More Commands to access a full list.

Dropdown menu, More commands selectedMore about the advantages of the QAT below…


Heads up, you will need a working microphone on your computer for this one; some have this by default, but if not they are affordable to purchase.

In the Home tab of Word and PowerPoint, and in the Message tab of Outlook, there is a Dictate button, which will allow you to dictate the content of your document or email.

Dictate button

In addition to taking dictation of your words, you can also verbally input punctuation and spacing, like:

  • Comma
  • Semi colon
  • Period
  • Question Mark
  • New paragraph (for a new line)

In general, you can also access Dictation in Windows 10 with the command: Windows Key + H

Read Aloud

Just like you needed a microphone for Dictation above , make sure you have working speakers for Read Aloud.  This feature lives in the Review tab of Word…

Real aloud button

… and the Home and Message tabs in Outlook.

Excel is a little bit trickier, but there is an ability to have cells spoken to you. Remember your QAT (above)? This is where we will go to turn this feature on in Excel

Follow the instructions above to access More Commands in the QAT. Then this feature is found under All Commands. It is called Speak Cells.

Excel QAT screen

While you are in the QAT settings, you can also add Stop Speaking Cells to your QAT. Once this is in your QAT, you will see how easy it is to access when you read the next section.

The Power of Alt

When you are in any Microsoft Office program, press Alt on your keyboard. Notice that some labels appear in your ribbon.

Alt Menu

These labels contain letters and numbers that are shortcut keys to access the tabs and QAT in the ribbon.

In the example above (in Word), you can press Alt to access the commands, then P for the Layout tab. Now you have a new set of options. Maybe you choose to press M to access Margins.

In other words, you could learn a series of commands with these keys. In the future, maybe you would remember you could just press Alt, P, M to get to your margins.

Even if you are not someone with low vision, you might find that learning some of these shortcuts can really speed up productivity. These key commands almost always end up being a lot faster than hunting for icons.

Keyboard Commands

Most of us are familiar with a few keyboard commands. Ctrl C to copy, Ctrl V to paste, and so on. The fact is, there are tons of keyboard commands for Office applications, in addition to the handy Alt trick you learned above. And much like the Alt example, even if you are not someone with low vision, you might find that learning some of these shortcuts can speed up productivity.

Take a look at an example below, with a handful of commands that you can use in Outlook. Would you be interested in lists like this for all your Microsoft Office programs? If so, let me know!

Outlook Navigation

Key Command Action
Ctrl + 1 Mail
Ctrl + 2 Calendar
Ctrl + 3 Contacts
Ctrl + 4 Tasks
Ctrl + 6 Folder List
Ctrl + 8 Journal
Ctrl + E (or F3) Search
Ctrl + Y Go to a Different Folder
Alt Access the ribbon

Create Item

Key Command Action
Ctrl + shift + M Create New Email
Ctrl + shift + A  Create Appointment
Ctrl + shift + C Create Contact
Ctrl + shift + L Create contact group
Ctrl + shift + Q Create Meeting Request
Ctrl + shift + K Create Task
Ctrl + shift + E Create Folder
Ctrl + shift + J Create Journal Entry


Key Command Action
Ctrl + R Reply
Ctrl + Shift + R Reply All
Ctrl + Shift + M New Message
Alt + S Send a message
Ctrl  + F Forward
Arrow Keys Next message, Previous Message
Ctrl + Period Next message (with msg open)
Ctrl + Comma Previous message (with msg open)
F9 Check for New Messages
Ctrl + shift + B Open Address Book
Insert Add Quick Flag to unopened message
Ctrl + U Mark as Unread
Ctrl + shift + I Switch to Inbox
Ctrl + shift + O Switch to Outbox

Format Text

Key Command Action
Ctrl + B Bold Text
Ctrl + Shift + L Add bullets
Ctrl + I Italic Text
Ctrl + U Underline Text
Ctrl + ] Increase Font Size
Ctrl + [ Decrease Font Size
Ctrl + X Cut
Ctrl + C Copy
Ctrl + V Paste
Ctrl + K Insert Hyperlink

All Items

Key Command Action
Ctrl + S Save
F12 Save As
Ctrl + Z Undo
Ctrl + D Delete
Ctrl + P Print
F7 Check Spelling
Ctrl + L Left Align
Ctrl + E Center Text
Ctrl + R Right Align
Alt + S Save and Close


What do you think? What did I forget? If you are someone with low vision, are there features that you use in Microsoft Windows or Office that help you better use the applications? I would love to hear from you!

Congratulations, Power Users!

Congratulations to our newest Power Users! For the full gallery, and more information about the WSU Microsoft Office Power User Program, please visit:

Amanda Duffy

Amanda Duffy