Using Windows 8: Reach Out and Touch

Using Windows 8: Reach Out and Touch

July 2013
By Loren Dong, Assistive Technology (AT) Technician

A lot of talk has been going on regarding the new technology of Microsoft Windows 8. The latest computers running Windows 8 and also Windows 8 RT for mobile devices have the ability to use either the keyboard or touch screen. For those who are blind or have limited vision, using a computer for work, school or everyday activities can be difficult if not nearly impossible if they have to rely on the use of the mouse to operate the computer.

Whether users can or cannot use a keyboard and/or mouse, Windows 8 can give those with limited or no sight a greater ability to use computers by using touch-screen technology.

Computers and mobile devices can be interacted with when using different options: Screen Gestures, Metro Tiles, and Hotkeys.

Screen Gestures
 

Tap
Illustration of tapping

Pinch or stretch to zoom
Illustration of pinching to zoom

Rotate
Illustration of two fingers and an arrow indicating the fingers are turning an object

Slide to scroll
Illustration of scrolling

Slide to rearrange
Illustration of sliding

Swipe to select
Illustration of swiping

Swipe to select
Illustration of swiping

Swipe from edge
Illustration of swiping in from the edge of a screen

Perform common actions Illustration of default navigational and editing flicks actions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image source: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/touch-swipe-tap-beyond

If you have a computer with a touchscreen, you might find that gestures (motions that you make with one or two fingers) are easier to use than a mouse, pen, or keyboard.

You don't need to tap or click a menu item or a button on a toolbar to perform common tasks, such as copy, paste, undo, and delete. Instead, you can use a flick of your finger. For example, an upward flick moves a page down, and a downward flick moves a page up. There are two categories of flicks: navigational and editing. To learn how to use flicks, see "Practice using flicks."

Press and hold does the same thing as right-clicking an item. To perform the action, touch the screen where you want to right-click, hold until a complete circle appears, and then lift your finger. The shortcut menu appears after you lift your finger.

Metro Tiles (Start Screen)

Image of the Metro Tiles
Image Source: http://www.wikihow.com/Image:Win8_21.png

Literally the first thing you notice when you fire up Windows 8 is that your familiar Start button is gone.

Don't panic.

It's easy enough to live without but, if you can't, there are a ton of plugins to add back the Start button functionality of the old Windows—some third party, some semi-official, like Samsung and Lenovo's offerings. There are several free apps already, like VIStart, Classic Shell, StartMenu7. Currently on Windows 8, to get to the familiar, although strange-looking, start menu called Metro, it must be activated by pressing the Windows logo key on the keyboard.

Using the Start screen may be daunting for those with no vision. For those with slightly limited or low vision, they soon find this technology as an alternative to using the mouse cursor if they have a touch screen display. You don’t have to locate the small mouse cursor to manipulate the mouse for clicking desktop objects. Rather you can use your much larger finger and point to what you want to activate instead.

Hotkeys

The old fashion way for interfacing with the computer, even before the invention of the computer mouse, is with the keyboard. Although command lines are rarely used anymore for the everyday common computer user, the Windows hotkeys or shortcuts are still widely used today. For those with limited or no vision that can still utilize the keyboard by touch typing, this is an effective way to interact with the computer.

With Windows 8 and Windows RT, you can use the keyboard shortcuts you're already using, and you'll find new ones too. For example, the easiest way to search on the Start screen is to simply start typing. Not on the Start screen? Press the Windows logo key‌ and you can quickly switch between Start and the app you're in.

Below are some of the most useful keyboard shortcuts for Windows 8. You can find a longer list on Microsoft's website.

Press this To do this
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+start typing Search your PC
Ctrl+plus (+) or Ctrl+minus (-) Zoom in or out of a large number of items, like apps pinned to the Start screen
Ctrl+scroll wheel Zoom in or out of a large number of items, like apps pinned to the Start screen
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+C Open the charms
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+F Open the Search charm to search files
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+H Open the Share charm
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+I Open the Settings charm
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+J Switch the main app and snapped app
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+K Open the Devices charm
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+O Lock the screen orientation (portrait or landscape)
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+Q Open the Search charm to search apps
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+W Open the Search charm to search settings
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+Z Show the commands available in the app
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+spacebar Switch input language and keyboard layout
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+Ctrl+spacebar Change to a previously selected input
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+Tab Cycle through open apps (except desktop apps)
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+Ctrl+Tab Cycle through open apps (except desktop apps) and snap them as they are cycled
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+Shift+Tab Cycle through open apps (except desktop apps) in reverse order
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+PgUp Move the Start screen and apps to the monitor on the left (Apps in the desktop won’t change monitors)
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+PgDown Move the Start screen and apps to the monitor on the right (apps in the desktop won’t change monitors)
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+Shift+period (.) Snaps an app to the left
Windows logo key‌ Windows logo key+period (.) Snaps an app to the right

Not a fan of the Windows Operating system? If you have or are familiar with using Apple products, the iPad, iPhone and Mac computers are great alternatives to using Windows 8. Much like Windows 8, the Apple products have a similar screen technology using gestures called VoiceOver for their computers and VoiceOver for IOS for use on mobile or handheld devices.

In addition, you can control VoiceOver using many of the same gestures you use on iOS. Touch the trackpad to hear a description of the item under your finger, drag to hear items continuously, and flick to move to the next item.

VoiceOver also features a virtual control called the rotor. Turning the rotor — by rotating two fingers on the trackpad as if you were turning an actual dial — lets you access an array of commands without having to learn new gestures. Use the rotor to do things like browse a web page more quickly, or navigate a document to check spelling and grammar.

Conclusion

Will the touchscreen technology replace the mouse for the everyday computer user? Perhaps and with increasing acceptance. For those with limited or no eyesight, I think it is here to stay (until newer technology develops) as the old mouse technology is too difficult or impossible to use for those with some form of impairment.

In the AT Scoop, Department of Services for the Blind (DSB) does not intend to endorse or recommend any commercial products, processes, or services. All opinions expressed in this article and in the AT Scoop are those of the individual authors. The views and opinions of authors expressed on DSB's website do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Government, and they may not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.

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