The Mouse That Soared: A Guide for Customizing the Mouse for People with Low Vision
"Redoing Windows: A Guide for Customizing Windows for Users with Low Vision," in the May 2005 issue of AccessWorld, provided a no-cost, step-by-step guide to modifying your Windows operating system and the appearance of the computer screen. This article provides a no-cost solution for customizing the mouse for users who have low vision. Most computer users who have low vision can relate to the challenges of locating and tracking that darn rodent. For users who love the mouse, this guide provides instructions for controlling features on the mouse and changing the size, color, shape, and look of the mouse pointer.
Because of Windows XP's advanced features for customization, all instructions are based on this operating system. However, most of the same features are also available in the Windows 2000, Windows ME, and Windows 98 operating systems. Features exclusive to XP are noted.
What Is the Mouse?
For most users, the term mouse is used to refer to the physical mouse, as well as the image that is displayed on the computer screen. In this article, the mouse refers to a physical piece of hardware that is connected (either by cable or wireless) to the computer. The mouse can take many shapes and sizes, from a standard mouse to a track ball. Features vary by mouse and may include roller balls, multiple buttons, or ergonomic designs. The mouse on a laptop can also range from a touch panel to a flexible nub that resembles an eraser head. The mouse can even be personalized by color and design.
The mouse pointer is the image that appears on the computer screen and is controlled by the physical mouse. As you move the physical mouse, the mouse pointer moves on the screen. Actually, the mouse pointer is driven by software in your computer that defines the size, shape, and features of the mouse pointer.
Before You Begin
Since changes to the functionality of the mouse and appearance of the mouse pointer are immediate, you can test a change before you move on. As you will learn in this guide, it is fairly simple to customize the mouse and the mouse pointer. Have fun and try different pointer shapes and colors until you find the one that best works for you.
If you use assistive technology, there are a few things you need to be aware of before you begin. Most of the more current versions of screen-magnification programs (with or without speech support), such as ZoomText or MAGic, offer many features for customizing the appearance of the mouse pointer. Changes that are made in Windows may not apply when the screen-magnification program is running and, in some cases, may even conflict with your screen-magnification program. Check with the manufacturer of your screen-magnification software before you make any changes. If you are using screen-reading software, such as JAWS for Windows or Window-Eyes, changes to the appearance of your mouse pointer may interfere with the screen-reading software. Again, consult the software manufacturer before you make any changes.
The May 2005 "Guide for Customizing Windows" provided instructions for accessing the Windows Control Panel, as well as a list of Key Terms, which explains some of the commands and elements that you may encounter when you customize your Windows operating system. In the interest of simplicity, this information will not be repeated here; please refer to that article for as necessary.
In most Windows operating systems, the Accessibility Options and Mouse Properties dialogue boxes offer options for customizing the mouse and mouse pointer. However, the Accessibility Options dialogue box offers the ability to control the mouse pointer only through the numeric keypad on the keyboard and related settings for this option. Since this article focuses on customizing the mouse for low vision users who prefer to control the mouse pointer using the mouse, the Accessibility Options mouse features will not be addressed.
The Mouse Properties Dialogue Box
The Mouse Properties dialogue box is located in the Control Panel window. First, open the Control Panel window. In the list view, select Mouse (double click on Mouse or move the Up or Down arrow to Mouse and press Enter).
The Mouse Properties dialogue box is a multipage dialogue box. The page tabs are (from left to right) Buttons, Pointers, Pointer Options, Wheel, and Hardware. Each of the pages is addressed separately.
To select a page from the Mouse Properties dialogue box, click on the desired page tab listed horizontally across the top of the dialogue box or press and hold down the Control key and press Tab until the desired page is selected.
The Buttons page enables you to customize the ways in which the buttons on the physical mouse operate. These buttons, often referred to as the left or right mouse buttons, control different features. For example, single clicking the left mouse button on an item in a list view selects the item, while double clicking the left mouse button on the same item may open the selected item. The right mouse button is often used to open the Applications, Context menu, which provides many shortcuts to standard operations, such as cut, copy, and paste, in a word- processing program.
The first option in the Buttons page dialogue box is the Button Configuration: Switch Primary and Secondary Buttons check box. This feature is useful for left-handed users of the mouse because it allows them to switch the functions of the left and right mouse buttons. Select this check box to make the button on the right the one you use for primary functions, such as selecting and dragging. Select this feature by clicking once with the left mouse button in the checkbox or tab to the box and press the spacebar.
The next option in the Buttons page dialogue box is Double Click Speed. This option controls how fast or slow you want the mouse buttons to respond when you double click. This is a track bar. To increase or decrease the Double Click Speed, click and drag the bar to the left or right or tab to the track bar and press the Up or Down arrow key. You can test the new setting by clicking on the icon (picture) of the folder to the right of the option. If the folder does not open or close, slow down the speed setting.
The last category in the Buttons Page dialogue box is the Click Lock: Turn on Click Lock check box. This feature enables you to highlight or drag items without holding down the mouse button. Once this feature is turned on, simply press the left mouse button once to engage, perform the task, and then press the left mouse button once again to release. To turn this feature on, check the check box by clicking in the box once with the left mouse button or tab to the check box and press the space bar.
The Click Lock Settings button opens a dialogue box that enables you to adjust how long you have to press the left mouse button before Click Lock is engaged. Open the dialogue box by clicking on the button once with the left mouse button or tab to the button and press Enter. In the dialogue box, set the speed for the Click Lock feature using the track bar by clicking and dragging the bar to the right/left or tab to the track bar and press the Up or Down arrow. Once you have set the speed, select the OK button by clicking on the button or tab to the button and press Enter. You are returned to the Mouse Properties Button Page dialogue box.
Once you have made all the changes in the Buttons Page dialogue box, select the Apply button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter).
The Pointers page dialogue box is where you will make the majority of changes to the appearance of your mouse pointer. This is where you can change the shape, color, size, and effects of the mouse pointer. Have fun picking the mouse pointer, but remember to pick one that works best with your visual needs.
The first category on the Pointers page is Schemes. This is a combo box that allows you to select the size and shape of the mouse pointer. In Windows XP, 20 schemes are available, including an option to make your mouse pointer look like a dinosaur! Some favorite schemes for users with low vision include Magnified, Windows Black, Black Large and Black Extra Large, Windows Inverted, Inverted Large, and Inverted Extra Large. (Inverted means that the color of the mouse pointer changes, depending on the background color. For example, the mouse pointer changes to white when on a black background and to black when on a white background.) As you move through the different selections, a sample of the mouse pointer appears to the right of the combo box.
To select a scheme, click on the Up or Down arrow on the right of the combo box to open the list of schemes and then click on a scheme. Or tab to the combo box, move the Up or Down arrow to the desired scheme, and press Tab to select.
To try different pointer schemes, select one from the combo box. Select the Apply button by clicking on the button or tab to the Apply button and press Enter. The new pointer is now visible, and you are returned to the Pointers Page dialogue box in the Schemes combo box.
The next category is the Customize Pointers List Box. This option enables you to customize the appearance of the pointer when it is performing other tasks, such as when the pointer changes to the shape of an hourglass. The following is the list of the different mouse pointers with a brief explanation of their functions.
- Normal: the basic pointer shape for performing most tasks; the default is an arrow.
- Help Select: the pointer when the Help feature is selected; the default is an arrow with a question mark.
- Working in Background: the pointer when the computer is performing a task, such as opening a program; the default is an arrow with an hourglass.
- Busy: the pointer when the computer is engaged and the pointer is unavailable; the default is an hourglass.
- Precision Select: the pointer when it is used for tasks like working in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets; the default is crosshairs.
- Text Select: the pointer when typing or selecting text; the default is an I-beam.
- Handwriting: the pointer when used for handwriting; the default is a pen shape.
- Vertical Resize: the pointer when used for dragging the vertical shape of an item; the default is an up-and-down arrow.
- Horizontal Resize: the pointer when used for dragging the horizontal shape of an item; the default is a left-and-right right arrow.
- Diagonal Resize 1: the pointer when used for resizing the shape of an item from right to left and up to down; the default is a right diagonally pointing arrow.
- Diagonal Resize 2: the pointer when used for resizing the shape of an item from left to right and up to down; the default is a left diagonally pointing arrow.
- Move: the pointer when used to move an item around the screen; the default is two crossed arrows pointed up and down and left and right.
- Alternate Select: an alternative to the normal pointer; the default is a thinner version of the selected normal pointer.
- Link Select: the pointer when used to select a link for a web site or an e-mail address; the default is a hand and cannot be modified.
You can customize the appearance of each of the pointer options except Link Select. Select the one you want in the Customize list box by clicking on the item or tab to the list box and arrow up or down to the item. To open the list of different pointer shapes, select the Browse button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter). The Browse dialogue box opens. This dialogue box resembles the Open or Save dialogue box in a word-processing program. In the List View box, approximately 184 pointer shapes are listed with a picture of each shape preceding the name. Select the shape that you want for the specific mouse pointer, such as a dinosaur shape for the Busy pointer. To select an option, click on the item in the list box and then click the Open button or tab to the list box, arrow to the item, and then tab to the Open button and press Enter. You will need to go through this process to select a new pointer shape for each of the pointers in the Customize list box.
The next option on the Pointers page is the Select Default button. This button resets the pointer's appearance back to the Windows standard. If you have customized several pointers in the Customize list box, you will need to select each one separately in the list box and then select the Select Default button. To select the Select default button, click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter.
The last option on the Pointers page is the o check box to enable the pointer shadow option. This option places a shadow around the mouse pointer. Some users who have low vision may find that a shadow makes it easier to track the mouse. To select this feature, click in the check box or tab to the check box and press the spacebar.
Once you have made all the changes, select the Apply button and see how the new pointer looks. If you want, you can save the new scheme and appearances of the pointer under a custom name. Select the Save As button by clicking on the button or tab to the button and press Enter. In the file name edit box, type a name for your new pointer scheme, such as your own name. Click on the OK button or tab to the button and press Enter. Your new scheme will now appear in the Schemes combo box. To open your new scheme or another scheme, simply click on the item in the Schemes combo box and select the Apply button.
Before you leave the Pointers page, make sure that you select the Apply button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter).
The next page in the Mouse Properties dialogue box is the Pointer Options page. This page enables you to customize the functionality of the mouse pointer.
The first category on the Pointer Options page is Motion. This category allows you to change the speed and precision of your mouse pointer.
The first option under Motion is to select a pointer speed, or how fast or slow the pointer responds to your movement of the physical mouse. Most users with low vision prefer a standard or slower speed, usually between 25% and 50% of the maximum. To increase or decrease the pointer speed, slide the bar on the track bar to the right (faster) or left (slower) by clicking on the bar and dragging it to the right or left or tab to the track bar and press the up (faster) or down (slower) arrow.
The other option in the Motion category is the Enhance Pointer precision check box. If selected, this feature improves the accuracy of the mouse pointer when it is placed on an item for selection. To turn this feature on, click in the check box or tab to the check box and press the spacebar.
The next category is Snap To. This feature automatically positions the mouse pointer on the default button of a dialogue box, such as the OK button. To turn this feature on, click in the check box or tab to the check box and press the spacebar.
The final category in this dialogue box is Visibility. There are three options under visibility:
- Display pointer trails. This feature places trails or visible dots as the mouse pointer is moved around the screen. Some users with low vision may find this feature beneficial in tracking the mouse pointer, while others may find it visually distracting. To turn this feature on, click in the check box or tab to the check box and press the spacebar.
- Hide pointer while typing. This feature hides the pointer while you are typing, such as in a word-processing document. It can be useful if the mouse pointer consistently gets in your way while you are typing. To turn this feature on, click in the check box or tab to the check box and press the spacebar.
- Show the location of the pointer when I press the CTRL key. This is a handy feature for users with low vision. If it is turned on, simply pressing the Control key on your keyboard will place a large red circle around the pointer, making it easy to locate visually. To turn this feature on, click in the check box or tab to the check box and press the space bar.
To apply all the changes you have made on the Pointer Options page, select the Apply button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter). You can now test some of the features, such as mouse trails and locating the mouse pointer, by pressing the Control key.
The Wheel page allows you to change how the wheel on the physical mouse (if you have one) responds. The wheel, usually located on the side of the mouse or between the left and right mouse buttons, rolls forward and backward in clicks or notches. This feature is used to scroll the page up and down, rather than to use the scroll bars on the side of the program's window.
The first category on the Wheel page is Scrolling. This sets the wheel to how much you want to scroll as you roll the wheel one notch at a time. There are two choices listed as radio buttons:
- The following number of lines at a time. If you select this option, you will be prompted to enter a number in the edit box just below the radio button. You need to specify how many lines at a time you want the wheel to scroll with each roll. To enter a number in this edit box, you have several options. You can click in the edit box and type a specific number, such as 3 (click in the box and type the number or tab to the box and type the number). Or you can select a number from the list that is provided (click on the Up or Down arrows on the right of the edit box until the number you want is displayed in the box or tab to the edit box and press the Up or Down arrow until the desired number is selected). The default number of lines is 3 and is a good rule of thumb.
- One screen at a time. This option will enable you to scroll one screen at a time with every roll of the wheel.
To select the radio button, click on the button or tab to the field and press the Up or Down arrow until the one you want is selected. Select the Apply button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter).
The final page in the Mouse Properties dialogue box is the Hardware page. Unless you are using multiple mouse devices on the computer, it is recommended that you leave this option in the default settings. The Windows operating system has defined the mouse that you are using and has configured the proper settings.
Once you have completed all the changes in the Mouse Properties dialogue box, select the OK button (click on the button or tab to the button and press Enter). You are returned to the Control Panel window. Close the Control Panel by clicking on the "x" in the upper right corner of the window or by pressing Alt+F4.
Your New Mouse Friend
If you followed the steps described here, you should be viewing a new mouse pointer that is easier to see and track. If you are still having difficulty locating and tracking the pointer or using the mouse features, try different options. Have fun, but remember that usability is the most important element. You can personalize your mouse and mouse pointer, but make certain you can still use both effectively.
If you are enjoying this series of articles on low vision technology solutions in AccessWorld or have suggestions for future articles, let us know by sending an e-mail to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Upcoming issues will include articles on customizing Internet Explorer, Outlook, and other programs that are commonly used by people with low vision.
For More Information
For more information on low vision access for the computer, check out the following resources:
American Foundation for the Blind
Visit the American Foundation for the Blind web site for a variety of information on technology at <www.afb.org>. The Technology section of the web site also offers information on customizing the computer for low vision users.
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
The web site of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired <www.tsbvi.edu> offers a variety of information and articles for users of low vision technology. It also offers a link to download alternative mouse pointers for Windows 95 and NT users. This download offers a variety of pointer options that have been found to be more accessible for users with low vision. To download this program, visit <www.tsbvi.edu/technology/other.htm>.Once the program is downloaded to your Desktop, open the Read Me.txt file for specific instructions on how to install the new mouse pointers. If you are using a Windows 98, ME 2000 or XP operating system, these mouse pointers are included in the dialogue box on the Mouse Properties Pointers page under Schemes.Contributor: American Foundation for the Blind: http://www.afb.org