Recently, one of my friends came to me asking if a program they had written was executing correctly, because they couldn’t see their computer dialog boxes due to low vision. My friend and I spent the afternoon trying to come up with solutions to enlarge dialog boxes and figure out how to increase print size of dialog boxes on the computer, and were able to come up with several options that can be used across any operating system without having to buy anything special. Here are my tips for accessing dialog boxes with visual impairment, with a special focus on low vision.
What are dialog boxes?
For those who might not be technology savvy, a dialog box is a small area on a screen in which the user is prompted to provide information or select commands. This can be as simple as pressing an “ok” button, or involve more complex instructions such as typing in information. They can also be referred to as pop-up messages, though this terminology usually implies that there is malware or a virus involved. Other common terms include dialogue box and message box.
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Can you adjust the font size of dialog boxes?
Currently, there is no way to increase the font size of dialog boxes using system settings in any of the major operating systems. Windows removed the capability to adjust dialog box font sizes in Version 1703 in 2017. Both Windows and Macintosh support enlarged system font size, but this setting does not affect dialog boxes.
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Windows 10
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- CentOS Accessibility For Low Vision
Use external magnification
Since my friend does not feel comfortable using assistive technology software, the easiest solution we came up with for them was to have them hold their phone in front of their computer screen with the camera app open, and zoom in on the text. This method worked well for them, since they only had to read a couple of letters on the screen and then close the dialog box, and they could use a familiar piece of technology.
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Try screen magnification
Personally, whenever I come across a dialog box that I have trouble reading, I prefer to open up Windows Magnifier, Zoom, or another screen magnification aid so that I can easily enlarge the text. I like to use the smaller window view so I can still see other elements of the screen. I also take my hand off of the mouse while I am reading the dialog box so I don’t have to worry about shifting the focus window.
Listen to a screen reader
Sometimes, my eyes are too tired for me to be using screen magnification, so I turn to a screen reader to figure out what the dialog box says. I set up a custom keyboard shortcut to open my screen reader of choice, and move my mouse cursor over top of the dialog box to read the information inside. Since I have some usable vision and can generally predict where a dialog box will pop up, I have no problem moving my mouse to the general area to read the text.
Take a screenshot
Another one of my favorite tricks to read particularly long error messages with a screen magnification aid is to take a screenshot using the Windows 10 keyboard screenshot command- Windows Key, shift key, and the letter S. From there, I can paste the image in a document or open the Snip and Sketch tool to zoom in on the image and read it more closely.
Have a remote visual assistant
For people who really don’t want to deal with technology, using a remote virtual assistant such as Be My Eyes or Aira can be a great way to figure out what is being displayed on the screen. Both require an account, and are free to use for short calls- Be My Eyes can be used for an unlimited period of time, while Aira can be used free of charge for five minutes a day.
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What if the dialog boxes are due to system errors?
If the dialog boxes are related to computer error messages or troubleshooting, users can also contact the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk through the Be My Eyes app, as well as Google Disability Support. For Apple users, Apple Accessibility Support is available by phone.
- Be My Eyes x Microsoft- Technical Support for the Visually Impaired
- Why I Use Accessibility Support Phone Numbers
Increase screen scaling
I have my computer display scaled above 100% so that everything is larger. This can be done by following these instructions:
- Open the Ease of Access Center
- Under the Vision heading, select “Display”
- In the section “Make everything bigger”, increase the scaling size to the percentage of your choice
- The new setting will automatically apply
While I am sad that there is no single fix for making dialog boxes easier to read, I’m glad that there are several options available for low vision users to read dialog boxes with assistive technology. I am hopeful that more technology companies will listen to low vision users and add the ability to increase text size, but until then, I hope these tips are helpful for making dialog boxes easier to read.