Author: Laura Jones
Screen magnification is a topic that I feel strongly about because I am a full-time screen magnification user for all my computer work and I have had the opportunity to teach children in kindergarten through high school about these programs. If you want to learn more about this topic, please explore the curriculum section of Paths to Technology. You can find a more in depth “Zoom to Success: video presentation, PowerPoint, and resource packet at this link under “Magnification Curriculum”.
Screen magnification software, sometimes called screen enlargement software, is computer software that enlarges everything on a computer screen. Because the screen image is enlarged, the user only sees part of the screen at a time. Examples of screen magnification software include MAGic, Windows Magnifier, Zoom on Macs, and ZoomText. This software is for people with low vision who can interact with computers visually. Please note that this article does not discuss screen reader software, such as JAWS or Window Eyes.
Things to Know
Screen magnification software can help students manage eye fatigue, use good posture and a good viewing distance, and access the same activities as their peers. This helps them learn academics, complete tests, and build technology skills. Using screen magnification software can impact many areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum, such as Assistive Technology, Independent Living Skills (finding recipes and paying bills), Social Interaction (accessing social network sites), and Orientation & Mobility (pre-planning destinations, routes, and maps). Competency with screen magnification software enables students to succeed in postsecondary education and jobs.
It’s Free to Get Started
You can start by using the built-in screen magnification program on your computer or downloading a free trial of the software you are interested in.
On Windows computers (Windows 7 or above operating system), press Windows Key + Plus on your keyboard to launch Windows magnifier (minimize it to not have the magnifier icon). You can also search “magnifier” in the search bar on your start menu.
The following link walks you through launching Zoom on Mac. Option+Command+F5 launches zoom controls. The interface for setting up zoom may vary depending on which operating system your Mac is running. Do not forget to enable keyboard commands within the accessibility options.
Here are links to download free trials of these programs:
- MAGic: (free to run in 40 minute mode after a computer restart)
- Supernova: (30 days free)
- ZoomText: (60 days free)
Use Full Screen Mode
Full screen mode is the most effective way for most people to use screen magnification; set your settings accordingly to be successful.
Click the view button on the user interface.
Click “Views” on the user interface and select “Full screen”.
Go to Magnifier>Type>One Monitor>Full
Most people find using screen magnification disorienting initially. Whether for yourself or your student, it is worthwhile to set a goal of using the screen magnification program a certain amount of time (e.g. I will use this program for 15 minutes per day each day the next two weeks). This gives your brain time to flip a mental switch for only seeing part of the screen to make sense to you. Goals are especially important when working with a student who is evaluating whether or not they want to use the software. Do not let them reject it in one session. Ask them to set a goal for initial use and then have them give you their feedback.
Start with a Mouse
People who use screen magnification software can use it with it a touchpad. However, when you are just starting out, even more so if you’re working with young children, using a mouse may help you move more effectively. Now that so many computers have touchscreens many of the screen magnification programs have touchscreen options. My general belief is that it is most efficient to control the screen magnification software with a mouse (or touchpad) and then use the touchscreen, if you want to, to select links and interact with other functions on the computer.
As previously mentioned, it can be disorienting when you initially use a screen magnification program. Starting on a low zoom is a good strategy. If you or your student eventually need a higher zoom, you can gradually bump up the zoom as your skill level increases. You can also zoom out or disable zoom to get oriented to the page you are looking at and then enable zoom to use the program or website (see attached key command lists). Your student may need to be taught general concepts of where certain features are located on the computer screen (e.g. “The address bar is at the top in web browsers” or “Program menus are normally at the top”). I always begin student instruction by making sure they can locate specific areas of the screen. People who have trouble staying oriented, especially those who use a high level of screen magnification, can use commands to jump to certain sections of the screen. For example, Alt+Home jumps left and Alt+End jumps right in ZoomText.
Explore the menus of whichever program you are working with. There may be features and settings hiding there that you do not realize the program has. If you think you should be able to change something about how the program works, you probably can if you look around. Exploring will help you have more confidence in showing your students various features. You may also find useful help resources, such as key command lists. These programs will not bite. If you wonder what something does, try it out. Exploring can apply to the manual, too. Flip through the table of contents to see if there is something that jumps out to you that you do not already know about.
My favorite thing hiding in the Windows Magnifier settings is the ability to change the increments by which the zoom increases. Click on the gear icon on the user interface to adjust these settings.
Editor's Note: For more information about Windows 10 Magnification, see the post, Windows Magnifier: Have Magnifier Follow.
This is an example showing the Program settings (Settings>Program). One of the first things you may want to do if your student shares a computer is uncheck the “Start ZoomText automatically…” option.
Save Your Settings
Let the students pick out settings during the first session and save them as default. Kids get excited to pick exactly the settings they want. Nothing can frustrate a student faster than needing to spend the first couple minutes every time they use a program getting the settings the way they want. This is especially true if they do not normally want speech on and it turns on every time the program launches.
To save your current settings as default, click the M in the top left corner>File> Save Default Settings
This program automatically saves whatever your last setting is when you exit it.
To save your current settings as the default that the program will open with each time go to File>Save As Default.
Students Need Instruction to be Successful
This is not something that students pick up instantly. The younger and less experienced with technology the student is, the more instruction the student will need. Motor skills, other disabilities, and level of magnification are additional factors that may impact how much instruction the student needs. You may need a few sessions or years depending on all of these factors.
Teach Built-In Programs (Can be in Addition to Premium Programs)
The built-in options have improved greatly through the years for Macs, PCs, and Chromebooks. For some students, the built-in magnification programs may be sufficient. Even if you have determined that your student needs a premium screen magnification program as their primary program, you should instruct them in built-in programs, especially Windows Magnifier because of its prevalence. This gives the student access to screen magnification when their class gets assigned unexpectedly to a new computer lab or when they are in other environments like the library or their grandparents’ house. Skills will translate between programs. Just a basic introduction to the user interface and a few commands will be sufficient.
Learn Hot Keys/Key Commands
Please teach your students keyboard commands (also called hot keys or keyboard shortcuts). The commands that run these programs will help them efficiently use them. The most important are zooming in and out, disabling zoom, and enabling zoom. This helps them quickly adjust the level of magnification. Teach them the commands that are relevant to them (see attached cheat sheets). They will be much more efficient computer users if they practice using operating system and program keyboard commands. You can look up commands you do not know by searching on the Internet or accessing resources.
Do Not Forget the Reader Functions
If the version of screen magnification software you are using has reading functions (or if you are using screen magnification with the support of a screen reader), do not forget to teach your students to take advantage of these features. Letting the computer read long articles to them is a good way to manage eye fatigue. Turning on typing feedback can be helpful. Having the computer read aloud what they have written can help them catch mistakes. These supports may also come in handy if a student has a reading learning disability or deficit. For example, the computer announcing what their mouse is hovering on could help them find the link they want if they cannot read the words.
Keep It Fun and Relevant
I am a huge believer in using games and fun activities to teach screen magnification programs. These vary by age. Activities as simple as “I Spy” and “Simon Says” can be good starting places for young students. An elementary student can be asked to use a web browser to navigate to an educational game they like using screen magnification. For example, imagine how much good scanning practice is involved to find the game you want on this webpage:
An older student may do an Internet research project on a preferred topic like their favorite hobby or sports team. Please see the attachment for useful websites for school-appropriate games and further explanation about why this is worthwhile.