Microsoft’s Ability Summit this week highlighted how the company is incorporating accessibility into the design of Windows 11, Microsoft Edge, and especially its incredible peripherals, but the question has to be asked, yet again: Could Microsoft do more to make Windows 11’s Start menu and taskbar more accessible to aging users? I’m lucky enough to…
Microsoft’s Ability Summit this week highlighted how the company is incorporating accessibility into the design of Windows 11, Microsoft Edge, and especially its incredible peripherals, but the question has to be asked, yet again: Could Microsoft do more to make Windows 11’s Start menu and taskbar more accessible to aging users?
I’m fortunate enough to be completely mobile and be able to use a keyboard, mouse, and Xbox controller with no additional assistance. However, my vision is gradually getting worse with age. This is not a new phenomenon, and corrective lenses and glasses are available to help.
But my vision was destroyed by the pandemic. I was trapped indoors, so there weren’t as many opportunities for me to drive, go on trips, or engage with my distant vision. The same happened to my youngest son who had to endure two years of remote learning. And however you view what happened over the past few years, it’s obvious that those users who began computing when Windows 1.0 released in 1985 are getting older.
This matters. Your ability to see is crucial to your ability to use a computer. Study after study has shown that poor vision function is linked to depression and social isolation because they are unable to interact with the environment around them. Windows has Narrator, a built-in screen reader that can assist those with severe vision impairment. However, there is still a way for people who are able to see enough to use the computer but struggle to navigate through menus.
Could Windows 11 accommodate this, with larger icons and a resizable Start menu and taskbar? Could Microsoft do a better job in this area with its new Start folders? Microsoft could do a better job, and Microsoft’s reluctance is puzzling.
In a moment, we’ll talk about what you can do to compensate for Microsoft’s decision, and help make these elements of Windows 11 more accessible. But I’m not sure if Microsoft simply intends for you to rely on these methods or if they plan further improvements for Windows 11. I have asked Jenny Lay-Flurrie chief accessibility officer at Microsoft once via social media , at Microsoft’s accessibility press conference — but received no reply.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Windows 11’s Taskbar: Difficult to parse
Windows 11’s taskbar throws up three obstacles in the way of accessibility: The taskbar itself is not moveable or resizeable, the icons are not able to be independently enlarged, and taskbar buttons are always combined. Windows 10 allows you to adjust the first and third elements. Not combining taskbar buttons allows someone to create a large taskbar landing area whose function is clearly explained, as it is in Windows 10.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Weirdly, Windows 10’s Settings menu (right-click the taskbar to access it) allows you to make the icons smaller, not larger, which would also seem to be an issue for older users. But Windows 11 simply doesn’t offer the flexibility of Windows 10 in terms of configuring the Start menu.
By now, you’re probably familiar with the limitations of Windows 11’s Start menu: the entire window can’t be resized, its icons size can’t be adjusted, and the lack of Live Tiles also restricts the size of the icons. In Windows 10, you can enlarge the Start menu icons to relatively enormous size, not only making them easy to read and navigate to, but also allowing you to visually remind yourself which applications are the most important, what they’re called, and where they live. This may seem absurd, but consider the difficulty that older relatives can have in navigating a computer. )
One helpful organizational tool that Microsoft included in Windows 10 were Start folders, which grouped related applications together. Those were left out of Windows 11, but we’ve already been able to take a look at them and test them out as part of the Windows 11 Insider program.
In both Windows 10 and Windows 11, Start folders actually shrink the size of the icons they contain, making them less visible. This is a strange decision that I don’t understand. Popout menus with larger versions of the same icons are available on both Windows and Mac operating systems.
Mark Hachman / IDG
If Microsoft doesn’t plan to bring back Live Tiles, it’s okay. But why can’t Microsoft offer a resizeable Windows 11 Start menu that can be enlarged if needed? You have the option to resize individual icons. You can also resize and arrange the start menu folders. You can adjust the taskbar to fill in any empty space with tiled icons.
This shouldn’t be the domain of a third-party mod like Start11 or even Microsoft’s excellent PowerToys. These are functional choices and not aesthetic ones, I argue. Accessible. Limiting accessibility at the literal Start-ing point of the Windows 11 experience should be a little embarrassing for all concerned.
Workarounds: What you can do in the meantime
Regardless of whether Microsoft takes action, there are a few ways to make Windows more visual-friendly using the built-in tools.
Resize desktop icons
First, you can resize icons that are floating around your desktop. (No, this does not affect the icons on your taskbar or the Start menu. Why? )
Mark Hachman / IDG
Simply right-click your desktop and navigate to View on the drop-down menu. The drop-down menu will allow you to choose between Small, Medium, or Large icons. You can then pick the one that suits you best.
The next option is DPI Scaling or simply Scale. The option can be found within the Windows 11 Settings menu. (System > Display > Scale) Here, you’ll find a drop-down menu with a varie