awareness raising / notes / resources / technical info

Ubuntu accessibility: magnification and large text

The advantage of a 3d desktop

If you are lucky enough to have a recent computer with a graphics card that works with Unity 3D, you can simply install compizconfig-settings-manager

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

And then enable screen zoom and screen magnification from within those.  They are wonderful tools.

Also, you might be wondering why the “negative” function exists under the accessibility category of the compiz settings.  I suspect it is because many partially-sighted users MUST have light text on a dark background.  Notice how most everything we view by default is the opposite, dark text on a light background?  Enable the negative plugin, press the shortcut key to toggle it, and voila, you have what you need in order to see the screen.

2D solutions for lightweight desktops or older computers

But what about older computers that can no longer run compiz?  Or you happen to be running a user interface or desktop environment that doesn’t play well with compiz (like LXDE)?  There is a free, open-source project that provides a wonderful magnifying glass option, called Virtual Magnifying Glass.  It works on Linux, Mac and Windows, and best of all, it works well:

I’m not sure where the Orca screen magnifier went. But it never behaved well. Was very slow and unwieldy. I find this magnifier is a much better alternative:

It is easy to install, just follow the directions. To make it easy to use, I use a custom launcher shortcut of ctrl – alt – m.

You can also put a custom launcher in the Unity launcher bar if you want:

create a file called magnifier.desktop and open it with gedit and paste in the following:

[Desktop Entry]
GenericName[en_US.UTF-8]=Launch a screen magnifier
Comment[en_US.UTF-8]=Terminal-based text-only web browser

Then save it on the desktop, and drag the file onto the launcher bar, or into /usr/share/applications (for all users) or ~/.local/share/applications (for a single user) via

sudo cp Desktop/magnifier.desktop /usr/share/applications/


sudo cp Desktop/magnifier.desktop .local/share/applications/

Too bad it’s not in the repositories already! Would be wonderful for Orca developers to integrate it in their project.

The custom Unity bar launchers make the magnifier much more usable for partially-sighted users who still are more comfortable with the mouse than keyboard, always just a mouse click away.

Enlarging fonts

Most programs let people zoom in using the menu or keyboard shortcuts (usually something like ctrl + / ctrl -).  However, there are usually ways to edit all the fonts so that they display larger.

In Ubuntu, you can use the accessibility settings to increase the fonts from “normal” to “large” to “larger” but that still might not be enough for many people.

To increase the font sizes farther, use Ubuntu Tweak by downloading and installing GetDeb’s repository, then run an

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install ubuntu-tweak

At this point, you will have access to the “text scaling” feature under Tweak > Fonts, which lets you enlarge ALL desktop text.

Next up

Mouse modifications: increase the cursor size and enable the “radar locate” function.


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