A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Configuring Computers



A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to Configuring Computers
Guide to Configuring
Computers for Seniors
version 0.9.5
Released September 2, 2009
created by PawPawMail.com
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A Quick and Dirty Guide to Configuring Computers for Seniors
Table of Contents
i. ii. Introduction
Guiding Principle
Physical Layout
Hardware Configuration Monitors
Keyboards Mice / Trackballs 2
Visual Guide: Windows XP
Visual Guide: Windows Vista
Visual Guide: Windows Browsers
Visual Guide: Macintosh OS X
Visual Guide: Macintosh Browsers
Simplified Hardware Guide
Conclusion 18
For the latest version of this document, please visit our Quick and Dirty Guide to Configuring
Computers for Seniors at http://pawpawmail.com/about/config
Please contact us with any questions at [email protected]
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A Quick and Dirty Guide to Configuring Computers for Seniors
i. Introduction
This guide is not intended to be a reference for assisting users with major visual, auditory, or cognitive impairments.
It’s simply a quick-and-dirty overview for configuring a typical PC or Mac for use by those who are new to
computers, or those who are experiencing typical mild symptoms associated with aging. There are many great
references for true accessibility issues, not least of which are those published by Microsoft and Apple themselves.
For the purposes of this guide, our typical target user would be 70+ and using a computer for the first time, would
have very mild visual and motor decline, and would plan on using the computer less than an hour each day. Plenty
of 100-year-olds take to computers like ducks to water, and this isn’t meant to imply in any way that seniors will
necessarily have special computer configuration needs, so please abandon this guide quickly if you are, or are
configuring for, a computer-experienced senior. And be patient with the slow tone if you’re an adult child who is
familiar with computers already. We are writing this guide for a broad spectrum of caregivers.
Another way we’ve offended people in the past is in explicitly referring to age and the idea that it might confer
deficits for computer use. There’s no way of avoiding this, and there’s no avoiding using SOME term to describe
an aging population of computer users. We’ve settled on “seniors” (or just “user”), but many people search for terms
such as “elder”, “elderly”, “aged”, “older adults”, “aging parents”, even “old people” in conjunction with “computers”,
“e-mail” (or more commonly “email”), or “technology”. We include these so that people who use different terms
will be able to find this guide. There’s also the problem of identifying the person helping the senior/user (it’s
probably you, if you’re reading this) -- we’ll use “manager”, but people also use “caregiver”, “adult child”, “caretaker”,
“assistant”, etc.
It is unlikely, but even someone experienced might misconfigure a computer. Do not let this keep you from
trying. Be careful when implementing all of this, and note what you are doing as you go along. If your screen
stops working when you are changing the resolution, for instance, your local teenager should be able to bail you
out much more easily if he knows that you had just set your 14-inch monitor to 1920x1200 resolution or that you
had just turned on Mouse Keys.
Much of the following is highly subjective based on our personal experiences. Take it all with a large chunk of salt.
Use what’s useful, ignore what’s not.
Guiding Principles
Remember that a new computer user is learning hundreds of things simultaneously. Most irritating to many are the
hundreds of half-useful metaphors involved in the
typical on-screen interface that we might take for
granted: “directories” or “folders” (and hierarchically
organized subfolders) containing “files”; on-screen
“buttons”; text insertion cursors; mouse focus; even
the coordination of action between the mouse and
the on-screen pointer/cursor. Assuming that’s
not overwhelming, there’s also a warehouse full of
terminology. Reducing the number of distractions
(on-screen and hardware-related), as well as the
number of new concepts that must be absorbed
simultaneously, is key to quick learning.
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Physical Layout
Generally, toss office-based ergonomic constraints out the window. Repetitive strain is an issue when a task is
repeated hundreds of times, not twice.
The keyboard, mouse, and monitor should be easy to see, in a well-lit area without on-screen or behind-screen
glare from excessively bright sources.
• Don’t hesitate to place the monitor as close as possible (within reason) to the user. A 17” monitor close
by is probably better than a 21” monitor far away. Turn up the brightness and contrast on the monitor
itself, and consider an LCD monitor connected via DVI cables, which generally will produce a more
crisp image if configured properly.
• The mouse should have a large area for movement. In fact, the ideal mouse may not be a mouse at all.
Consider a trackball. They are certainly more cumbersome for intensive use, but for anyone with even
the most trivial shakiness or lack of dexterity, they make life much easier. Remember that clicking on
something on-screen necessitates keeping the mouse pointer still while clicking -- this becomes easier
on a trackball, where you can press the button to click without accidentally moving the pointer in the
• Try to place the keyboard in a visible location, somewhat
Elevation is especially important for
hunt-and-peck typists, who need to scan the keyboard
closely with each keystroke. When each keystroke means
a look at the screen, back to the keyboard, and back to the
screen, having the two in very close physical proximity
can save time and a lot of frustration.
• Buy a keyboard without tons of “multimedia” keys -- these
simply present many easy-to-accidentally-click function
keys which might unexpectedly launch the DVD player,
open a web browser, or change the volume. Keyboards
with fewer, harder-to-press keys are generally better -even though they may take more effort to press, you’ll get
fewer accidental keystrokes. Ideally, you can get a slightly
more expensive large-print keyboard. They are even made
in garish, traffic-sign yellow, making them very easy to
• Finally, if you’re going for the ideal set-up, consider
purchasing an all-in-one touch-screen machine. It
won’t obviate the need for a keyboard, but it will make
mice/trackballs less necessary and make the whole user
experience easier, especially once the overall interface is
configured for the user, or when using software designed
for seniors.
For specific hardware references, see the hardware
recommendations, attached, or visit an always-updated version
at http://pawpawmail.com/about/config
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Hardware Configuration (through software)
For the following, we will walk you through the steps we suggest. For specific directions on exactly how to
implement these steps on your computer, please refer to the reference page that matches your operating system.
Monitors: everything starts with screen resolution. If you have an old, bulky, tube-based
(CRT) monitor, this isn’t as much of a concern. CRTs scan a beam of light across the
screen to create an image, and they therefore can be set to many different resolutions
without degradation in quality. But if you have an LCD (flat panel) monitor, this is critically
important. LCDs have actual, physical dots/“pixels” which cannot change size. Though you
may get bigger icons or bigger text immediately by setting your monitor to a resolution of
800x600, you’ll encounter many more problems. More on those in a minute.
For an LCD monitor, check your screen’s “native” resolution. This will be expressed, generally, in
the form “1024 x 768” (representing the screen rectangle of 1024 dots across by 768 dots high). The
screen will most likely not tell you this. Look on the back of the screen for a model number and
search for it on the web. It should be short-ish (i.e., not an 8+-digit serial number). A good search
would include model, brand name, and the words “native resolution” (e.g., “Dell 2407WFP native
resolution”). Review sites and Wikipedia are generally the most helpful for this.
For an LCD monitor, go ahead and set it
to its native resolution. For a CRT, set it
to something that looks comfortable -though generally not lower than 1024 x
768 (if you just want a number to use, we
like 1280 x 1024 for seniors). In either
case, don’t worry about the size of icons
or text too much -- we’ll adjust those
Resolution is important because it
defines how much space the user has to
work with, and too little will result in a
great deal of scrolling around to figure
out what’s going on. It’s important on
an LCD monitor because if you set it
for a non-native resolution, each dot of
the image that the computer is trying
to display will end up either bleeding
over into the next dot (if you’ve set
your resolution too low) or having to
share a screen dot with another (if your
resolution is too high). Either of these
situations blurs or otherwise mangles the
image, and this might not be immediately
apparent until you have a headache from
staring at a distorted view of the screen.
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CRT Monitor
Native Screen Pixel
Image Pixel
Original Image
The first figure shows how the
image would look if the resolution were decreased (i.e.,
a smaller image on the same
size screen)
The resulting image as seen
on screen:
Image with resolution set too low
The second figure shows how
the image would look if the
resolution were increased
(i.e., a larger image on the
same size screen)
The resulting image as seen
on screen:
Image with resolution set too high
The most important GUI setting is text size. Users
can adjust much more easily to a tiny icon, an ugly
and washed out color scheme, and difficult-to-press
on-screen controls than they can to an actual
inability to read what the computer is telling them.
There’s no single, universal setting for this, though
computers are moving in that direction.
Large Fonts, Large Icons
You can set (on various systems, and with varying
specificity) the sizes of the elements of your
Graphical User Interface (“GUI”, or just “UI”).
This may include icon size and type size on your
desktop; the size of window bars, buttons, and
scroll arrows; and the default type size on your
browser. You can also set the color scheme to
something easy to see -- higher contrast, perhaps,
without being so loud that it’s blinding. Icons (and
anything else) will be easier to see on the desktop if
you set the desktop itself to be a muted, somewhat
dark color -- neither black nor white -- and not
a pattern, which turns the whole screen busy,
confusing, and not just a bit ugly. As tempting as
it may be, avoid setting the desktop to a picture of
the grandkids -- an icon will almost certainly get
lost in some location of that photo.
Standard Configuration
Now that the resolution is set, we’ll set the size of the things that display on the screen.
For now, you should be concerned with two settings: those for your file manager (a.k.a. “desktop”, “file explorer”,
“finder”, “windows explorer”), and those for your web browser (e.g., Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera,
Chrome, or the like). Configure your file manager in your system’s control panel (a.k.a. “System Settings”), and
configure your browser within the browser itself. These settings differ wildly (and widely) by browser, so check the
reference pages following for directions on your machine.
There’s not much to configure with the keyboard. We like to set the key repeat delay to the longest possible
setting and the repeat rate very slow (reducing accidental keystrokes). Setting the text cursor blink rate high makes
it more likely that the cursor will be noticed, thereby reinforcing the idea of “focus” that’s frequently a foreign
initial concept. As a bonus, turn off any keyboard shortcuts that you possibly can -- the most insidious ones are
those that attach to specific hardware drivers.
For mice, the trick is to simplify them. You can always get
a Macintosh mouse (they all have only one button, after
all). But you can usually set the right-click button on a
regular, cheap PC mouse to be inactive (or to perform a
left-click). Of course, the senior may need a right-click at
some point, but by that point, she probably won’t need this
guide. By far the simplest thing you can do, though, is to
get your senior a trackball. (mouse and trackball, right)
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A kids’ trackball is great -- or one created for people with disabilities. Specialized trackballs are usually expensive,
though, and a simple trackball will do nicely. Just make sure to use the software provided to disable all the
extraneous buttons or to set those buttons to perform a left-click. Basic controls for individual operating systems
are covered in our quick reference section, but many third-party mice include their own configuration software.
In control panels, you should find a specific group of settings for your device, which may be listed under “Mouse”
or “Trackball”, but will more likely be listed by brand name.
The mouse pointer can be made huge on any system. In fact, this is handy for just about anyone, even without
vision deficits. It makes the pointer much easier to find on a large screen, and it makes all the difference in the
world when you demonstrate a task to someone else. After all, another person’s mouse is difficult to follow for
anyone. Turning on pointer trails might make this even easier, but most people find this very annoying.
Changing the pointer speed is a great way to make it easier to click on small targets. Setting a speed that would be
excruciating to use in an office environment turns out to be just right for someone who uses a mouse infrequently
-- they may not mind taking an extra two seconds to move the pointer across the screen, and that time will pay for
itself when making finer-grained movements.
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Visual Guide to Computer Configuration: Windows XP
NB: Before you change every setting under the sun, it may be helpful to set up another user under Windows XP. Log in as that user and then make
changes with abandon, leaving the original user untouched. Or just jump right on in.
Display Settings
Get to the Display Properties window either by right-clicking on the desktop (then select properties), or by
opening Control Panels and selecting “Display”.
Desktop Background
First, get rid of background pictures, patterns, etc., using the Desktop
tab. Select background image “None”, then select a solid color.
Ideally, you want something dark, calm, and unsaturated (we use the
custom color 50 Red, 70 Green, 100 Blue, but pick whatever you’d
This gets rid of visual distractions and keeps icons from getting lost
in a busy area of a photo background.
Screen Resolution
In the final tab, Settings, you’ll set your screen resolution.
For a CRT display (bulky old TV look-alike), you’ll set it to
something that feels comfortable: make sure to use at least 1024x768.
1280x1024 is a good compromise between having enough room and
having big enough graphic elements.
For an LCD display (flat panel), you should set it to its native
resolution. 1280x1024 is the most likely for a normal-sized monitor,
but look it up -- this will be worth your time. To find out more about
the “native” resolution of an LCD display, see the introduction.
Regardless of your monitor type, set color to the highest allowed by
the resolution that you choose.
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Visual Guide to Computer Configuration: Windows XP
Window Appearance (Text Size, etc.)
For the Appearance
tab, choose Extra
Large Fonts.
Most advanced
configuration will be
under the Effects...
button or the
Advanced button.
Under “Effects”, enable “User large icons”,
and enable “Show window contents while
dragging” (this is slightly slower but less
confusing). Everything else, salt to taste.
Advanced Settings (make everything large)
Advanced Settings is where everything happens. To make fonts really big
everywhere on the system, not just in the menu bars and on the desktop,
you should play around with all of these settings.
You can generally set everything to 16 point type or so. One especially
helpful setting is “Tooltip”. As you can see at the top right, the mouse
pointer is over the Close/X button; as the user hovers, the word “Close”
pops up in big letters. Here it’s set to 24, but there should be no problem
setting it to 60+ so that the user can get a huge explanation when it’s
Save it all as a “Theme”
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You’re done! Save it all as a new theme. This way, you can revert
to a standard Windows XP theme and re-apply the Senior-ready
settings with a single menu.
Visual Guide to Computer Configuration: Windows XP
Keyboard Settings
There’s not much to do here. If you have specific software
that got installed with your keyboard, you may be able to
use it to disable some of the keys that can cause accidental
actions: namely the F1-F12 keys. Best is to get a very
simple keyboard without all the internet and multimedia
keys that manufacturers like to add but very few people
use. Find more information in our product guide.
To make keyboards less error-producing, the easiest fix
is to make repeated key-presses less likely (what the
computer normally does when the user presses and holds
down a key). Do this by setting the key repeat delay to
very long, and the key repeat rate to very slow.
Mouse Settings
Of course, the best mouse isn’t a mouse at all. It’s a
trackball. They’re much less confusing to people dealing
with a pointing device for the first time. With the
software included with many trackballs, you can disable
all the extraneous buttons or set them all to simply click.
Whatever pointing device you’re using, though, it will
help if you set the pointer speed very low (though the
lowest possible setting may be painfully slow even for a
new user). Don’t worry about the other settings.
Finally, choose the pointer theme (on the “Pointers” tab) called “Windows
Standard (extra large)”. This will use all the familiar cursors (pointer,
hourglass, etc.), but they’ll be huge. You may love this setting for your own
computer -- it makes the cursor significantly easier to pick out.
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Visual Guide to Computer Configuration: Windows Vista
NB: Before you change every setting under the sun, it may be helpful to set up another user under Windows Vista. Log in as that user and then
make changes with abandon, leaving the original user untouched. Or just jump right on in.
Windows Vista instructions are nearly identical to Windows XP instructions. Because of this, we will restrict
Vista information primarily to the items which have changed in this version of Windows.
Keyboard and Mouse Settings
Keyboard and mouse settings are nearly identical. Simply set speeds slow. Small pointer tails are nice for making
the pointer stand out. See Windows XP configuration section for more information.
Display Settings
As always, it’s critical to set your LCD screen to its native resolution. See the discussion above in both the
introduction to this document and in Windows XP for more information.
DPI Scaling
Windows Vista adds something very useful to your configuration
toolbox: DPI Scaling. With a single change, you can alter all
text and icon rendering for the whole operating system.
By default, it’s set to 96 DPI; “Larger” is 120. Assuming that
you have a reasonably large monitor, go ahead and set it even
larger: use the “Custom DPI...” button at the bottom-right,
and select 150% (144 DPI).
This change will require a restart (Microsoft seems to have
a fetish for these). Go ahead and apply the change, restart,
and then tinker with the remaining settings. Find DPI scaling
under the Personalization control panel, on the left bar (see
below for more information about Personalization).
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Visual Guide to Computer Configuration: Windows Vista
“Personalization” is Microsoft’s latest way of taking a
perfectly straightforward term (see XP, “Settings” under
“Display”) and making it less understandable in an
attempt to make it sound more like layperson-speak.
To find all the Display Settings that you found under
Windows XP, simply open the “Personalization”
control panel.
Though the DPI settings alone (see above) may be
adequate, if you would like to alter your individual
typeface settings, select “Window Color and
Appearance”, then select “Open classic appearance
properties for more color options”. This is, for some
strange reason, where you find the options for changing
your typefaces and font sizes.
Once you’ve selected this, you’ll be back to the settings,
nearly identical to Windows XP, for window titles,
buttons, etc.
Windows Vista Themes
But hold the phone! Many people have already created Windows
Vista themes which will make this job much easier. Be very careful
with this, as this is a common scam for getting people to download
spyware - so only download themes from a source you trust.
We’ve made our very large theme available on our Configuration
Guide site at http://pawpawmail.com/about/config/
As in XP, this is still an imperfect method for changing the user
interface, because it necessitates the simultaneous change of so
many settings. Read on for Browser configuration, which will
likely be more relevant to everyday use than everything except your
DPI settings.
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Visual Guide to Browser Configuration: Windows Browsers
Internet Explorer
Configuring your operating system to
display large text will not necessarily carry
over into your web browser.
To set any version (6.0-8.0, at least) of
Internet Explorer to show a large typeface
for browsing, select the “View” menu (you
may have to hit the Alt key to get it to
appear, depending on your settings), and
then select menu item “Text Size”. Select
the largest available.
This will work for many web sites. However, some will either experience no effect at all from the change or will
suddenly look poorly-designed. There’s a way around all of this on newer versions (don’t hesitate to upgrade): a
“Zoom” function is always available, and it magnifies the whole web page: text and images.
If you’re using a newer version, though, you may want to disable tabbed browsing (it can be confusing). Go to
Tools -> Internet Options -> General -> Tabs -> Settings, and uncheck Tabbed Browsing.
Internet Explorer, though not really inspiring, has one great advantage for seniors who use their computers only
for the web (or only for a web application): Kiosk Mode. You can set up a desktop shortcut (or a startup item) to
launch IE directly to a web page with the “-k” option. For instance, set your shortcut to (including quotes):
"c:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe" -k "http://mail.pawpawmail.com"
First, upgrade your Firefox browser to the latest. Go to Help ->
Check for Updates...
It’s a bummer that Firefox doesn’t come out of the box with a single
way to make text large. Firefox prefers the Zoom method. You can,
in theory, set a default font, or define a default style for web pages.
This will work poorly or infrequently. You can add Zoom buttons to
the toolbar with an add-on (e.g., “Zoom Toolbar”). We haven’t come
across an add-on which does a great job of remembering a default
zoom for all pages. Let us know if there’s that one you like.
Other Browsers (Opera, Chrome, etc.)
You’re not stuck with IE or Firefox. Opera is fantastically quick and crisp, and Chrome is nice and simple. But
until either one comes out with features that absolutely compel their use, stick with IE or Firefox: there are just
more people out there who will be able to troubleshoot these more common browsers if you run into trouble.
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Visual Guide to Computer Configuration: Macintosh OS X
NB: Before you change every setting under the sun, it may be helpful to set up another user under System Preferences > System > Accounts. Log
in as that user and then make changes with abandon, leaving the original user untouched. Or just jump right on in. You may experience slight
differences between Mac OS versions. For most aspects of this guide, anything 10.2 or greater should look substantially similar.
The Macintosh is a strange beast. It’s both the the simplest and the most difficult to configure. Its interface
is well-suited for significant disabilities -- it’s light-years ahead of Windows -- but for simple tweaking, some
features are conspicuously un-configurable.
Because the Mac requires many separate settings to get our desired effect (make everything larger, remove extraneous
stuff ), you’ll probably want to experiment, and it’s best to keep your active account clean of these tweaks so you
can get back to normal settings quickly. Go ahead and set up an account as your first step (see “Parental Controls”,
below, for instructions). Log onto that account, and we’ll tackle all the individual aspects of configuration.
User Interface Settings
Screen Resolution
The first thing to do is to make sure that the screen
resolution is set to the native resolution of the screen if
you have an LCD screen. Because of the tighter binding
between software and hardware on the Mac, this will
most likely already be set.
If your screen has a blocky look to it, you may have
changed this in the past in an attempt to make text larger.
Please read above in the introduction to this document
for information about native screen resolutions. If you’d
like to make changes, find the screen at right by going to
the “dock” at the bottom of the screen and select System
Preferences > Hardware > Displays.
Keyboard Configuration
There’s very little to do with the keyboard.
Turning Key Repeat off is a good way
to minimize mis-typing. If you’d like to
keep repeating on, set the Repeat Rate
to slow.
Find Keyboard settings under System
Preferences > Hardware > Keyboard and
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Keyboard Shortcuts
Continue to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab.
Eliminating all but a very few keyboard
shortcuts may help in eliminating
unexpected actions.
By default, uncheck everything. Leave
only what you know will be used. You
can always restore the defaults later.
Pointing device control
As always, the best mouse isn’t a mouse
at all. It’s a trackball (see product guide).
They are much less confusing for anyone
dealing with a pointing device for the
first time.
Whether you’re using a mouse, a
trackball, or the trackpad attached to a
laptop, though, it will help if you set the
pointer speed very slow. Do the same
with the scroll speed (for the scroll wheel
if you have one) and the double-click
A trackpad presents the most difficulty
for new users. In addition to being
more confusing, it’s easy to activate
it accidentally with the wrists while
trying to type. To make it the most
straightforward, disable clicking via
tapping on the trackpad. And select
both “ignore” boxes to minimize the
chances of accidental input.
Cursor / Pointer Size
The Universal Access pane under System Preferences
provides some great advanced features for users with
significant impairments; these are beyond the scope of this
We’ll look only at the Mouse and Trackpad tab, which
allows you to increase the size of the mouse cursor. You can
set the cursor to such a large size that it’s almost impossible
to miss.
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Finder Settings
Unfortunately, Apple does not provide a simple way to change the overall
system font. Because of this, you will likely be unsuccessful in changing the
entire user interface to be large-type-friendly. Your best bet is to change how
files are displayed in the Finder. (even better, just use the Dock! (see below)).
“Finder” is the name of the Macintosh file explorer / file browser; it is always
running, and it’s generally the first thing you see when starting up your
Macintosh. Open up a new window in the Finder (File > New Window) and
then open a familiar folder. Show the View Options (View > Show View
Options) as seen at right. From here, you can set the icon size to enormous
(128x128 - see the calculator at right), and you can set the text size to show in
Finder windows (16pt is usually good). To get these settings to apply to other
folders, when you’re finished, click “Use as Defaults”.
We hesitate to recommend a third-party
software application with which we are
only somewhat familiar, but we have had
some good luck in configuring the interface
to a greater degree using TinkerTool. You
get much more control over fonts, but
unfortunately no control over the Menu Bar
itself. Find out more at http://www.bresink.
de/osx/TinkerTool.html We’ve had good
but brief experiences with this, so of course
use at your own risk.
Configuring the Dock
In System Preferences, select Personal >
Dock. Set the dock icon size to be large
enough to see but not so large that it takes
up half the screen. It is sometimes helpful
to place the Dock to the Left or Right
on a smaller screen, or on one that has
“widescreen” dimensions, as Macintosh
screens are typically short in resolution.
Maginification is helpful as an additional
cue to what is currently selected.
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Parental Controls
It’s a good idea in general to set up a new account and make the modifications to that account. This will leave
your original account (the one you use for administering the system) untouched as you experiment. This holds
especially true of Parental Controls, which necessitate some sacrifice of functionality in exchange for ease of use.
Under System Preferences, select System
> Users. Once you unlock (at bottom
left) to make changes, you will be able to
create a new account (use the “+” button)
and then Enable Parental Controls for
that account. Then click on “Open
Parental Controls...” or go to the Parental
Controls pane under System Preferences.
Notably, the Parental Controls, which can
be set up on any new account, make the
actual use of the computer much easier for
the user. There’s a trade-off, however, in that
the parental controls don’t just border on
insulting. They step boldly over that line into
a morass of restrictions which could be quite
condescending toward a parent.
However, used with a light touch (not, for
instance, hiding profanity from the user’s
dictionary or restricting his or her computer
use to times before bedtime on school
nights -- these are real examples), it’s a great
single point of modification for making the
user experience easier all around. And the
restrictions may well be wanted -- if the
computer is used for only one or two purposes,
and simplicity is paramount, there may be a
significant advantage in hiding unwanted web
sites and applications.
The “Simple Finder” (pictured at left) is the best part of this. The Simple
Finder allows the user to launch programs with a single click, blissfully
avoiding double-clicks, which are the bane of existence for anyone with even
moderately diminished coordination. Try double-clicking with your elbow
if it’s not immediately apparent how critical this is.
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Experiment with Parental Controls. Different users will have significantly
different preferences regarding these simplifications. And remember that
many Finder-related problems can be solved simply by using only the Dock,
which you can fill with a limited range of applications.
Visual Guide to Browser Configuration: Macintosh Browsers
Safari is generally the easiest answer on the Macintosh.
Though you won’t get perfect results just by changing
the standard font, many sites will look much better this
way. Here, we’ve changed both fonts to 24-point, which
is quite large. To access Appearance, use the “Safari”
menu, then select “Preferences...”. The second tab is
Under the Advanced tab, you can also change the
minimum size font that is displayed, which will override
the specific settings of any web page that you view.
We’ve found that sizes in the 14-18 point range tend to
avoid the smallest configurations while still preserving
most of the overall layout.
Be careful, though, of choosing settings which are
simply too large for the web page to be useable. Safari
Zooms in much like Firefox (see above under Windows
browsers), by increasing text size rather than enlarging
the whole screen, producing similar effects to what you
would see through these configurations.
Setting any of these too large will result in a web page
view like the one at right, so make sure that you check
the results of your configuration on your favorite sites.
Other Browsers (Firefox, Opera, etc.)
See above in Windows Browsers for more information on Firefox, which is a perfectly acceptable solution on the
Mac. Opera has one overwhelming advantage: a real zoom, which simply increases the size of the entire page
without changing formatting in any way.. However, it’s generally less of a beginner browser.
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Simplified Hardware Guide
Some hardware choices border on insulting: huge, bright keys and the like. However, more people are relieved
than insulted at this easier-to-use hardware. We have tried many, but not all, of these products. Please let us know
your personal favorites.
All keyboards, mice, and trackballs mentioned below are USB-based, and therefore should work on any computer
running Windows XP or later, or Mac OS X of any version.
Look for keyboards without many unnecessary keys. Keys which are harder to press are generally better -- they
reduce incorrect keystrokes. Keyboards are available both for the visually impaired (with larger letters on the keys)
and for those with mild coordination deficits (larger keys).
Apple makes a simple, basic keyboard in black and white.
Keys-U-See makes a standard-sized keyboard which is very, very bright, with big letters.
Crayola and SpongeBob make very simplified keyboards with large keys and bright colors.
Two more expensive but conservative-looking big-key beyboard options:
Finally, for the cheapest solution, check out big-letter stickers for the keys!
Good and cheap, though far from fancy, is the basic Logitech trackball
Two editions of what seem to be the same super-simplified, huge trackball exist, though they are somewhat
expensive and may not be in heavy production (long wait times at some distributors): the “Crayola Kids” and
“BigTrack” trackballs
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If you’ve had an experience configuring a computer for an older computer user, please share it with us -- we’d love
feedback on hardware, software, etc. We would like for this to be a good, ongoing reference, and we’ll be sure to
correct any problems you mention to us in our next edition.
Any trademarks are the property of their obvious owners. All images contained in this document are either
self-produced or are copied directly from the references provided. Use these tips at your own risk. They’ve worked
for us, but the combinations of hardware, software, and users are far too numerous to test.
This document was produced by PawPawMail.com (a simple e-mail service for seniors and their caregivers). Find
out more about us in a recent New York Times article titled “Easier E-mail for the Older Generation”, which
covers both PawPawMail and e-mail for seniors in general.: http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/
The document may be freely distributed as is, unmodified and in its entirety.
Please visit our site to get the latest version of this document, or to get more information on how to set up a
computer for seniors: http://pawpawmail.com/about/config/
PawPawMail.com User Interface
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