by Steve Kelley, CVRT

One of the most common challenges people with visual impairment report, is reading on the computer after a change in vision. Computer users accustomed to accessing the computer without the need for magnification, often have no idea what resources are available for low vision computer users. Clients are often pleasantly surprised to learn about the variety of screen magnifiers, and text-to-speech (screen reader) options available within their web browsers or operating systems.

Most of the popular web browsers used to access the Internet have options to magnify webpages, and in some cases, read the text on them as well. In almost all cases the screen magnification, and or screen reading, is limited to just the webpages being viewed in the browser. This means, for example, that you may be reading an article in Wikipedia, in a web browser such as Internet Explorer, magnified to make the text more readable.

If, however, you go back to the Windows desktop, or to another software application such as Microsoft Word, those areas of the computer will not be magnified. It’s also worth noting, that even in the web browser application, it is usually just the webpage being magnified—none of the menu items on the browser tool bar will be magnified.

Web Browser Options

Let’s first look at the web browser options for computers running the Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

Internet Explorer

internet explorer logo

Internet Explorer (IE) is the web browsing application which comes with the Windows operating system. To magnify a webpage in IE:

  • Press and hold the CTRL key. Then press the plus (+) key to increase magnification, or minus (–) to decrease it.
  • Alternately, if you use a mouse with a scroll wheel on it, press and hold the CTRL key while moving the scroll wheel forward for magnification, backward to reduce magnification.

Firefox for Windows

firefox logo

Mozilla Firefox is a free web browser, popular for both Windows and Mac computers (download from The Windows version of Firefox uses keyboard shortcuts similar to Internet Explorer:

  • Press and hold the CTRL key, then press the (plus) + key to increase magnification, or minus (–) to decrease it
  • Alternately, if you use a mouse with a scroll wheel on it, press and hold the CTRL key while moving the scroll wheel forward for magnification, backward to reduce magnification.

Firefox also includes these additional features:

  • Press and hold the CTRL key, then press the 0 key to return to the default standard viewing mode without magnification.
  • From the menu, select View, then Zoom, then Zoom Text Only, to magnify only the text on a given webpage.

Firefox on the Mac

Firefox works the same on the Mac:

  • Instead of pressing and holding the CTRL key in the directions above, on the Mac, press and hold the Command key.
  • To zoom in and out, press and hold the Command key and scroll forward and backward on the mouse scroll.

Additional Accessibility Option Using Firefox

Firefox, for both Windows and Mac, can add another level of accessibility for reading webpages through free Ad ons. Select Tools from the Firefox menu, and you’ll discover the Add-on menu item. There are at least four Extensions available for Firefox that will make reading easier. These include:

Each of these extensions adds some text-to-speech capability to the Firefox web browser. With each, the user is able to select text using the mouse, then access a button or mouse menu (using the mouse right click) item to have the selected text read aloud.

Of the four mentioned above, this user found the Google Text-to-Speech to be the simplest to use, and by default, had the clearest reading voice. Once text was highlighted on the webpage with the mouse, a green circular button appeared above the selection. When the button was clicked, the text was read aloud, with each word being read, highlighted in yellow.

Google Chrome

chrome logo

Google’s web browser, also free, called Chrome ( download Chrome) also has screen magnification, and uses the same shortcuts listed above for Firefox. With the CTRL key held down, press plus (+) to increase magnification, minus (-) to decrease magnification, and 0 to reset the magnification to the default.

Like Firefox, Google Chrome has Extensions that may be downloaded free from the Google Webstore. The SpeakIt! extension, not surprisingly, works much the same as the Google Text-to-Speech extension for Firefox mentioned above. You highlight the text to read with the mouse, click the SpeakIt! icon to have the text read aloud. SpeakIt! has setting options to permit the speech rate and the reading voice to be changed.

Google Chrome for the Mac

The Chrome browser is available for the Mac operating system 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or newer. Follow the same keyboard shortcuts for magnification listed above but use the Command key instead of the CTRL key.

Magnification from the Operating System

Using the magnification built into the various web browsers highlighted above is a convenient way to increase the size of the print on a webpage quickly. Both Windows and Mac users have another magnification option built into the computer’s operating system that may be used instead of these web browser features, or in conjunction with them.

Windows & and Screen Magnification

Windows 7 and 8 have a screen magnifier that may be turned on by holding down the Windows key and pressing the plus (+) key to zoom in or the minus (-) key to zoom out. To close the magnifier application, press the Windows key, and then press the Escape (Esc) key.

The operating system magnifier will magnify the entire screen in Full Screen mode. You will find when using the Windows magnifier, everything on the screen is magnified, not just the webpage in the browser but also the menus on the browser toolbar as well. If you open another application, such as Microsoft Word or email, you will find this too is magnified and perhaps easier to read.

Mac Magnification Option

The Mac too has a built in magnifier called Zoom. To turn Zoom on for the first time, open System Preferences and look for the Accessibility icon on newer Macs, or Universal Access on older Macs. Here you will find several accessibility features, such as VoiceOver and Zoom. Click the checkbox to turn Zoom on. Once turned on, use the keyboard shortcut of holding down the Command and Option keys together and hitting the plus (+) key to zoom in or the minus (-) key to zoom out.

If using a mouse with a scroll wheel, holding the Command and Option keys and scrolling forward will zoom in and scrolling backward will zoom out. To toggle Zoom off or on press Command and Option keys with the 8 key.

As you can see, adding a bit more magnification to your computer when reading on the Internet may not be difficult or costly at all—chances are some of the solutions may already be on your computer right now!