Changing the font in Word 2010 comments

Back again. Long time no see.

This time I needed to annotate some poetry, and decided to use the comment facility in Word. However, the font size of comments is very small, so here is how to make it larger.

In Word 2010, use Ctrl+Alt+Shift+s to bring up the styles menu.

Select the ‘modify’ icon at the bottom of the dialog box.

Select Balloon Text.

Change the text as desired, and OK your way back out.

This method is beautifully described and illustrated here. Thanks Tech-recipes.


Putting sharps, flats and naturals into Word 2010

My first post for a very long time. I have now moved onto Word 2010 and am trying to work out how to modify work for a Y10 student who is studying music among other things.

Today’s problem is how to put sharps, flats and naturals into Word documents. Sharps cause less problems because the hash (#) key appears on the keyboard (unless you are a purist, in which case read on!). Naturals and flats are more difficult. The best solution I have found so far is to use the unicode values. To do this, enter them by typing the code in Word, then pressing Alt-X. The flat, natural, and sharp symbols are 266d, 266e, and 266f, respectively. I found this at,2817,1858698,00.asp, thanks.

If you want to set this up more automatically, then an autocorrect entry can do this. A description of how to do this is given here. By highlighting the symbol in an existing document and then going to the autocorrect menu, you can set up an entry (e.g. -flat). The highlighted symbol should be showing in the table. Don’t forget to change the button above to formatted text. Then just add the entry and next time you go into Word, when you type B-flat, it will automatically put in the symbol.

Magnifiers and Screen Readers

I chose this unit for two reasons. Firstly because I work with a Visually Impaired student who uses SuperNova, which is a magnifier and screen reader, so I thought that I knew a little bit about this topic which might help. Secondly, so that I would learn more about how to use it, which might come in useful if my student’s sight deteriorates. How wrong could I be!



I am very familiar with SuperNova’s magnification as my student uses this feature all of the time. The user has the options to choose between:

  • a full screen magnification (everything on the screen is magnified, so only part of the screen is visible)
  • a magnifying glass (as you move the mouse over the screen it is like moving a magnifying glass over it. The full screen is always visible in its small form, but the area that the mouse points to is magnified)
  • split screen (half of the screen is magnified – the user chooses which half, top, bottom, left, right – and the other half is ‘normal’ size)

The level of magnification is controlled with function keys and has a huge range of options including fractional magnification, so that as well as having twice the size, 3x the size, etc., it is possible to have 1.2x, 1.5x etc, providing the user with the option of having the magnification at the exact level they need.

Navigating around the magnified screen, in full screen mode, can be easily done using the mouse or using Ctrl+left/right arrow. If you repeatedly press the arrow keys then the movement across the screen is quicker, this is very useful when reading across a document or webpage, as it provides a true smooth horizontal movement which is difficult to achieve with the mouse.

Windows 7 Magnifier

I had not used Windows 7 Magnifier before, but I have to say that I was very impressed. It too has options for magnification: full screen, magnifying glass and docked (a fixed ribbon at the top of the screen displays a magnified version of the area indicated by the mouse). The available levels of magnification are simply 2x, 3x, etc. But it has the option (using Ctrl+Alt+space bar) to briefly zoom out to see where on the screen you are. The full ‘normal’ screen is shown with the magnified area clearly visible and the rest of the screen greyed out. For my student, who uses 4x, 5x, 6x, and even 7x magnification when his eyes are tired, this would be useful as he sometimes ‘loses’ where he is on the screen and doesn’t know which way to go to find what he is looking for. On the down side, although the list of shortcuts says that you can pan using Ctrl+Alt+left/right arrow, when I tried it, the screen display turned through 90° instead!

Comments and Conclusion on Magnifiers

Magnifiers are fantastic for people with a visual impairment, although they are not without their own difficulties. If you use the full screen magnification then navigating around the screen is not easy. Whether using the mouse or keyboard it is easy to feel nauseous with text continually moving on the screen. Whichever view is used, only part of the screen in visible in an enlarged format, so that ‘reading ahead’, which most people do to aid correct reading, is not possible. In the school context, many screen activities are still not viable, such as playing interactive games, as important parts of the screen can not be viewed at the same time.

There are pros and cons to each of these screen magnifiers, but the biggest differential is that Windows 7 Magnifier comes free with the operating system.

Screen Readers

My student is very reluctant to use the speech features of SuperNova so I am not as familiar with these aspects. I encourage him to listen to his work to see whether he has written what he intended, as a proofreading aid. I now realise that we do not use the screen reader facilities at all. I have tried using both SuperNova and NVDA as screen readers with very little joy.

My student struggles to find out information on the internet as he uses such a high level of magnification, so I wondered whether using a screen reader might be of benefit. Consequently, after I had been through all of the things on the Load2Learn self learning station I downloaded NVDA and tried to use the internet. A voice in my ear kept telling me lots of things I didn’t understand and none of the things I wanted to know. Youtube has video clips showing everything, doesn’t it? So I spent quite a while looking there. Youtube has video clips showing everything except how to use a screen reader on the internet! I kept telling myself that it must be possible as a lot of people do this, but…

I decided to try to use SuperNova. One of the technicians had written a ‘Noddy’s Guide to SuperNova’ so I thought that might help. I tried reading a Wikipedia entry for World War 2. SuperNova would read me every link, but could I get it to read me the text in the middle of the page, the bit that you go there to read? No.

Having failed to read a web page, I thought that I would try using NVDA to navigate my computer, write and proofread a document. I did better at this task, probably because I know the structure of my files and the keystrokes to do things without needing to put the mouse in the right place. This was an interesting experience too, as it showed up (as did one video, Introducing JAWS) the fact that screen readers use a lot of jargon, eg combo boxes, which the user needs to understand in order to know what the screen reader is describing.

When listening to the document I was typing, I found it hard to understand what NVDA was saying, so I switched from the default voice, which improved matters a little. Unlike WordTalk, which tries to read whatever is in the document, NVDA tells you that there is a spelling mistake before trying to read it, which is useful if it is a mistake and not a word that is just not in its dictionary. During the proofreading process I kept losing the knowledge of where the insertion point was, so I was continually making matters worse. At least this aspect is one that I am sure would improve with practise.

I also tried navigating the structured and non-structured documents provided using NVDA. Here the structure helped with working out how many sections there were as each heading was announced as such. Whereas, with the non-structured document, the headings looked like headings, but to the screen reader they were just text like all the rest of the characters. The same was true when trying to read bookmarked and non-bokmarked pdf versions of the files. Navigating was still not easy. NVDA gives a lot of information, but seems to miss out some of the facts I was listening for. When trying to navigate the structured Word document by jumping from one heading to the next, I used the shortcut Ctrl+Alt+Home to select the browse object, and I was told ‘toolbar, select browse object, drop down button grid, select the next slash browse object’. When I used the down arrow I was told ‘table table 2 rows 1 column’ or if I pressed the right arrow ‘table table 1 rows 2 columns’ and after that, nothing. Selecting an option simply returned me to the document with no comment on what I had selected. How do you know that you have selected browse by heading (which is what you need to easily navigate from one heading to the next)?

Comments and Conclusion for Screen Readers

I had so little success using screen readers that I do not feel that I can make any meaningful comparison between the free and the commercial software. I have worked with technology all my life, and am very familiar with taking a product and finding my way around using the user manuals, help guides and now YouTube. I found it very frustrating that with screen readers I was unable to do this. Clearly they are useable, as many blind and visually impaired people use them very effectively. I felt that I never got to grips with the basics of how they work or the terminology they use, which is vital to understanding the information they are trying to convey. If I or my student ever need to use a screen reader then I hope that we can either find an easier guide to using them, or preferably someone who can give a lesson/demonstration and answer the many questions that arise.

Using speech recognition.

This blog is being written using Windows Speech Recognition.  When I first tried Speech Recognition I did not have a very good microphone.  I found it very difficult to enter anything using speech recognition.  I have since borrowed the headset from a friend and to found the difference it makes amazing.

When I was much younger, I used to work in a computer company research and development establishment.  One of the projects they were working on was speech recognition.  At that point, the only way to have your speech recognised was to imitate the voice of the developer.  Speech recognition has come a long way since then.  To be able to speak and have a computer input your words into Word was an impossible dream.  I am very impressed that this dream is now true (after a fashion).

As well as inputting text into Word, you can use the speech recognition to control the computer.  Although sometimes the process is long winded, it does work.  It is much quicker for me to use a keyboard and I find editing text frustrating, but I can imagine that for someone who cannot type it would be wonderful.

Arguments for speech recognition:

  1. It is very useful for people who struggle to write or type
  2. Another way of inputting text and controlling the laptop

Arguments against speech recognition:

  1. For me, it is much quicker to type, use the keyboard and use the mouse
  2. In spite of training, the speech recognition system makes a lot of mistakes.
  3. Correcting mistakes is possible but difficult
  4. It is very cumbersome both to correct mistakes and to navigate around the Computer System using speech recognition.
  5. Personally, I struggle to think what I want to say, so I’m much happier to think while I type.

The conclusion

Speech the recognition has come a long way in the last 30 years. However, it is still cumbersome to use and makes mistakes.  For someone who is adept at using a mouse and keyboard it is very frustrating and slow.  Dictation does not suit my style of working, I struggle to think of what to say.  I are much happier to think while I type.  I then edit and revise the typed text, which I can do easily with the keyboard.  Because I struggle to edit have speech recognition, I’ve tried to finalise what I want to say in my mind first, which I also find difficult to do.

Having spent a bit longer using speech recognition, I have found that there are things I cannot do with it.  I cannot successfully do everything within WordPress that I would like to do.  I struggled to use Internet Explorer as well as I would like to and I frequently resort to using the keyboard and mouse when the frustration levels rise too high.  I also end up saying things slightly differently as I will eventually give up and use one of the suggestions that it makes when I cannot get it to accept the words I wanted to use.

Involving others?

Who have I engaged through my involvement on the course? So far, I have not involved as many people as I would have liked to, or as many people as I intend to. I have found that the commitment of time to my day job and completing the course has not allowed me the extra time required to actually put all that I have learned into practice at school.

Up to now I have involved:

  • my husband, who has listened to audio files to provide me with feedback on the voices.
  • my student, who has used some of the cue cards that I have developed, although he is very reluctant to use any keyboard shortcuts at all. I am also providing him with electronic copies of written texts where ever possible so that he can listen to them using the SuperNova speech facilities, but again, he is very reluctant to do that even though his reading speed is slow, his eyes tire quickly and he often asks me to read if I am there! I also recommend that he uses the SuperNova speech facilities to help him with proofreading, however, he is reluctant to do that either.
  • ‘the base’, a group of people who do some modification work for me. I have tried to improve our transfer of work by suggesting the use of Dropbox or equivalent. As yet, this hasn’t come into effect due to the LA not allowing access to such cloud storage sites. I am hoping that we may be able to use a different file sharing facility instead.

I, on the other hand, find keyboard shortcuts, Dropbox, audio proofreading, listening to long texts, etc. very useful, so I have every intention of continuing to promote them whenever I can.

Print disabilities

What is a print disability? It is a difficulty reading standard print. Who has a print disability? People with this problem include dyslexic, partially sighted or blind learners. It may also include those with a physical disability such that they struggle to hold a book or turn the pages.

 How do these difficulties manifest themselves?

Blind and partially sighted students cannot access ordinary written books unless they are first modified to very large print or Braille. Dyslexic students struggle with normal text as the letters may move or merge. Modifications such as increasing the font size, line spacing and background colour may improve the situation.  Those with a physical disability may struggle to hold books or turn pages. Providing the same text in an audio version is a good alternative for many with these problems.

Print disabilities do not only affect students when they are reading books though. Other affected areas are:

  • reading the (interactive) whiteboard
  • reading magazines/newspapers
  • accessing worksheets
  • reading music
  • reading computer screens. This in turn can cause problems with:
  • doing research on the internet,
  • seeing the ribbons/tabs to use Word or other software
  • proofreading typed work
  • accessing interactive games and activities

In everyday life there are also many other obstacles for those with a print disabilities, including:

  • reading arrival and departure boards at stations and airports
  • reading screen displays on phones

 How does this affect me?

I work with a Year 9 student with a visual impairment, so my job is determined by his print (and life) disability. Currently, his impairment mainly involves his detail vision. His peripheral vision is not too bad, so he can still navigate round school and, so far, with some minor adjustments (such as coloured/larger balls) take part in school sports. Consequently, the main difficulties lie with accessing the curriculum.

All members of the teaching staff need to be aware of his disability and requirements. Work needs to be modified so that he can access it, which means that lessons and homework need to be planned in advance. As his vision deteriorates, it makes sense to provide more written texts in an audio format to reduce his visual fatigue where possible.

Taking part in this course has given me new strategies to use and reinforced the need to use pre-existing tactics. The Load2Learn site has provided me with accessible textbooks, which greatly eases the task of modifying work.

What I have learned on the course so far

I have learned so much on this course. Although I worked in the computing industry when I was younger, I have to admit to not keeping up with the current trends since I left. Consequently, all of the software we have learned about during the course has been new to me. The benefit of this is that I now feel that, in some respects, I have been dragged (screaming and kicking) into the twenty first century. The downside is that it has been a very long and hard journey.

The Main Points

The main thing that I have learned is that there are so many really useful free bits of software available. I knew that the VI student I work with had specialised software to read his work to him. I had no idea that WordTalk existed, which would read my Word documents to me. Or Balabolka, which will read anything that you paste into it. The former is something that I now regularly use to proofread the work that I am modifying – I listen to what I have produced and follow the original to hear any mistakes that have been made during the scanning or typing process.

Before I attended the one day course, I had no idea about structured documents and their virtues, nor did I realise that pdfs had a text to speech facility or that Word documents and pdfs could both reflow.

The only synthetic voices that I had met were the very robotic ones, I had not met Brian or Amy, Jess or Jack. It was lovely to know that there were more natural voices available.

I now understand more about what DAISY is and where AMIS fits in.

Having spent time in schools with mice that don’t work well, I was already familiar with many of the basic keyboard shortcuts, and have always enjoyed finding out new ones to use. Consequently, it has been great having an excuse to keep finding out new shortcuts.

As the student I work with has found reading more difficult, I have struggled to get him to listen to audio books (it took a couple of years of suggesting/nagging) but he has now discovered that listening to novels is quite enjoyable. It is good, therefore, to know that I can use WordTalk and Balabolka to produce mp3 files from Word documents which may help him, as he moves into Y10, to keep up with the reading that he and his peers need to do as part of their GCSE courses.

Another positive aspect of the course has been the Webinars and the opportunity to collaborate with other participants. It would be useful to have such collaboration for our students as well as for us.

The Downside

I do understand that the whole course is about computer technologies and I have really enjoyed the course on the whole. I am very glad that I can now tweet and blog with the best of them. I am also very grateful to have gained all the knowledge I have, to enable me to provide more format options for my student. However, it has been a lot of hard work, much more than the suggested 5 hours per week, even though I come from a computer literate background, which should help. This, on top of a full time job, has been difficult to fit in. I know at least one person who has not completed the course because of the computing knowledge required. If future courses are run, I feel that there should be a slower introduction to the technological aspects of the course and a safety net for those who are struggling. Many teachers and teaching assistants are not computing specialists, but they would still benefit from the concepts taught on this course. Another option would be to run a precourse for those who lack confidence. It is very daunting when you start to download masses of software, or publish a blog which is visible to anyone on the web,and what do you do when you ask Google but don’t understand anything it comes back with?


I have enjoyed the course so far – and I am looking forward to completing the optional units. They sound as though they may be even more useful than some of the core units. What I need now is time to actually put all the things I have learned into my everyday practice.  So far, I have put a lot of time into completing each unit and keeping the day job going with no spare time to put the two together, although I did produce a Word template which I now regularly use. I need to sort out some better voices and start producing some audio files as well as modified print ones.

I am glad to know how to use Twitter and how to write a blog, but it remains to be seen whether I continue with either of these activities once the course has finished. On the other hand, I may well continue reading ebooks for relaxation.