Making Mobile Devices and Computers Easier to Use for Seniors — Part Two — Text and Icon Enhancements

Woman working on laptop in park

This is the second of a three-part series on ways to make digital devices easier to use for seniors. It was originally published by Community Technology Network (CTN) and is reprinted here by permission of CTN executive director Kami Griffiths. All images in the piece are courtesy of CTN as well. Find the first part on magnification here.

As seniors continue to make up a growing portion of today's digital society, it is important that they be able to confidently use their devices. We hope that the following how-to directions will be useful for librarians to help their patrons see text and images on their screens more clearly. This part discusses enlarging text and graphics and also making things on screens higher in contrast so that patrons can more easily see them.

Boost the Size of Icons and Text

With the release of iPhone 6, Apple finally joined the trend of manufacturing smartphones with huge screens. It included a handy way to enlarge text and icons to take advantage of the larger display — and happens to be a great way to improve visual accessibility for seniors.

Activate Display Zoom (distinct from temporary magnification) via Settings > Display & Brightness > View.

Activate Display Zoom on an iPhone

The view is set to Standard by default. Tapping on Zoomed will enlarge icons and text displayed system wide.

Zoomed display will enlarge iPhone icons and text displayed system wide

There is currently no way to permanently increase the size of icons on iPad devices without using temporary magnification.

To boost the size of text, go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Text Size and then drag the slider all the way to the right. To make it even bigger, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Larger Text, then set the switch to On.

On Android devices, increased the font size via Settings > Display > Font size.

Increasing the font size on Android devices

Unlike Apple, different Android hardware manufacturers each release their own proprietary versions of launchers — the components of the user interface related to the app drawer and home screens — and most do not include a way to permanently increase the size of icons.

GO Launcher is an excellent solution that you can download to overcome this. Its rich set of customization features includes a way to enlarge icons, making it ideal for elderly users though its typical users are younger.

Once the app is installed, to change the size of icons displayed on home screens, go to GO Settings > Personalization > Icon > Icon size and tap Recommended size (big). You can also drag the slider to play with the icon size until it looks good on the specific device.

Use GO Launcher to increase icon sizes on Android devices

To enlarge icons on the desktops of Windows devices, right-click anywhere on the desktop and go to View > Large icons.

Enlarge icons on the desktops of Windows devices

To increase the system font size, go to Control Panel > Display and pick Medium (125 percent) or Larger (150 percent).

Make Text High-Contrast

Displaying text in high contrast is another effective way to improve readability for seniors. You can create this effect on iOS devices by going to Settings > General > Accessibility > Invert Colors and setting the switch to On.

Displaying text in high contrast on iOS devices

On devices running Android 5.0 Lollipop and higher, activate color inversion by checking the box in Settings > Accessibility > Inverted rendering.

Displaying text in high contrast on devices running Android 5.0 and higher

Enable high contrast on Windows computers by pressing the Windows key + U, clicking Set up High Contrast, and checking the box next to Turn on or off High Contrast.

Set up high contrast on Windows computers

Once high contrast is enabled, pressing Left Shift + Left Alt + PrtScr toggles color inversion on and off. If the senior is using a laptop, the Fn key may also be required in the key-press combination.

Additionally, you can install Google's High Contrast browser extension in Chrome to invert the colors of webpages, without the need to adjust system settings.

install Google's High Contrast browser extension in Chrome

Once the extension is installed, enable the effect by clicking the icon next to the address bar and then setting the switch to On. Another way is to press Shift + Alt + F11.

Image 1: Osetrik / Shutterstock