Apple’s Blind Side

I recently bought my dad a new 20″ iMac and today I set it up for him. This has been a long time coming, going back at least three years that he has suffered under viruses and adware on Windows systems that would grind his computer to a halt. Up until now, he’s been replacing each system every 9-12 months with another $500 generic PC, but since each one used the same version of windows, the cycle would repeat.

His iMac is probably the sixth or seventh mac I’ve set up out of a box and the experience is great as always. I loaded the programs he used on his PC (almost everything was browser-based, and on firefox, so not too big of a change) and functional replacements were tossed into the dock (TextEdit instead of Notepad.exe, etc).

There was one big sticking point though. He is in his 60s and runs large fonts in Windows (which is easy to change) in order to see everything easily. I saw his PC boot up and figured no prob, we’ll just mimic it in Leopard since Apple has consistently been a forerunner in the Accessibility options.

And here’s where things get surprising.

This is the System Preferences window:

So I tried out the Accessibility pane since that seemed the obvious place:

This preference pane looks fantastic — large fonts, high contrast — perfect for what I need, but looking under the “Seeing” options, I don’t see anything except optional key modifiers to temporarily zoom the interface. Nothing about fonts, nothing about zooming without requiring some panning when zoomed in. I just want the entire OS to look like that pane, but I’m not seeing the option.

I go back to the all preferences and think “Appearance” must be it then. On a Windows box that’s where you see fonts show up so I bet it is there. Let’s look:

hmm. Nothing about fonts. I try the OS X help and there are no results for “large fonts”. I can’t believe there isn’t a simple option, so I google around. Any combination of “large fonts” and “os x” and “visibility” and “leopard” ends with thousands of links to articles about the utility FontBook. After a couple hours, I only came away with the suggestion that I set the fonts large in every single app my father might use, and if I wanted the Apple menubar along the top any more legible, there is some sort of plist xml hack to bump things up in Finder, using an obscure program.

Did I miss something obvious somewhere? I asked several longtime mac using friends where one would change the entire system to 24 or 36pt fonts by default and everyone initially thought like I did, that it must be in the Accessibility preferences, but none of my friends could find it either.

This is one of the few times I have to say Windows has it right (and has had right for many years) — it is extremely easy to find a way to bump the entire OS to larger more legible fonts with just a couple clicks, but I’m not seeing it anywhere on a Mac running Leopard.

Did I miss something obvious?

Published by mathowie

I build internet stuff.

16 replies on “Apple’s Blind Side”

  1. Yo Matt,
    I agree; a BIG issue. At the senior center where I am the accidental IT for Macs, we have always had a need to bump up font size in the menu bar. Can’t do it in X. Couldn’t do it in any form of 9 or earlier. We had a $5000 grant to provide a hearing and sight impaired computer experience. Lost out to the peecee side of the room solely because Windows could bump up the menu bar font with three clicks. Changing resolution on the Mac IS NOT a solution because it gives you the damned horizontal scroll bar which even 20-20 people miss. Our and most people’s budget do not permit a bigger screen for those that think this is the answer. We survive on donated Macs which are always small screen. Now, in MacOS 9 and earlier, you could increase the size of the font for the clock in the menu bar from the Date and Time control panel so it can be done. Apple just doesn’t do it even today. At a Mini MacWorld show in Seattle, I asked Apple about this. Their answer was, get this: ‘The Mac is designed for the graphics community. Have you ever seen a blind graphics person?’ Pretty damned snide. Say all you wish, the Mac is still not ADA compliant. As much as we may like the Mac, this is a gaping hole. Thanks for writing on it.


  2. Matt, thanks for the response. I take your point. You must be right about that, although based on purely anecdotal evidence spyware/adware seems to be much less of a problem than it used to be (if only because MS had to start responding to Mac’s big advantage in that regard).
    And, like I said, there are many other reasons why switching to Mac makes sense. It kind of boggles the mind that a UI-focused company like Apple hasn’t sorted out the accessibility issue, though, so I hope that gets fixed soon.


  3. why was your father’s computer repeatedly filling up with adware/viruses? I’ve used PCs for years, and I think I’ve had virus/adware problems only a handful of times
    I don’t mean to sound like a dick either, but you and I are advanced users and you may find it hard to believe but a heck of a lot of people regularly install dodgy applications and accidentally visit dodgy sites looking to play some sort of flash game that seems innocuous and end up enabling a IE activex exploit within a few clicks.
    And it’s not just viruses/adware for moving to a mac — my dad wanted an easy way to do video conferencing (through iChat/iSight) and since Leopard came out I wanted an easy way to fix his computer remotely (via screensharing in iChat).


  4. I hope this help – to make the fonts larger press comd n +, for Preference Panel this wouldn’t work, the work around is press option n comd n +, this set of keys enable zooming.


  5. I’m pretty sure the way apple wants you to do it (for now) is to use “Zoom” one option that makes it much more usable is “When zoomed in, the screen image moves: Only when the pointer reaches an edge”
    What a strange thing! The Universal Access pref pane is big fonts! Why can’t it all be?


  6. From the Finder, select View menu, then View Options. Select the text size from here. I think this is what you are looking for.


  7. Matt, this feature exists, it’s just not exposed anywhere, the buzzword Apple uses for it is “Resolution Independence”.
    Basically you can set the relative size of everything drawn by an application, with all vector drawing scaling perfectly, and bitmaps scaling better or worse depending on circumstances. The “Quartz Debug” utility included with the development tools can be used to set the ratio, and then apps launched after it’s set are scaled up.
    Unfortunately it’s not exposed to the user for a reason :(, if you use it a lot of things will be really weird and vmware might shit itself!
    It was intended to be a major feature of 10.5, but a number of major third-party apps (mainly Office 2004) would have been drawn in legacy mode, and schedules were slipping in general.
    It’s an *incredibly* hard problem to solve, even just in terms of making it clear to the user WTF the feature does, and getting developers onboard. Hopefully it’ll be a highlight of 10.6!


  8. Bumping up the screen resolution is how my mom (also in her 60s and sight-impaired) handles things. I’ve done this same dance with her. I seem to recall it being much easier in OS9, actually.


  9. I’m sure you thought of this, but why not just change the monitor screen res to something small, like 800×600, which would effectively make everything larger?


  10. you could also use the feature where you hold down the command key and use the scroll ball/wheel on your mouse to zoom in on the screen – that might make it more readable


  11. Matt, I sent this to you via email, but for the masses, this might do the trick:
    It’s TinkerTool, an app that will let you set your default system font (using the hidden Mac prefs that actually govern this). I haven’t tried it personally — well, I haven’t tried the font bit of it, I used it on one of my machines for one of the other features it offered — but it looks like it might fit the bill.


  12. Jason is correct, TinkerTool can increase the font size by going to the “System Setup” menu and then the “Quartz” submenu. The changes will take effect after you restart an application. However, there is a warning that not all applications can correctly implement this feature.
    I tried it on Camino and Safari and while the fonts were all larger, even on the menus, the default webpage,, was not showing up correctly.


  13. Matt, thanks for this post. My Dad, in his 70s has the same problem with his PC and I wanted to move him into AppleLand, but didn’t because I couldn’t resolve the Accesibility issue. Plus, my mom bought him an overpriced PC and they are having a hard thinking that it should be replaced, even though it is slow as sh*t even with (or because of) the anti-virus software.
    BTW to Jake, if you haven’t sat at a computer with someone who is totally unfamiliar with the idea of a computer, you have no idea of the inadvertent things they do that leave them open to viruses, etc.


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