Windows 10 Creators Update and Office 365 get many new accessibility features

khushaartanveer@gmail.com' By: Khushaar Tanveer
4 minute read

It is a very considerate gesture on Microsoft’s part to introduce several specific features in Windows 10 for disabled users. Microsoft highlighted some potential ways in which they could optimize their OS to comply with the needs of handicapped users with their Windows 10 Creators Update. Although the update is not expected to come out before spring of 2017. But that is not stopping Microsoft from  sharing what’s in development, and what users can look forward to.

Recently, in their accessibility blog, Microsoft pointed out Several big improvements will come to Windows 10’s Narrator tool. Some of which can already be incorporated  in Insider Builds. For instance braille, the update will bring compatibility with braille displays from over 35 manufacturers. An upgrade to Narrators , enabling them to read several languages. Audio volume from apps like Spotify or Pandora to automatically lower when Narrator starts speaking. Here’s a look at what’s in the pipeline for the OS and Narrator in the Windows 10 Creators Update.

  • Braille: Support for braille is coming! The Creators Update will include beta support for braille input and output. The beta will support braille displays from more than 35 manufacturers, using more than 40 languages and multiple braille variants, including grade 2 contracted

  • Unassisted installation: Users will soon be able to install the Windows 10 Creators Update using Narrator throughout the installation process, including from within Windows RE/PE for setup & troubleshooting.

  • New way to launch Narrator: We have changed the quick keys used to launch Narrator to address feedback from manyWindows 10 users. Users can now launch Narrator by clicking CTRL + WIN + ENTER. WIN + ENTER no longer launches Narrator. Users can still launch Narrator from Cortana or from the Settings Window.

  • New text to speech voices and capabilities: We are adding more than 10 new voices. In addition, there will be Narrator support for multilingual reading, so that Narrator seamlessly switches between languages when you have the corresponding voices installed.

  • Improved audio experiences: We implemented dynamic ducking, so Narrator will only reduce the volume of other applications like Groove or Pandora when it is speaking. The handshake between Narrator and Cortana is also improved, so Cortana won’t transcribe what Narrator (or other screen readers) is speaking.

  • More general reliability and usability improvements: We added features to make it easier to understand the context of a control with which you are interacting and to make it possible to discover information about objects like the background color of a table cell.

  • Narrator will remember and maintain your mode, e.g. scan mode, across applications. Narrator cursor positioning improvements include stopping and starting where you expect when reading in scan mode and when reading by line, paragraph and in continuous reading.

  • Easier web browsing with Edge: Narrator responsiveness is improved with Edge and several new features have been added, including the ability to jump directly to a form element like a check box, text field or button, and the ability to navigate by heading level.

  • Improvements across devices: It will be now be possible to use a controller to drive Narrator interactions on Xbox. The ability to adjust the pitch and speed of the Narrator voice on Xbox has also been added.

But that’s not all. Apparently, there are also new accessibility features coming to the Office 365 suite early next year along with the Windows 10 creators update. All due credit to Microsoft’s AI-powered Computer Vision Cognitive Service.

Here’s a look at what’s coming in early 2017:

  • Built-in controls for authoring accessible content: We will be introducing more accessible templates to help you get started, making it easy to insert alternative text descriptions for images and meaningful display names for hyperlinks as well as making the accessibility checker available in more Office applications. Watch this short accessible authoring demonstration to learn more about these capabilities.
  • Built-in controls for personalizing reading experiences: Inspired by the profound impact the introduction of Learning Tools for OneNote has had in classrooms and are making these tools to promote concentration and comprehension available in more Office applications. Settings to read text aloud with simultaneous highlighting, increase text spacing and break words into syllables are already rolling out in Word for PCs to Office Insider and First Release program members and are coming next to Word Online and OneNote Online. Watch this short Learning Tools demonstration to learn more about these capabilities.
  • Support for creating professional, polished content with assistive technologies: Making it easy to use new cloud-powered, intelligent services in Office applications with assistive technologies such as screen readers and alternative keyboards. Services such as Designer in PowerPoint, Researcher and Editor in Word can reduce the effort you spend on tasks such as formatting, citing and proofing your work and let you focus on refining the ideas you’d like to communicate.

For more insight, be sure to check out Microsoft’s accessibility website.

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