'Accessibility is not a bolt on' - 7 Microsoft accessibility tools available now

By Callum MacKay - March 26, 2020

Microsoft are continuing their work to make their technology accessible to everyone, not least through the creation of a company culture where accessibility is an active feature and consideration during every stage of product development.

By doing so, Microsoft aim to ensure that everyone feels empowered, safe, happy and confident at work, in education and at home.

The following statistics about disability show how crucial accessibility and inclusion in technology is:

· Over 1 billion people globally have some form of disability.

· There are 13 million disabled people in the UK.

· 70% of disabilities are invisible.

Microsoft’s goal is to deliver solutions which have been built from the beginning with accessibility and inclusion in mind, to help every person and organisation to achieve more.

Microsoft are building a culture around this principle, which is geared towards contributing to a change in how society approaches accessibility and perceives disability. By involving employees with disabilities in every stage of product development, Microsoft not only benefit from their valuable perspective from the outset, but they also make better products.

Microsoft have said that accessibility is a people story, as well as a technology story. Without people in organisations creating a culture which champions and embraces accessibility as a default position, rather than an afterthought, the technology will not have as profound and consistent an impact.

The following quote from Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, encapsulates the culture that Microsoft are creating and how this is contributing to the creation of their products from the ground up.

"Accessibility is not a bolt on. It’s something that must be built in to every product we make so that our products work for everyone. Only then will we empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. This is the inclusive culture we aspire to create" - Satya Nadella

Here are seven Microsoft tools which are supporting accessibility and inclusion in work, education and at home right now:

Immersive Reader

A key feature within Microsoft Teams, but which is also available in Office 365 applications such as OneNote, Word, Edge and more, is Immersive Reader.

Immersive Reader supports users with their reading using a variety of proven techniques. This includes the text being read aloud to the user, increased spacing between lines and letters, highlighting of certain word types such as nouns or adjectives and changes to text or background colour.

By putting these tools in the hands of the users, Immersive Reader empowers and encourages users of all ages and abilities to read independently.


Accessibility Checker in Office 365

Office 365 is a collection of cloud-based applications and services, which allows remote access to productivity tools and collaboration to increase workplace efficiency and productivity.

Included in Office 365 are a range of Accessibility features which demonstrate the inclusive culture that Microsoft are championing. By creating products that can be used by the broadest range of people, they not only become more widely used but also better as products.

The Accessibility Checker is a feature included in the Office 365 stack, which allows users to check the suitability of their content against set best practices for those with a range of disabilities. The checker will make recommendations of changes which can be made to make the document accessibility friendly.


Microsoft Eye Tracker

Microsoft Eye Tracker is built in to the Windows 10 OS but requires a third-party eye tracking device compatible with your Windows 10 device to enable use of the feature. A primary function of this feature is to support users with neuro-muscular conditions to have continued use of their personal computer.

Eye tracking can be set up in your Windows 10 device settings and every function of a Windows 10 device can then be controlled by eye movement, enabling the user to interact with various elements in Windows 10 without a traditional mouse and keyboard. This includes typing, shape writing and scrolling through web-pages and applications.


Office Lens

Office Lens is a free app available on iOS and Android, which turns a smartphone into a scanner and creates a PDF file from a photo.

From an accessibility perspective, Office Lens can take photos of whiteboards, books or documents and import the photo into OneNote. From there, the accessibility features of OneNote can be used to support an individual who may have a form of visual impairment or difficulty reading. Translation is also available, which means the text can also be read aloud to the user in their native language.

This could be particularly powerful if a letter was sent to someone who had difficulty reading black letters on a white background, certain fonts or paragraph structures.

Seeing AI

The Microsoft Seeing AI is a free app available in the iOS store. Seeing AI supports those who are blind or partially sighted by narrating the world around them.

This supports interactions with people, objects and scenery, including handwriting, currency, store signs, restaurant menus and scene previews.

By switching between different channels, users can choose between specialised features which perform different functions and interact with objects and people in different ways.

There is also integration with other applications and sites, including social media, allowing for the export of images to Seeing AI, which can then analyse and narrate the image.

Translator App

Microsoft Translator is an exceptionally powerful application, which allows you to create a 'Virtual Room' and have conversations in multiple languages instantaneously.

The app can be used in conjunction with PowerPoint to convert the presenter's words to audio or subtitles to a personal device.

The Translator app is effective in a number of scenarios, such as supporting students with audio impairment to participate in classes in real time. It can also support students who have difficulty taking notes and allows everyone to access the conversation going forward should the presentation be shared.

Those in attendance can connect their smartphones or tablets to the presentation through a unique QR code displayed on the PowerPoint presentation, allowing them to view the dictation or translations, as well as verbal and written interactions which are fed back to the presenter in their language.


Adaptive Controller

Microsoft ran their advert for the Xbox Adaptive Controller during Superbowl LIII and it received significant praise and adulation for its amazing purpose and heartwarming message.

The controller is designed to make gaming accessible to everyone, by adapting to the unique needs of every user. It speaks to the wider inclusive culture that Microsoft is building and communicating.

As gaming has become more sophisticated, controller design has unconsciously favoured those without physical disabilities and excluded a large portion of society from being able to conveniently participate in the world of gaming.

One person featured in the advert, speaks about how they never thought the disadvantage of controller design was unfair. They just assumed that’s the way it was and got on with it.

Microsoft have set their sights firmly on challenging this position in every product.

"When everyone plays, we all win".


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