Microsoft boosts Office 365 accessibility for people with disabilities

Microsoft has moved to make it easier for people with disabilities to use its Office 365 software

| 1st Sep 16

Microsoft has moved to make it easier for people with disabilities to use its Office 365 software.

The new accessibility update, which will help charities who employ people with disabilities as well as their beneficiaries, is to deliver a number of key benefits. They include improvements to help visually impaired people with the screen reader tool for Word, Outlook and SharePoint.


Multiple enhancements

The built-in screen reader tool is called Narrator, and was updated as part of the recent Windows 10 anniversary update earlier this month. The update includes new voices that can speak up to 800 words per minute, and six levels of verbosity, so users can get varying indications of text properties and control over how much punctuation they hear, as well as verbal hints when automatic suggestions are available.

There is also a new ‘search as you type’ experience to alert screen readers when matches are found, and improved navigation of sites.

Other areas that have been tweaked are Document Libraries, which now includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page. Keyboard shortcuts for all major functions can be viewed in the app by pressing the question mark key.

A further addition is Editor, which is a cloud-based advanced proofing and editing service designed mostly for people with dyslexia.

Finally, another improvement is the Scheduling Assistant in the latest version of Outlook for the PC, which aims to make it easier to manage a calendar. The Scheduling Assistant can set up a meeting with others, search for an email and set up signatures for a particular account.


Accessibility drive

“As we make Office 365 accessible by design and make it easy for everyone to create accessible content, we hope that people of all abilities will feel empowered to achieve more with our productivity technologies, have equal access to digital information and have fulfilling interactions with each other,” said John Jendrezak, accessibility lead for the Office engineering team.

“In May, I shared details about work underway to make Office 365 more usable with High Contrast themes on PCs, which is critical to ensure that the people with vision impairments, such as cataracts, can interact with data and commands in our applications with less eye strain. Since then, if you have been working in Excel Online on a PC with High Contrast enabled, you’ll notice that tables, active cell and cells-selection outlines are more visible, hyperlinks in sheets are respecting High Contrast theme colours and Sparkline, slicers, shapes and charts are rendered using High Contrast theme colours.”