Microsoft Highlights Windows 10 Creators Update and Office 365 Accessibility Goals

Noteworthy new inclusive digital accessibility capabilities built into Creators Update and Office 365 empowering persons with disabilities when accessing digital resources.

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December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and taking the oppourtunity of the day, Microsoft shares changes coming to its products in 2017, including Windows 10 and Office 365.

The lead among the changes is the Windows 10 Creators Update that will include improvements to Narrator, with beta support for braille input and output, and unassisted installation, which means "users will be able to install the Windows 10 Creators Update using Narrator throughout the installation process," as well as new "text-to-speech voices and capabilities."

Microsoft said, they'll also add an ability to use a controller to handle Narrator interactions on Xbox One consoles, including pitch and speed adjustments for the Narrator voice.

Other highlights include:

  • The beta will support braille displays from more than 35 manufacturers, using more than 40 languages and multiple braille variants, including grade 2 contracted braille.
  • Unassisted installation of Windows 10 Creators Update using Narrator including from within Windows RE/PE for setup & troubleshooting.
  • Narrator can now be launch by clicking CTRL + WIN + ENTER. "WIN + ENTER no longer launches Narrator." However, users can still launch Narrator from Cortana or from the Settings Window.
  • New text to speech voices and capabilities 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 with "dynamic ducking," so Narrator will only reduce 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.
  • Added new features for easier 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.
  • Now 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.

Also, the new details leaks today goes into the detail about the "Home Hub", Microsoft's homegrown version of Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Google Home. Citing some sources, WC reports that "Home Hub is designed to make your PC the center of your home, by making shared PCs more communal and bringing the connected home to Windows."

"Home Hub is a software feature that has been in the works since before the Windows 10 Anniversary Update (Redstone 1) was released. In fact, the Anniversary Update includes some features that are directly linked with Home Hub, such as Cortana being accessible from the lockscreen. More of Home Hub is expected to show up in the Creators Update (Redstone 2), with the bulk of Home Hub scheduled for Redstone 3 (late-2017) and Redstone 4 (in 2018).

Home Hub isn't a dedicated device that's designed to take on the likes of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, as in the end, Home Hub is just the software. But that software can do everything the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices can, but with one added benefit: a screen. Home Hub is designed to run on Windows 10 PCs, mainly All-In-Ones and 2-in-1's with touch screens, but can work on any Windows 10 machine. Pen and ink support are also part of the plan.

Home Hub isn't a dedicated device — it's just the software on your PC, no additional hardware required adding a screen to these smart devices makes these things so much more approachable and useful, especially to families. Microsoft's end goal with Home Hub is to make shared PCs much more communal and helpful for multiple people that have to use them. By introducing new sharing features, new user interfaces, always-listening Cortana and apps that take advantage of new APIs, Home Hub becomes a compelling competitor to other smart assistants on the market," the report suggested.

Also, in honor of IDPD, the company is highlighting accessibility capabilities built into Office 365. Here are some noteworthy new capabilities included:

New accessible templates in Word, Excel or PowerPoint for PC or Mac, making it easier to "navigate with a screen reader and keyboard," and also now allow of using fonts and colors readable with low vision or color blindness.

In the coming months, Microsoft notes, more accessible templates will be available for Office Online and Office Mobile applications in addition to Office for PC and Mac.

Adding alternative text descriptions (alt-text) in the images becomes easier with new user controls in Office for PC, Mac, Office Online and in several Office mobile apps.

Furthermore, starting with Word and PowerPoint for PCs, "the title and description fields will merge in the alt-text control into a single field," for easier entery of alt-text.

Lastly, Microsoft Computer Vision Cognitive Service will now offer "automatic suggestions for alt-text when a photographic image is inserted."

This contorl will be accessible via the right click menu and ribbon.

New accessible templates are already available in Word, Excel and PowerPoint for PCs and Macs

New accessible templates are already available in Word, Excel and PowerPoint for PCs and Macs

Link display name controls—When you include links to webpages or documents, you need to add meaningful display names to ensure screen reader users find it easy to understand the purpose of the links.

Microsoft also now offering controls to add display names for links to webpages or docuements. This features is available in Office for PC, Mac and Office Online, and also in other Office mobile applications.

Link Gallery in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for PCs

Link Gallery in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for PCs

Link Gallery, which is coming soon will help efficiently inserting links to recent items in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for PCs. "File names will automatically be added as display text for links inserted via this new control." The files will be displayed from the most recent list of SharePoint and OneDrive, as well as any webpage from your clipboard.

Accessibility checker now discoverable in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for PC apps allow you to "find and fix any issues in the content before you share them for people with disabilities to use. " This feature not only helps to find accessibility errors and fixing them, but also links to detailed support articles on creating accessible documents, accessible spreadsheets, accessible presentations and accessible emails.

Additional improvements including: screen reader users can now work effectively in documents with Math equations, comments and real-time co-authoring in Office for PCs.

People with learning disability such as dyslexia, can now read content in Word documents by turning on settings on Word for PCs in the View -> Read Mode.

Once turned on, this read text aloud with simultaneous highlighting, increase text spacing and break words into syllables to promote concentration and comprehension.

These controls are already available to students in classrooms with Learning Tools for OneNote as well as Office Lens app for iOS, and in the coming months, will also add in to OneNote Online and Word Online as well.

For more information, wtch the two short videos Microsoft Mechanics demonstration below: