Today, Microsoft is celebrating the sixth Global Accessibility Awareness Day - a day where the company comes together to focus on how they're accommodating people with disabilities, and share with us their game plan moving forward as they make Windows 10 a more accessible operating system. This year, they shed some light on what they accomplished in the Creators Update just recently (the ability for people who are low sighted or blind to install Windows 10 more easily, the addition of mono audio, etc.) On top of that, they shared a bit of what's coming in the Fall Creators Update.
The Fall Creators Update is going to be coming with a laundry list of helpful features for people with disabilities, and they were all listed quite plainly for us.
The Narrator team continues to focus on making a screen reader that is both easy to learn and use, and powerful enough to support learning, working and playing on Windows 10 devices including PCs, phones and Xbox. Narrator improvements coming in the Fall Creators Update include:
Device learning mode – Narrator will include the ability to send commands from a keyboard, touch or braille display and get feedback about what the command does without invoking the command.
Usability improvements – Narrator will read controls more accurately and consistently, will include Scan Mode turned on by default (and remember whether Scan Mode is turned on or off in apps across sessions), and will read apps like Settings and Weather like a web page. Narrator continues to make progress toward a unified interaction model, where Windows apps and web pages can be navigated with a consistent set of commands so that Narrator is easy to learn and use without having to remember a large set of keyboard shortcuts.
Braille improvements – Narrator users can type and read using different braille translations. Users can also perform braille input for application shortcuts and modifier keys, which enables users to employ their braille display to perform common tasks such as pressing ALT + TAB to switch between active applications or pressing CTRL + B to bold text.
Automatically generated image descriptions – Narrator will include the ability to use artificial intelligence to generate descriptions for images that lack alternative text on demand. The service includes the ability to extract text from images using optical character recognition.
Low vision improvements
The Fall Creators Update includes:
Magnifier improvements – Magnifier on the Windows 10 Desktop will follow Narrator focus, so that Magnifier and Narrator are easier to use together for low vision users. Desktop Magnifier will include an option to provide smoother fonts and images. And, it will include new Settings and the ability to zoom in an out using a mouse wheel.
Color filters – Windows 10 will include color filters at the system level, including filters designed to make it easier for people with color blindness to differentiate between colors like red and green and to make it easier for people with light sensitivity to create and consume content.
Reading and writing improvements
The Fall Creators Update also includes features that make it easier to read and write:
Learning Tools in Edge – In addition to eBooks, Read Aloud or simultaneously highlighting and voicing text, Learning Tools will be supported on web pages.
Word predictions – In addition to the touch keyboard, word predictions will be supported for U.S. English using hardware keyboards.
New Windows modes
The Windows team is committed to delivering built-in assistive technology that exceeds our users’ needs and expectations. We are also working closely with assistive technology partners to continue to improve their experiences with Windows 10 and to support deploying more assistive technology apps in the Microsoft Store. We recently announced Windows 10 S, which promises Windows 10 devices with faster boot times and improved security and reliability. We believe Windows 10 S is great for many customers. Others may prefer Windows Home or Windows Pro to meet their needs. Microsoft is committed to meeting the needs of people with disabilities and providing choices for devices and modes for operating Windows. We will provide assistive technology users with a switch to Windows 10 Pro from Windows 10 S at no charge as we continue to improve our built-in assistive technology and bring more assistive technology apps to the Microsoft Store.
Microsoft also announced that they're going to be putting an added emphasis internally on the founding of "Smart cities," the future of education, and a more inclusive workplace. It's going to be interesting to see how far they've actually come with these goals this time next year, when we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day for the seventh time.