Microsoft highlights how Office 365 is more accessible than ever

Accessibility has been an increasing highlight for software and hardware companies recently as tech businesses such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft continue to pour resources into normalizing customers who require these features.

Microsoft’s Office 365 has been one of the company’s hotbed for accessibility features, and it seems the Office team is no hurry to end that streak. Not only is Microsoft’s Office team building more accessibility features into its software suite, but they’re asking developers to help out in areas they may have missed.

In a new post on the Office 365 blog, the Office team is offering information on how to add their own particular accessibility features to the productivity suite.

Noteworthy new capabilities built into Office 365 to help you with this include:

  • Accessible templates—When you create content starting with an online template in Word, Excel or PowerPoint for PC or Mac, you can now find templates tagged as “accessible.” These are structured to ensure ease of navigation with a screen reader and keyboard and use fonts and colors that are easy to read with low vision or color blindness. In the coming months, we will add more accessible templates not only for Office for PC and Mac, but also for Office Online and Office Mobile applications.
Screenshot of PowerPoint for PCs shows a new presentation being created from an online template by searching for the word accessible.

Hundreds of accessible templates are already available in Word, Excel and PowerPoint for PCs and Macs with more coming.

  • Image description controls—When you use visual objects to communicate information, you need to add alternative text descriptions (alt-text) to ensure this content can be understood by people with visual impairments. To make this process easier, we now offer you controls to add alt-text not only in Office for PC, Mac and Office Online, but also in several Office mobile applications. Furthermore, we are designing ways to make alt-text easier to discover and use. In the coming months, starting with Word and PowerPoint for PCs, we will merge the title and description fields in the alt-text control into a single field so you have no confusion about where to enter alt-text. Also, we will make this control discoverable via the right click menu and ribbon. Lastly, using the Microsoft Computer Vision Cognitive Service, we will offer you automatic suggestions for alt-text when you insert a photographic image that can be recognized with high confidence. Through machine learning, this service will keep improving as more people use it, saving you significant time to make media-rich presentations accessible.
  • 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. To make this process easier, we now offer you controls to add display names for links not only in Office for PC, Mac and Office Online, but also in several Office mobile applications. In the coming months, we are introducing a new control called Link Gallery in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for PCs, as well as in several Office Mobile applications. This gallery will show you your most recently used files from SharePoint and OneDrive, as well as any webpage from your clipboard. When you insert a link by selecting it from this gallery, the file or webpage name will automatically be added as the display text, and you can build on this to make it more meaningful.
Screenshot of Word for PCs shows a new control called Link Gallery being introduced in the Insert tab to make it easy to insert accessible links to recent items.

The Link Gallery is coming soon to help you efficiently insert 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.

  • Accessibility checker—Before sharing content, you can run the accessibility checker to find and fix any issues that might make your content difficult for people with disabilities to use. The accessibility checker is now easily discoverable in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for PC applications via the Check Accessibility button under the Review tab. It is also available in Visio for PCs and several Office for Mac and Office Online applications. It not only finds accessibility errors and tells you how and why to fix them, but also links to detailed support articles on creating accessible documents, accessible spreadsheets, accessible presentations and accessible emails.

Readers are also given a breakdown of other key updates released during this fourth quarter which includes screen readers, access keys to navigate the ribbon in Office and image capture via voice controls in Office Lens for iOS among other items.

As Microsoft continues to build out Office 365 as its own sprawling platform similar to Windows, developers should expect to see more blog post, tutorials, videos and walkthroughs regarding adding even more accessibility features.

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Do you use any accessibility features and if so, which ones?