Microsoft Office Online gets new accessibility enhancements

WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications), a web accessibility standard Microsoft helped create, allows for Office Online to be used in conjunction with a screen reader. Today, and Microsoft has rolled out several new accessibility improvements to give blind and poor-vision users a better Office Online experience.

Office Online has added new improvements and features to help the blind and poor-vision users make their way around the application. With Narrator (Windows Key + Enter) enabled, formatting information will be read aloud when you use arrow keys to move around documents. Narrator can announce formatting and location information about headings, tables, graphs, and more.

Over the next month or so, Microsoft plans to introduce support for virtual reading for documents up to three pages in Microsoft Word Online and OneNote Online without the need to move the mouse cursor through the text. Narrator has a shortcut dubbed, “Start Reading” (Caps Lock + M), which reads the rest of the document based on where you place your cursor. If you are using Job Access with Speech (JAWS), you will need to enable the Virtual Cursor (Insert + Z) to use this function.

Microsoft Office Online gets new accessibility enhancements for blind and poor-vision users

Tell Me is a relatively new capability in Office Online created to save time. You can type what you want the app to do for you in the Tell Me text box. If you are using Word Online and you want to change the setup of your document from portrait to landscape, you would type “landscape” in the Tell Me text box.     

There is also an auto complete dropdown menu that displays all of the available accessibility commands. A shortcut to go directly to the Tell Me text box is the command Ctrl + ‘(apostrophe). You can access a lot of editing and formatting functions using the Tell Me text box; even if you do not know the specific function or command you are trying to access.

If you get stuck and need help, you can use the Alt + Shift + A command to get a list of accessibility help pages in Word Online and OneNote Online. Let us know what you think about these new Office Online features in the comments section.

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