Windows 11: Microsoft aims to prioritize accessibility
Computing should be for everyone, and Microsoft is leaning into that idea, as shown in a recently published blog post titled “Making Windows 11 the Most Inclusive Model(Opens in a new window) Windows version at the moment. The post offers a defined set of principles for inclusive design(Opens in a new window).
Windows 11 product managers have done even more. Instead of coming up with an accessibility feature and then testing it on users with disabilities, they now incorporate those users from the get-go. The company has even created a suite of adaptive input hardware, pictured below.
Microsoft adaptive accessories, including an adaptive mouse, hub and buttons.
Below, we highlight some of the accessibility options available to Windows 11 users. Assistive features fall into four broad categories: vision, hearing, mobility, and neurodiversity. For specific needs, Microsoft maintains a Disability Answer Desk(Opens in a new window)and it submitted its accessibility tools to the DHS Trusted Tester(Opens in a new window) Compliance testing with the use of its own usability testing. Finally, the company organizes an Ability Summit every year(Opens in a new window) to highlight devices, software and its Inclusive Tech Lab.
Add fun as much as possible
Microsoft accessibility manager Jeff Petty writes that the company aims to close the “accessibility divide”(Opens in a new window) by making computer use not only possible, but also “enjoyable” for people with disabilities. And it should be noted that many of these features can benefit everyone. Who wouldn’t appreciate being able to have a text read to them? Or talk rather than type? Larger screen elements and text? Or remove distractions for better concentration? And temporary accessibility needs can arise for anyone. For example, you might sprain your hand and be unable to type, or get eye drops from the doctor that will keep you from reading for a day.
Windows has long included Narrator, Magnifier, Closed Captions, and Windows Speech Recognition features. With Windows 11, the operating system adds new audio and visual tools, as well as new support for third-party hardware and software. The Settings section was previously called Ease of Access, but was renamed Accessibility, with a new icon for clarity, after hearing comments that “Ease of Access” did not convey the correct meaning. The new voices are also more natural for text-to-speech and system-wide live captions to transcribe any sound on the system. You can now access accessibility settings directly from the taskbar action center.
These accessibility updates aim to improve the computing experience for all PC users and allow people with physical limitations to put their talents to use and enjoy all the benefits of using a computer. .
Many features that help visually impaired people use their computer have been around for years: narrator, screen magnifier, text size, voice recognition, and high contrast themes. Windows 11 includes new options for this last category that are customizable and designed to make content easier to see and less different from previous versions.
It’s a similar story with system sounds: Visually impaired users told the company that system sounds were unpleasantly harsh, and sometimes even turned them off, while others noted they relied on the startup sound to know they could start using the PC. . The new sounds are softer but still distinct, and they “cut through the entire 250-8000 Hz range to be audible to people with hearing loss,” according to Microsoft’s blog post.
Narrator has long been a staple when it comes to controlling a computer without needing to see the screen. You can even set up a new PC out of the box using just your voice, which is not possible on a Mac. New to Windows 11 are voices based on neural speech models(Opens in a new window) it feels much more natural than the narrator of old. If you’ve used the Edge browser’s read-aloud feature recently, you might have heard how remarkably realistic the speech produced by this technology is. Narrator now even works with cloud-hosted apps, and the Windows Subsystem for Linux supports screen readers.
Voice input is a feature for people with vision, mobility and learning disabilities. This has improved a lot with advances in language AI technology. It now has automatic punctuation and greatly improved accuracy. Seeing the words correct themselves using the AI while you speak is a kick, something that didn’t exist in previous versions. You invoke voice typing with a simple keyboard shortcut, Windows Key-H (for to listen).
Many other visibility settings are available in Windows 11, including text size, effects such as scrollbars and animations, mouse pointer visibility, touch point indicator, magnifying glass, color filters, and more. color for several types of color blindness and contrast themes for low vision.
Windows 11 Hearing Help
The key feature here is subtitles, offered by Windows 10, but Windows 11 is changing to add more style choices and the ability to save a custom subtitle style. Captions have been around for years, familiar with captioning on television. Windows was able to display captions for videos that include them, but with Windows 11 Live Captions, currently in preview, the feature will transcribe any audio coming from the PC into captions. This includes audio from a microphone connected to a PC. Since most webcams have microphones, you can use the feature to caption live conversations.
Captions are generated by local hardware, so you don’t have the privacy concerns of sending them over the Internet to Microsoft servers. Live captioning is already in Microsoft Teams but will become system-wide in Windows 11 at some point after an update. (Note that Microsoft now releases new Windows features as they are ready, rather than waiting for the big annual update to deliver them.)
For those with hearing loss in one ear, there is a mono audio option, accessible directly from the action center settings.
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Mobility features in Windows 11
A key feature to address mobility limitations is voice input, described above. Another is speech recognition, which has been available in Windows for many years. Voice recognition lets you control all PC functions using your voice, rather than just typing text. You say things like “Open WordPad”, “switch to Paint”, “close Paint”, “click [something],” “right click [something]’, and so on, rather than using the cursor or typing these commands. There’s a whole setup for the feature to learn your voice to get accurate results.
Accessibility options for keyboard and mouse allow people with mobility challenges to use these devices. Keyboard options include Sticky Keys, which lets you make keyboard combinations by pressing the necessary keys one at a time; and Filter Keys, which filter out unwanted keystrokes, such as repeated and briefly typed ones. Mouse Keys is an option that lets you use the numeric keypad to move the mouse.
One of the most advanced accessibility features is eye control. Windows 11 has built-in support for devices that allow you to control your computer with your eye movements, such as the Tobii Eye Tracker 5. The feature includes calibration and an eye target dashboard for use with the device, for actions like left-click, scroll, Start menu, and Settings. You are resting, or in the proper terminology to live in your eye on one of the dashboard buttons to activate it. You can place the mouse at a specific point on the screen by dwelling on the Mouse Precision button and then on the spot on the screen where you want to place the mouse. The basics of visual inspection(Opens in a new window) The page allows users to take advantage of this fantastic feature.
Windows 11 support for neurodiversity
To support users with ADHD, Windows includes some features designed to improve concentration and reduce distractions. I’ve written about the Windows 11 Clock app’s Focus Sessions feature before, and the OS as a whole includes a Focus Assist feature for system calming and other notifications.
Edge, the default Windows browser, offers features for people with reading difficulties, including Line focus, which highlights a single line of text on a web page; and Immersive Reader View, which strips all but essential text and images from web pages. The immersive reader feature allows users to choose color schemes designed for dyslexia or low vision. A grammar option breaks words down into their component syllables for easier reading. As mentioned above, Edge can also read any webpage text aloud, using naturalistic neural voices and highlighting words as they are read.
Access not denied
This is just a glimpse of the work Microsoft is doing with accessibility technology. In addition to its own support features, the software works with a wide selection of accessibility partner technologies(Opens in a new window) hardware and software partners for screen readers, braille devices, reading utilities, head and face control, blink controllers, and more. For more information, you can follow the company’s accessibility initiatives on the @MSFTEnable(Opens in a new window) Twitter account.
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