Author: Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President for OneDrive, SharePoint, and Office
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On May 17, 2018, Microsoft joins in marking the seventh Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day dedicated to raising awareness of accessibility in the digital world. In honor of this day, we are releasing a short film: Empower every person: reimagining accessibility.
This film features accessibility experts from Microsoft and our partners: US Business Leadership Network, Be. Accessible, TD Bank (Canada), and Rochester Institute of Technology. It introduces best practices to build more modern and inclusive workplace environments and how accessible-by-design technologies empower every person to create, communicate, and collaborate. It also showcases new capabilities in Microsoft 365 being unveiled today that make it easier to create accessible content.
As more people across the world join in marking this day and take actions every day to create a more accessible digital world, people of all abilities will be able to fully participate and contribute. More than one billion people need assistive products to be independent and productive, but only 1 in 10 have access. Delivering experiences that empower every person to achieve more is what energizes us at Microsoft to do our best work, and I invite everyone to bring that energy to making accessibility non-negotiable in their places of work and across the whole digital landscape.
I continue to be inspired by the ever-increasing number of organizations prioritizing accessibility, and collectively there has been clear progress. However, given adults with disabilities have twice the unemployment rate of those without, more progress is needed to enable the transformative change we all want. At Microsoft, we found that addressing accessibility requires attention in all stages of product development: design, implementation, and testing. Making things accessible from the get-go is not only affordable, but also beneficial for a broad set of people. Given this, our mainstream technologies—such as Microsoft 365—include built-in assistive technologies and accessibility features.
Empowering people with disabilities to create, consume, and share content in their preferred way is a key part of the Microsoft 365 vision for accessibility. In line with this vison, we created new Ease of Access settings in Windows 10 and built-in settings, such as Read Aloud and Dictate in Office 365. These capabilities are designed to support people with a range of access needs: vision, hearing, and interaction. For example, to make interactions more efficient for keyboard users, we have introduced text suggestions that suggest the top three words while typing in on-screen keyboards as well as hardware keyboards. Adoption metrics are a great indicator of product value. Three years ago, we introduced Learning Tools as an add-in to help the 1 in 5 people who exhibit signs of dyslexia. After embedding Learning Tools into mainstream Office 365 applications and the Microsoft Edge browser, we have over 10 million monthly active users. Inclusively designed tools are clearly beneficial for everyone, and I continue to be energized by the powerful stories of inclusion in action told by people whose lives are transformed through Learning Tools and other accessibility features built into Microsoft 365.
Diversity is a strength for any business, and diverse teams must be able to seamlessly collaborate. Another key part of the Microsoft 365 vision for accessibility is to empower everyone to create accessible content and provide equal access to information to people with disabilities such as blindness, low vision, or dyslexia. AI is already infused in Microsoft 365 to help with several aspects of image, audio, and video accessibility. With automatic alt-text for images in Word and PowerPoint, we give you a head start by providing descriptions for images recognizable by Computer Vision. The Presentation Translator add-in for PowerPoint enables you to display live subtitles in more than 60 languages. Additionally, Microsoft Stream generates automatic transcripts for videos in English and Spanish using AI to convert speech to text.
In the coming months, we will ship new features to Microsoft 365 that will make it even more efficient for everyone to create accessible content and ensure diverse teams can collaborate inclusively.
- Accessibility Checker—Already discoverable next to Spelling Checker in several Office 365 PC and Mac applications, the Accessibility Checker will be enhanced to run proactively in the background. It will alert you in real-time of issues that make your content difficult for people with disabilities to access. For example, it will alert you of low-contrast text that is difficult to read because the font color is too similar to the background color.
- MailTip—A MailTip will be offered in Outlook for PCs to remind those who collaborate with you to check the accessibility of their content if you indicate that you prefer accessible content, similar to the MailTip available in Outlook Web Access today.
- Recommended Actions—A new Recommended Actions menu will be introduced within the Accessibility Checker to make it easier to fix flagged issues. It will recommend actions such as Add a description, Mark as decorative, and Suggest a description for me for a picture in a document that is missing alternative text.
We’re on a journey at Microsoft to design, build, and launch more accessible products to foster digital inclusion in the modern workplace. I invite you to join us on this journey as we reimagine accessibility. Visit the Microsoft accessibility site to learn more about our approach. Share your learnings with #ReimaginingAccessibility and continue the conversation with @MSFTEnable on Twitter.
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