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Microsoft Office 365 Update Includes Accessibility Tweaks

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Easy administration features and more accessibility improvements included in latest Office 365 update

Microsoft has made a number of improvements to its Office 365 suite, including admin enhancements and help for people with poor eyesight and other disabilities.

It comes as Office 365 extends its global reach. In November the cloud-based Office suite became available in the Vatican City and nine other nations, expanding its reach to more than 150 countries around the world and 44 languages.

Microsoft Office also recently celebrated in 26th birthday. However the cloud-based iteration was launched in 2011, and whilst it was initially aimed at the business market, it is now available on the  Windows, Apple Mac, iOS and Android platforms, and is the world’s most popular cloud service in the workplace.

Office 2016 Office 365 Groups in Outlook 2016

Accessibility Improvements

The accessibility updates to Office 365 were revealed in a blog posting by Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate VP for the Office team.

“These improvements address both the creation and consumption phases when working with documents,” wrote Koenigsbauer. “Particularly noteworthy are the following capabilities built to empower all customers to create content that is inclusive and readable without friction.”

One of the features is the Accessibility Checker, which is now “easily discoverable in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Visio, helping you ensure your content can be consumed without barriers by people with varying levels of vision, hearing, cognition and mobility.”

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Essentially, the Accessibility Checker analyses the user’s material and provides recommendations alongside his or her document, helping them understand how to fix errors and create more accessible content over time.

Another accessibility improvement is ‘intelligent alternate text for images’. At the moment for example, PowerPoint already utilises intelligent image analysis (including facial detection, colour extraction and more) to optimise professional designs.

But soon the user will get automatic suggestions for alternative text descriptions (alt-text) for images in both PowerPoint and Word, helping save the user time and ensuring their media-rich presentations and documents can be understood by people with visual impairments.

Other accessibility improvements include making it easier to request accessible content in Outlook, to help ensure co-workers to run Accessibility Checker before sending any content to people with disabilities.

The final accessibility enhancement is the ability to easily attach hyperlinks to recent cloud-based files or websites and simultaneously create more meaningful display names for people consuming a document using screen readers.

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Admin Improvements

Besides those accessibility improvements, Office 365 has also been upgraded with a number of administration enhancements, as revealed by in a Office 365 Team blog.

This includes the delivery of a new OneDrive for Business admin center, new settings to manage Microsoft Teams and GigJam, and improvements to the new Service health dashboard.

The new OneDrive admin centre is designed to help system admins manage their company OneDrive for Business settings and policies. It will be rolled out to general availability in 2017.

Another features is the ability to manage Microsoft Teams from the Office 365 admin centre. Microsoft Teams is the chat-based workspace in Office 365, but now Office 365 admins can enable and manage Microsoft Teams directly from the Office 365 admin centre.

GigJam (which shares select information across the network) will also be enabled in the Office 365 admin centre.

Finally there is a new service health dashboard rolling out to first release customers, which provides admins with a new level of service health insights that are personalised for their individual organisation.

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