Office 365 Targets Inclusion With Accessibility Update

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Microsoft engineers seeks to broaden appeal of Office 365 to people with disabilities in new updates

Microsoft is to make it easier for people with disabilities to create content with an Office 365 accessibility update.

“As we make Office 365 accessible by design and make it easy for everyone to create accessible content, we hope that people of all abilities will feel empowered to achieve more with our productivity technologies, have equal access to digital information and have fulfilling interactions with each other,” said John Jendrezak, accessibility lead for the Office engineering team.

So what can we expect going forward? One of the key improvements will be to help visually impaired people with the screen reader tool for Word, Outlook and SharePoint.

Accessibility Push


The built-in screen reader tool is called Narrator, and was updated as part of the recent Windows 10 anniversary update earlier this month.

The update includes new voices that can speak up to 800 words per minute, and Redmond says it has “six levels of verbosity, so you can get varying indications of text properties and control over how much punctuation you hear, and verbal hints when automatic suggestions are available.”

Microsoft Office 365 WordJendrezak said that the Office 365 team continues to work closely with the Narrator team to enhance productivity experiences for screen reader users.

Another improvement is the Scheduling Assistant in the latest version of Outlook for the PC, which aims to make it easier to manage a calendar. The Scheduling Assistant can set up a meeting with others, search for an email and set up signatures for a particular account.

SharePoint Online comes with an improved screen reader experience, and the new SharePoint home page in Office 365 includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page.

There is also a new “search as you type” experience to alert screen readers when matches are found, and improved navigation of sites.

Other areas that have been tweaked are Document Libraries, which now includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page. Keyboard shortcuts for all major functions can be viewed in the app by pressing the question mark key.

“In May, I shared details about work underway to make Office 365 more usable with High Contrast themes on PCs, which is critical to ensure that the people with vision impairments, such as cataracts, can interact with data and commands in our applications with less eye strain,” wrote Jendrezak.

“Since then, if you have been working in Excel Online on a PC with High Contrast enabled, you’ll notice that tables, active cell and cells-selection outlines are more visible, hyperlinks in sheets are respecting High Contrast theme colors and Sparkline, slicers, shapes and charts are rendered using High Contrast theme colours.”

Another additional is Editor, which is a cloud-based advanced proofing and editing service designed mostly for people with dyslexia.

Office 365

Microsoft is throwing a lot of development resources at Office, not surprising when there are one billion users of Microsoft Office. Last week for example Office for Mac received an upgrade that included improved performance.

Microsoft also recently brought artificial intelligence-powered scheduling service Genee, and plans to integrate the software with Office 365 to give users more calendar power.

Microsoft productivity apps will come preloaded on some of Lenovo’s Android-powered devices, expanding the reach of Microsoft Office, Skype and OneDrive.

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