New Microsoft accessibility tools are now working smarter

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Thursday, 1 September 2016 11:05am

The latest version of the Microsoft Office 365 suite will include some important new accessibility features, using cloud-enabled ‘intelligent services’ that help point users in the right direction when creating written content.

Accessibility symbol and button on a keyboard

Accessibility symbol and button on a keyboard

Microsoft recently announced an upgrade to the Editor tool which will home in on writing flaws, like wordiness and redundancy, that spelling and grammar checks don’t generally pick up. This was inspired by the needs of people with dyslexia – and dyslexic beta testers are reporting marked improvements in the quality of their writing. It will be easier to choose between suggested spellings for a misspelled word: synonyms or definitions will appear alongside suggestions and it will be possible to have both read aloud.

Excel, too, is getting new features. Users with a vision impairment will be able to enable a high-contrast mode. The browser-based software will feature more visible cell-selection outlines and charts in a high-contrast theme's colours.

SharePoint Online has been updated to work better with Narrator, Windows 10's screen reader. The SharePoint home page features headings that aid navigation, while new ‘search as you type’ capabilities integrate search results into the screen reader experience. SharePoint Document Libraries can now use Narrator to give an audible report on actions like file uploads and task confirmations.

Microsoft has taken major steps towards meeting the needs of people with disabilities in recent years. As we reported recently, the Windows 10 upgrade remains available free to anyone who uses assistive technologies, while new tools, such as Planner, have accessibility features built in.

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