Microsoft highlights Office 365 accessibility enhancements for the visually impaired

Kareem Anderson

When sitting down to knock out an email or expense report, or to put together a new project proposal with Office 365, very few users have to take into account just how they’re going to view their content and creations. However, that hasn’t stopped Microsoft from considering the people who do.

Increasingly, the Office 365 team has been building in accessibility features to try to accommodate as many users of the productivity suite as possible, and while they haven’t yet been able to check every box on the long list of request, they have made some decent strides.

John Jendrezak, accessibility lead and partner director of program management for the Office Engineering team, is marking the fifth Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) by highlighting the work the Office 365 has recently put into accessibility enhancements for the vision impaired within the productivity suite.

Jendrezak highlights two of the most recent enhancements for the vision impaired that include adjustments to High Contrast themes in PCs as well as Screen readers in mobile devices. More specifically, those with vision impairments can look forward to:

People with certain vision impairments, such as cataracts, rely on High Contrast themes to see apps and content with less eye strain. On a PC, without the High Contrast mode turned on, the icons on the Office ribbon may not be very visible to someone with reduced contrast sensitivity.

These ribbon enhancements in Office 365 for PCs, along with similar enhancements in dialogs such as “Add a chart” and in backstage areas such as “Print Settings,” are the first to become available to Office 365 users this year to make it easier to work in High Contrast Black mode. To try it out and see if it will be a good fit for you, press Left Alt + Left Shift + Print Screen on your keyboard. More enhancements are coming soon to improve the experience in High Contrast mode with shapes, pictures and SmartArt in Office 365 apps.”

High Contrast setting for Office 365 Ribbon

As for users on mobile devices, “People who cannot see what is on a computer screen often rely on screen readers to hear what is displayed.”

As part of this effort, we have recently rolled out several enhancements for VoiceOver users in Skype for Business on iOS and Outlook for iOS. Also, in the latest version of the PowerPoint app on iOS, we have added support for multiple audio tracks so you can start hearing audio descriptions if they are included in videos within a slideshow.”

While the Office 365 has a roadmap in place for the addition of more accessibility enhancements for various productivity apps in Office, they are also encouraging users to participate in crafting an Office experience suited for all. By going to the Microsoft Accessibility forum and submitting feedback, users can help Jendrezak and his team start to bolster their list of enhancements with high priority requests.

Also, those who regularly take advantage of the assistive technology can grab themselves a one-month free trial of Office 365 Home to test out its assistive technologies and accessibility experiences. For those already actively using Office 365, joining the Office Insider program will also net them access to proposed assistive technologies as well.

The Office 365 team seems committed to making its productivity platform as easy and flexible to use for as many people as possible. We’re glad to see it.