Microsoft is making accessibility plans across the board: here’s what’s on tap for Windows 10

Arif Bacchus

Windows 10 Logo Featured Image Generic Hero

Today, along with accessibility plans for Skype, Microsoft detailed some accessibility features coming with the next Redstone 4 featured update for Windows 10. The features have long been available for testing with Windows Insiders, and range from new Ease of Access settings page, an improved Windows Narrator, enhanced eye control navigation, and much more.

First and foremost, Microsoft is making it easier for users to find accessibility-related settings. The company combined various settings under one Ease of Access menu grouped by ability type. For instance, a user can find the ability to “make everything bigger” or “make everything brighter” on a new Display page in the Vision group. Other accessibility-related settings now in Ease of Access can be seen below.

  • Ease of Access settings now have common keyboard shortcuts that are in line with the controls with which they work.
  • An audio page in the Hearing group
  • Speech and eye control page in the Interaction group
  • Customers who rely on Narrator can navigate the Settings app using Landmarks and Headings. While Heading navigation was previously limited to the web, it is now available in supported applications.

Secondly, with the Narrator improvements, Microsoft looks to make Windows 10 easy to learn and use to support those who are hard of hearing. The company is adding performance and reliability improvements, audio improvements, and braille improvements to the Narrator in Windows 10 and is enhancing the experience in Microsoft Edge. A list of some of these features is below.

  • Narrator is more responsive due to changes to how key presses are processed and improvements in UI Automation.
  • We also improved Narrator focus handling, synchronizing system and Narrator focus so that pressing the Tab key will move forward from the current item that is being read (as opposed to the current item with system focus) by default.
  • The team made it easier to understand what is happening when users open or close tabs, add favorites and load or refresh a page.
  • The team also added keyboard shortcuts to UI tooltips so that screen reader and other keyboard users can learn how to quickly invoke different features.
  • Narrator users can emphasize text formatting like bold, italics, underline or all caps without adding verbosity, i.e. using changes in speed, pitch and/or volume to emphasize changes rather than descriptions like “start bold” and “end bold”. When reading by character,
  • Once installed, braille devices are available on the logon screen after powering on a device (in the system context). It is now easier to re-configure the braille display when switching between Narrator and other screen readers.
  • It is now possible to run Narrator in Safe Mode

Finally, with the eye control improvements, Windows 10 users can soon expect easier navigation and left and right click capabilities, acceleration to common tasks, and the flexibility to pause eye control. Microsoft is also planning on adding more features to Learning Tools in Edge for ePub files, which break down complex words into smaller parts

Microsoft has been on a mission to bring new accessibility experiences to Windows 10 ever since it launched in 2015. The company has steadily added new accessibility features, via the Creators Update, Fall Creators Update, and the Anniversary Update. They also work with partners to help enable more third-party accessibility experiences, all with the goal of empowering people to achieve more.