Making Microsoft products more accessible: Our path forward

Accessibility is top of mind at Microsoft when we think about living our mission. In the past few months, we have outlined commitments that will guide our progress as a company and announced a number of organizational investments to make our products more accessible and better serve people with disabilities. I know I speak for the entire accessibility leadership team at Microsoft when I say that we’re excited about the journey ahead.

Our initial task was to establish guiding principles and we landed on three. The first principle is transparency, specifically, committing to share our plans to ensure our products are accessible. The second is accountability, which means we will prioritize inclusive design and accessibility in the development of all products and services going forward. The last is to be inclusive, to think about all of our customers and all of the ways we can empower them with technology.

Today I wanted to share more information about the first of those principles and talk about our product roadmaps. We have set some ambitious goals for 2016. Over the last few months, we have been going through feedback from our listening channels like the Disability Answer Desk and talking to some of our great partners. It’s clear that we need to deliver an experience that enables not just access, but also productivity. In 2016, we’ve prioritized several features and projects across the span of our portfolio that aim to do just that. Some highlights of improvements that recently shipped or are coming your way:

Windows 10: In 2015, we launched Windows 10 across the globe with built in Accessibility fundamentals but we know we have work to do to make Windows 10 a great experience for all users. Our goal in 2016 is to address this by:

  • Improve commonly used features and do a great job with showcase Windows experiences. We are working to ensure that everyone can easily access and use the Start menu, the lock screen, and settings as well as Cortana, Store, Music, Videos and more.
  • We’re also working hard on our new browser, Microsoft Edge. By the end of 2016, the browser will have improved browsing and reading experiences not just for those using our built-in assistive technologies, such as Narrator and Magnifier, but also for people who use other commercial assistive technology. On Feb. 3, we shared our priorities for 2016, including additional detail about the key areas that we think will have the biggest impact.
  • Windows 10 Mail will have improved screen-reader support for common email scenarios – already, we’ve made progress against these goals on Mail for PCs.
  • Work continues to improve our built-in assistive technology by increasing performance, reliability, compatibility and usability. These improvements translate to a faster Narrator, improved compatibility while using apps like Windows 10 Mail and Microsoft Word, better mapping of keyboard commands to user expectations and an increase in the number of supported languages.

Office 365: We are making regular accessibility enhancements to Office 365. Our goal is to make it easier for people with disabilities to communicate, consume and create content on any device. Also, we want to make it easier for everyone to author content that is accessible. Our key areas of investment include:

  • Making it easier to author accessible content from any device. In 2016, we will be extending the Accessibility Checker (already available in Office for PCs) to Office for Mac and improving the experience with alt-text in Office Online.
  • Making it easier to use Office 365 with screen readers and keyboards on any device. Last year, we added support for VoiceOver for Office for Mac and this year, we will be adding full accessibility support for all our Windows 10 store apps.
  • Enhancing the experience with our apps in High Contrast Mode. For example, we will make it easy to read commands and navigate through controls in Office for PC.
  • Introducing new reading and writing tools that are particularly beneficial for people with dyslexia. In January, we introduced a preview of Learning Tools in OneNote for PC that will be generally available in 2016. We are also working on improving spelling checker in Word 2016 and Outlook 2016 to offer suggestions for phonetic and other less commons misspellings.
  • Enabling everyone to use our applications in more intuitive ways. We introduced “Tell Me what you want to do…” in Office Online and Office 2016 for PCs to help people get things done quickly or get help by entering intuitive commands. We will be extending this capability to Office on iOS and Android in 2016.

There is a lot more to come! We’re committed to delivering great technologies that empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, and that includes building out accessibility features in our existing products and services. We are looking forward to hearing from you and about what matters to you as we go forward. This is just the start of what is coming in 2016. We will keep you updated with more roadmap updates via this blog in coming weeks and months. Don’t forget, if you are a customer with a disability (of any kind) and need technical assistance, the Disability Answer Desk is there to assist via phone, chat and in the United States, we also have an ASL option for our customers with hearing loss (503-427-1234).

Lastly, I want to say thank you. I’ve been personally humbled by the response since the announcement of our reorganized team a month ago. I’m excited by the journey ahead and the truly limitless potential to truly empower with technology. Let’s make it happen.

About the Author

Chief Accessibility Officer