Making Microsoft products more accessible: What to expect in 2017

The following is a post from Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft Chief Accessibility Officer


Tomorrow is International Day of Persons with Disabilities and this year’s theme is focused on achieving goals of the future that we want. In the spirit of the day, I thought I’d take the opportunity to give an update on the important progress made on Microsoft’s product accessibility goals this year and the road ahead next year to keep the momentum going into the future.

First, a quick moment of reflection… Wow, what a year it’s been! At the beginning of 2016, Microsoft introduced new organizational investments across the company as well as a product roadmap for the year. As you’ve seen in the months since, we’ve been hard at work delivering on those commitments, and the feedback from all of you throughout this year has been incredibly powerful and energizing. If you haven’t yet watched this video from Windows and this video from Office, you should definitely go check them out. They are great examples of the cool stuff that has been underway around here this year. We’re delighted to be so close to meeting each one of the goals we laid out for 2016 and thrilled to see the impact that technology is having for our customers. And if you saw the demos at the Microsoft Shareholders Meeting this week – where we featured things like Narrator and Built-in Learning Tools in Word and the one-touch way for creating slides with PowerPoint Designer – you know that there’s more coming all the time.

But we also know there’s still so much to do. And as we look ahead, our three companywide guiding principles established this year will continue to guide us in the coming year:

  • Transparency, to commit to sharing our plans to ensure that Microsoft’s products are accessible.
  • Accountability, for prioritizing inclusive design and accessibility in the creation of our products and services.
  • Inclusivity, in order to keep all of our customers and their abilities top of mind.

So, with all that in mind, let’s talk about what’s coming up in 2017:


Windows 10 and Narrator: The Windows 10 Creators Update will include improvements to Narrator. Some of these new Narrator experiences are already available on Insider Builds and others will be available in early 2017. For example:

  • Braille: Support for braille is coming! The Creators Update will include beta support for braille input and output. The beta will support braille displays from more than 35 manufacturers, using more than 40 languages and multiple braille variants, including grade 2 contracted braille.
  • Unassisted installation: Users will soon be able to install the Windows 10 Creators Update using Narrator throughout the installation process, including from within Windows RE/PE for setup & troubleshooting.
  • New way to launch Narrator: We have changed the quick keys used to launch Narrator to address feedback from many Windows 10 users. Users can now launch Narrator by clicking CTRL + WIN + ENTER. WIN + ENTER no longer launches Narrator. Users can still launch Narrator from Cortana or from the Settings Window.
  • New text to speech voices and capabilities: We are adding more than 10 new voices. In addition, there will be Narrator support for multilingual reading, so that Narrator seamlessly switches between languages when you have the corresponding voices installed.
  • Improved audio experiences: We implemented dynamic ducking, so Narrator will only reduce the volume of other applications like Groove or Pandora when it is speaking. The handshake between Narrator and Cortana is also improved, so Cortana won’t transcribe what Narrator (or other screen readers) is speaking.
  • More general reliability and usability improvements: We added features to make it easier to understand the context of a control with which you are interacting and to make it possible to discover information about objects like the background color of a table cell. Narrator will remember and maintain your mode, e.g. scan mode, across applications. Narrator cursor positioning improvements include stopping and starting where you expect when reading in scan mode and when reading by line, paragraph and in continuous reading.
  • Easier web browsing with Edge: Narrator responsiveness is improved with Edge and several new features have been added, including the ability to jump directly to a form element like a check box, text field or button, and the ability to navigate by heading level.
  • Improvements across devices: It will be now be possible to use a controller to drive Narrator interactions on Xbox. The ability to adjust the pitch and speed of the Narrator voice on Xbox has also been added.

Customer choice and partnerships with 3rd party assistive technologies continue to be a crucial part of our strategy. We are working closely with partners to ensure that they have what they need to deliver great user experiences with Edge, Office and other Windows apps. And, we continue to offer the Window Eyes screen reader free of charge for customers using Office 365. For more information, check out:


Office 365: Office 365 applications on every platform will continue to evolve monthly, to empower you to consume, create and collaborate on content independently, efficiently and confidently. Noteworthy new capabilities rolling out to Office 365 subscribers in early 2017 include:

  • Built-in controls for authoring accessible content: We will be introducing more accessible templates to help you get started, making it easy to insert alternative text descriptions for images and meaningful display names for hyperlinks as well as making the accessibility checker available in more Office applications. Watch this short accessible authoring demonstration to learn more about these capabilities.
  • Built-in controls for personalizing reading experiences: Inspired by the profound impact the introduction of Learning Tools for OneNote has had in classrooms and are making these tools to promote concentration and comprehension available in more Office applications. Settings to read text aloud with simultaneous highlighting, increase text spacing and break words into syllables are already rolling out in Word for PCs to Office Insider and First Release program members and are coming next to Word Online and OneNote Online. Watch this short Learning Tools demonstration to learn more about these capabilities.
  • Support for creating professional, polished content with assistive technologies: Making it easy to use new cloud-powered, intelligent services in Office applications with assistive technologies such as screen readers and alternative keyboards. Services such as Designer in PowerPoint, Researcher and Editor in Word can reduce the effort you spend on tasks such as formatting, citing and proofing your work and let you focus on refining the ideas you’d like to communicate.

For details on these and more, check out the Accessibility in Office 365 – enabling greater digital inclusion blog today, and stay tuned to our Office 365 accessibility blog series for more updates in the future.


Feedback: I simply cannot overstate how valuable your feedback has been and will continue to be for these efforts. Its not just important, its essential! We need to know what you think, what works, what doesn’t, what you want to see next. Help us to build the list and keep us grounded as we go forward! Your feedback is welcome anytime at UserVoice and the Disability Answer Desk is at the ready if you have questions.

Of course, this is just a glimpse of the exciting things underway – there’s only so much one blog can cover. If you want to learn more, please do check out our Microsoft Accessibility website (which we are continuing to evolve and grow), the Microsoft Inclusive Hiring site and stay in touch with our Twitter handle. And remember, we are always hiring, so if you know of great candidates that you think could help make our products even better, make sure to point them to our Inclusive Hiring website.

2016 has been amazing. And humbling to be a part of. And I can’t wait for 2017I We are all deeply inspired at the opportunity to work with you and others around the world on this journey. Together, I know we will push the boundaries of what technology can do to empower people to achieve more. So thank you and please keep the feedback coming!