This week, Microsoft outlined a sweeping set of accessibility improvements it is making in the Windows 10 Anniversary update. Key among them is a major update to Narrator screen reading app. But Microsoft is also improving some core Windows 10 apps for accessibility, and making it easier for developers to take advantage of these changes in their own apps.
“Microsoft is passionate about accessibility and ensuring our products work for all our customers,” Microsoft’s Daniel Hubbell notes in a post to the Microsoft Accessibility Blog. “Today we are excited to share additional details about the Windows 10 Anniversary Update which represents a significant step forward in our effort to make Microsoft products accessible.”
As you must know, the free Windows 10 upgrade offer is ending July 29. But those using Assistive Technology products with Windows 7 or 8.1 be able to upgrade for free past that end date. Hubbell says that Microsoft will publish a web site explaining how that offer will work on July 29.
As for the accessibility improvements coming in the Anniversary update, Microsoft has already outlined the changes over the past several months. But this week’s summary is a nice roundup of those improvements, and a great reminder of the ongoing work Microsoft is doing to serve the more than one billion people with disabilities in the world.
Here are the accessibility improvements coming in the Windows 10 Anniversary update.
The Narrator screen reading tool in Windows 10 is getting a significant update that Microsoft says was driven by user feedback. Coming changes include:
Faster text to speech. Narrator’s text to speech functionality is being improved with new voices that feature faster top rates of speed. The new voices offer about double the number of spoken words per minute when compared to the original voices included with Windows 10.
Support for more languages. Narrator now supports the following new lanuages: Spanish (Mexico), French (Canada), Portuguese (Brazil), Arabic (Egypt), Catalan (Spain), Danish (Denmark), Finnish (Finland), Norwegian (Norway), Dutch (Belgium), Dutch (Netherlands), Portuguese (Portugal), Swedish (Sweden) and Turkish (Turkey).
Improved keyboard navigation. Narrator’s keyboard commands have been changed to work like those in other screen readers so users won’t need to re-learn how to use it.
Scan mode. This new navigation mode is toggled by pressing the CAPS LOCK key. When enabled, you can use Space to activate the selected item (a hyperlink, button, or whatever).
Verbosity. Narrator now supports six levels of verbosity. In what Microsoft calls Verbose mode 0, you will hear only the text. At other verbose levels, you will get varying indications of text properties, like headings, text color or formatting.
Punctuation modes. Now, you can control how much punctuation you hear while reading text, with settings such as none, some, most, all and math.
AutoSuggest results. Narrator can now take advantage of the automatic suggestions provided by many apps in Windows 10. So Narrator you will now provide a verbal hint with an audio indication when these suggestions are available. Microsoft uses the following example: “When you start entering a search term in an application search box you may get suggestions based on what you are entering.”
Simpler feedback. Just type Pressing CAPS LOCK + E + E when running Narrator to send Microsoft feedback about this app.
Better documentation. Microsoft says it will provide an updated Narrator user guide and other documentation when the Anniversary update is released.
Improved accessibility in core Windows 10 apps
In addition to the Narrator features noted above, Microsoft has improved the accessibility functionality of many core Windows 10 apps too. Among the changes are:
Microsoft Edge. Edge supports a new accessibility architecture, and provides modern web accessibility standards so that developers can more easily build accessible sites. It supports tagged PDF files, and includes improvements to features such as the address bar, tabs, windows, and Favorites.
Mail. In the Anniversary update, Mail builds off the many accessibility improvements that have been added to the app since the initial release of Windows 10 and now includes an improved account setup experience when using a screen reader.
Cortana. Microsoft’s personal digital assistant provides more reliable search and navigation when using a keyboard, improved high contrast mode support, a number of general fixes that improve the Cortana experience when used with accessibility tools such as Windows Speech Recognition, Narrator and other screen-readers.
Groove. Microsoft’s music app now provides better support for high DPI scaling and high contrast, better color combinations and text boxing, and a number of improvements that make the app better when used with a screen reader.
Improved accessibility functionality for developers
Microsoft is making a number of accessibility resources available to developers by the time of the Anniversary update launch. These are:
New developer tools. The Visual Studio App Analysis tool was updated to make it easier to find, triage and fix accessibility errors, and Narrator now supports a new developer mode.
App improvements. Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps now support Mnemonics, meaning that they can more easily provide Access Key customizations. “For example, the developer of a shopping app can now assign a custom Access Key like P, that can be activated by pressing ALT then the letter P, in order to activate the purchase button,” Microsoft explains.