The following blog post was written by Ellen Kampel, Public Relations Manager for Accessibility at Microsoft. Ellen holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) and works on technology issues related to aging and people with disabilities.
For nearly a decade Microsoft has partnered with a network of independent accessibility information and service centers across the U.S. These centers provide free training to the public as well as paid services that help individuals learn about the free accessibility options and tools in Microsoft products, and assistive technology available from independent manufacturers. The network of centers is called the Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers (MARC). Participants in the MARC program can be reached through webpages hosted on the Microsoft Accessibility website: http://www.microsoft.com/enable/centers/marc.aspx
With the introduction of the Windows 8 operating system last year many of the MARCs hosted special trainings to help people with disabilities and their teachers, families, therapists and other supporters learn to take advantage of the free accessibility options available in Windows.
The Washington Assistive Technology Act Program held several training sessions for parents and educators from southwest Washington and reported in their blog that there was enthusiastic interest in Magnifier, Narrator, and speech recognition in particular.
The Pacer Simon Technology Center in Minneapolis, MN hosted several training sessions and reported, “Ninety percent of participants said that after the trainings they are more likely to utilize accessibility features in their computer’s operating system; the other 10% said, if needed, they would utilize the features. Most participants found speech recognition and magnification most helpful among the tools.”
MARCs consistently report that built-in accessibility features and options in Windows and other Microsoft products go unnoticed and therefore unappreciated, and worse—unused.
The MARCs do a great job of helping spread the word, but another way to spread the word is to direct people with disabilities, parents, educators, therapists, and others to the Microsoft Accessibility website. The purpose of the website is to focus attention on the accessibility aspects of Microsoft products and it is packed with information covering a wide range of Microsoft products—from the most recent releases to classics like Windows XP.
Some of the key sections of the Microsoft Accessibility website are:
- Product Information—where you can get an overview of the accessibility features and options in Microsoft products, and links to more information.
- Accessibility Tutorials—quick links to more information about how to access features and options and to control settings.
- Accessibility Demos—links to online videos describing accessibility features and options.
- News and Features—news and feature stories about developments in the field of accessibility.
- Accessibility Guides—written specifically for people with vision, hearing, mobility & dexterity, language and learning, and communications impairments, these guides catalogue the specific Microsoft resources available for each.
- Downloads—including facts sheets, tutorials, comprehensive product information, and educational guides are listed here.