In February, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, chief accessibility officer for Microsoft, reaffirmed our company-wide commitment to accessibility and outlined our guiding principles and goals to improve accessibility across our products, services and websites. In support of this commitment, the Windows team would like to share progress the team has made with respect to Narrator since the release of Windows 10 last summer.
What We’ve Learned
Since the release of Windows 10 we have heard lots of feedback through our Windows Insider program as well as through direct conversations with users of Assistive Technology (AT). This feedback has aligned to four key areas:
- Improve the accessibility our new browser, Microsoft Edge.
- Improve support for common email scenarios with Windows Mail.
- Improve Narrator by increasing performance, reliability and usability.
- Improve the accessibility of Windows 10 experiences like the Start menu, the lock screen, Cortana, Store, Music, Videos and more.
The Edge and Mail teams have previously provided updates on their progress and priorities, which you can read about on their blogs. This post will focus on the work we are doing in support of improving Narrator. And in the coming months we will be sharing more about the improved accessibility of other Windows 10 experiences.
Improvements to Narrator
Today we are excited to share progress on improvements to Narrator focused on three main areas; performance, reliable reading and usability. Some of these updates can already be seen in the current pre-release builds available through the Windows Insider program, which you can join by visiting https://insider.windows.com/. Others will be included in upcoming builds made available through Windows Insider.
Improvements to expect in Narrator include:
- Improved performance when navigating the start menu.
- Significant performance improvements when typing
More Reliable Reading
- We have improved things like table navigation resulting in a better reading and editing experience in apps like Windows Mail and Word
- Narrator will now read suggested results in apps like Cortana and Edge as well as suggested e-mail addresses in Outlook.
- Keyboard commands in Narrator are now more familiar to users of other screen readers.
- Some keyboard interactions have been simplified and updated to ensure better ergonomics, making them easier to type.
The following video gives a quick walkthrough of some of the improved keyboard interactions:
While much of our work aligns with our commitment to deliver a great in-box screen reading experience with Narrator, we also have longstanding relationships with our 3rd party screen reading partners. We firmly believe that the ecosystem of screen reading applications from vendors like Freedom Scientific, NV Access, AI Squared, Dolphin and Serotek will continue to deliver the most comprehensive set of access solutions for the blind and visually impaired. We are working together through regular technical discussions and collaboration to ensure they can support our primary Windows 10 apps and experiences.
We are also implementing a change in Narrator to help you chose the best possible experience when browsing the web. We recognize that some assistive technologies like Narrator may work better with Internet Explorer. With the April 2016 update for Windows 10, the first time you run Narrator you will be presented with the option to set Internet Explorer as the default web browser.
And finally, in addition to the work on Narrator, our documentation team has been working hard to update the resources available to those who are learning how to use Narrator. We are looking forward to providing improved and more complete documentation at the next public update for Windows 10.
Microsoft is committed to making Windows 10 a great experience for all users and over the next few months we will continue to work on the performance, reliability and usability of tools designed for people with disabilities. We will also keep working on new features, like additional languages for Narrator, and will continue to post regular updates about our progress.