Improvements to Narrator in Windows 10


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:

  1. Improve the accessibility our new browser, Microsoft Edge.
  2. Improve support for common email scenarios with Windows Mail.
  3. Improve Narrator by increasing performance, reliability and usability.
  4. 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:

Better Performance

  • 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

Usability

  • 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:

Other Investments

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.

Looking Forward

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.

If you’re interested in providing help or suggestions, we would love to get your feedback via the Windows Insider Program or for technical support, contact the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk.


Comments (7)
  1. Tayo Bethel says:

    It’s great to see Narrator get some long overdue improvements. Speaking as a blind user, it’s my opinion that while third party screen readers are popular with the blind, there will always be some who, for whatever reason, would like to put off downloading programs. In such cases, a fully functional out-of-box screen reader would be welcome. Also, add support for popular EBook readers such as Adobe Digital Editions. If Edge becomes fully accessible, then we can retire Internet Explorer without a qualm and switch to a modern browser without having to download Firefox (fully accessible almost) or Google Chrome (not quite as accessible but still usable). With a good out-of-box experience akin to that offered by Apple where accessibility is concerned, Windows 10 could go far. Keep up the good work.

  2. Pleased to see the simple cursor key and key combination navigation. I’ve displayed web pages literally as plain text in the free WebbIE web browser for fifteen years now, and the key benefit I’ve always heard from users is the sheer simplicity of this approach. Technically-minded screenreader users love to use tree models for web pages, but a linear presentation is simpler and therefore far more usable for many.

    The other key combination that users have always liked is the “skip links” option in WebbIE: essentially, “skip over navigation and cruft to the first bit of the page that looks like it’s content.” Of course, in an ideal world you could just do “skip to the first header” and you’d be there, but that certainly hasn’t been the case historically. I notice your video starts with the focus in the main body of the web page: the problem for many screenreader users is finding their way there. I wonder if you might use something like the logic in Readability to identify the likely “start of content” in a webpage and provide a dedicated key combination to get there – or maybe even put focus there on page load…!

  3. Don Barrett says:

    Great demo in the video.
    New feature set is really coming along, and the notion of Narrator actually changing settings to allow individuals to have the better IE browsing experience is beyond awesome. This kind of assistance by the OS is accessibility at its best; A very proactive and useful feature; a game-changer.

  4. Yuri says:

    I would like to see narrator work in the Windows PE environment. It is admittedly much easier these days, now that Windows 10 Setup allows users to initiate nearly clean installs while Windows is running, but it is still not reliable to clean and repartition the hard disc at a command prompt.

  5. Milano says:

    These are great feature-set in Narrator improvement. I would like to see Windows 10 installation as a Narrator feature. I can install Linux Ubuntu using Orca and Mac OSX using Voiceover. I have to install windows using hacks and workaround. Keep up the good work!

  6. Ana G says:

    These changes to Narrator are very exciting! Great news!

    My own experience has been that, in addition to Narrator’s quirks, the Microsoft TTS lags and crashes often, complicating things for end users, and yes, more languages would be great.

    I also agree with some of the other comments here. Narrator needs to be a real screen reader so that blind people can use computers at schools, in public libraries, at stores (both as informational kiosks and point-of-sale devices), at work, at professional testing centers, and so on. We won’t have equal access until we stop needing third-party screen readers, expensive scripts, and extra programming, which most programmers don’t do.

  7. Brandon Tyson says:

    Currently work was done on the text-to-speech voices, making them faster, and when you type letters they sound more natural. It would be really great to see this natural speech apply to the whole text-to-speech voice and not just to letters and numbers individually but to words as well. This can be seen in the latest builds from the Insider program.

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