By Clint Covington, Principal Program Manager, Accessibility, Office Product Group.
At Microsoft, we are passionate about empowering our customers with technology designed for people of all abilities. For our enterprise and government customers, this means providing technology they can trust to work for all of their employees and customers, as well as providing information for understanding and validating product accessibility for their environments. And thanks to the invaluable opportunity we’ve had to work with the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Tester program, we’ve been able to help make customers’ technology evaluations even easier with a systematic engineering process to test Microsoft products for accessibility standards conformance. In fact, over the course of the last year, this process has helped us update over 100 conformance documents for Office 365 alone and has helped customers as they work to achieve conformance with global accessibility standards.
Microsoft has been very public about our product support for accessibility standards for some time. We broadly publish conformance reports for our products for key accessibility standards such as Section 508, WCAG 2.0 and EN 301 549. In the next few months, we will begin publishing conformance statements with the updated Section 508 regulations recently published by the US Access Board.
Conformance testing on accessibility standards helps make our products better. Our new accessibility testing program has been instrumental in helping us launch the most accessible version of Office 365 that we have ever shipped, a consistent user experience across devices, and a more streamlined deployment experience for our customers.
The Trusted Tester program, developed by DHS’s Office of Accessible Systems & Technology, creates a common testing approach for determining software and website accessibility compliance and conformance to the Section 508 standards. The program’s code and UI inspection-based tests help us determine if software and website conformance meets Section 508 standards. For example, using the keyboard to navigate to each interactive component, a tester can check that each component has a visible focus indicator and then use code inspection (and where available, assisted code inspection) to help ensure each component has an associated label.
In addition to training employees generally about accessibility, we contracted with several suppliers and required all accessibility testers working on Microsoft projects to be certified Trusted Testers. To date, nearly 300 people working with Microsoft suppliers have gone through the Trusted Tester program.
Because the Trusted Tester program is based on existing U.S. Section 508 regulations, it doesn’t currently include all the requirements of WCAG 2.0 AA or EN 301 549. For that reason, together with our partners, we expanded the scope of test cases to include these additional standards. We have also provided testers with additional training on emerging technologies, such as User Interface Automation (UIA) and Mac, iOS and Android features. Since the updated Section 508 regulations are closely harmonized with WCAG 2.0 AA and EN 301549, these investments will also enable transparent reporting to the new Section 508 requirements. It is also expected that the Trusted Tester process will be updated to fully align with the recently released update to the Section 508 standards due to take effect in 2018.
In addition to our work to meet industry standards, we conduct research to identify additional ways to make core scenarios more usable. In this usability testing, people with disabilities use assistive technology to perform common scenarios and rate the task for efficiency and satisfaction, helping us further focus our efforts to provide a great experience for our customers. We have conducted over a 150 of these studies over the last year.
For the past year, teams across Office, Windows, Cloud and Enterprise and other divisions have worked diligently to improve the accessibility of our products through this systematic approach to conformance and usability testing. We also plan to continue to expand this testing across Microsoft products more broadly moving forward.
Of course, we are also continuing to ship new features – including all of the things we outlined in our product accessibility roadmaps in December. To get the latest accessibility improvements as soon as they become available, customers should use the latest versions of our products, including Office 365 (Current Channel for Office 365 ProPlus) and Windows 10 Anniversary Update (and Windows 10 Creators Update when it becomes available). And to learn more about accessibility at Microsoft, visit www.microsoft.com/accessibility.
Our vision is to create great products that are accessible to everyone – at home, in the workplace and in classrooms. This process has been both an enormous undertaking and deeply inspiring. As we continue on our journey, we know there is still a lot of work we need to do and we deeply value feedback from our customers. Please keep sharing your thoughts with Microsoft through the Disability Answer Desk or request new features via UserVoice. We look forward to hearing from you!
Also, if you are interested in the Trusted Tester program to help you integrate consistent, scalable accessibility conformance testing within your organization, we encourage you to reach out to DHS. The program includes an online course that will take 40 to 80 hours to complete, followed by a rigorous full day certification exam in which students identify non-conformant code resulting in accessibility bugs. For more information, please visit http://www.dhs.gov/accessibility or contact the DHS Accessibility Help Desk. (DHS Accessibility Help Desk Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST 202-447-0440 (voice) 202-447-5857 (TTY) Email: email@example.com)