By Jeff Petty, Windows Accessibility Program Manager Lead
Today we are celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day. This is a great opportunity to share an inside look into what’s coming in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update later this year. Let’s take a quick look back, before we get into an overview of features that will be coming to Insiders in the coming weeks, with general availability this fall. We’ll then ask for your feedback on how we can continue to improve Windows 10 accessibility.
A quick look back
Last year, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer, reaffirmed our company-wide commitment to accessibility and outlined our guiding principles and goals to improve accessibility across our products, including Windows. In the Anniversary Update, Windows delivered accessibility improvements to Microsoft Edge, Windows Mail, Narrator (including publishing a user guide at http://aka.ms/narratorguide), Start, Cortana, the Microsoft Store, Groove, Movies & TV, and other experiences.
The Windows 10 Creators Update continued our journey of accessibility improvements. With this update, people with low vision or who are blind can now install Windows without sighted assistance or use a Braille display to interact with Windows. With mono audio, people with partial hearing loss or deafness in one ear can send the audio in their left and right channels to both channels, so they don’t miss any sounds. Xbox provided in-game chat transcription to game developers, so that they can offer people with hearing loss or deafness a way to enjoy gaming with friends and family without missing a word. Xbox also delivered Copilot, which enables gamers to use both controllers simultaneously to control a single character in a game. This feature of Copilot is great for gamers with physical disabilities who need alternate ways of holding a controller and for parents assisting kids. Microsoft Edge now includes eBook Learning Tools accessibility features: Read Aloud and text spacing make it easier for everyone to read and enjoy text, including people with learning differences such as dyslexia, emerging readers and English Language Learners. The KNFB Reader app was launched in the Microsoft Store and complements existing accessibility-related apps like Read&Write for Microsoft Edge and TalkTablet. Finally, the Windows accessibility site was updated to better reflect the ways Windows 10 makes your device easier to use, including people with vision, hearing, physical and cognitive disabilities.
Later this fall, Windows 10 Fall Creators Update will include additional accessibility improvements. Some of the highlights include improvements to Narrator, our built-in screen reader, improvements for low vision users, and new features that make it easier for everyone, including students, to read and write.
The Narrator team continues to focus on making a screen reader that is both easy to learn and use, and powerful enough to support learning, working and playing on Windows 10 devices including PCs, phones and Xbox. Narrator improvements coming in the Fall Creators Update include:
- Device learning mode – Narrator will include the ability to send commands from a keyboard, touch or braille display and get feedback about what the command does without invoking the command.
- Usability improvements – Narrator will read controls more accurately and consistently, will include Scan Mode turned on by default (and remember whether Scan Mode is turned on or off in apps across sessions), and will read apps like Settings and Weather like a web page. Narrator continues to make progress toward a unified interaction model, where Windows apps and web pages can be navigated with a consistent set of commands so that Narrator is easy to learn and use without having to remember a large set of keyboard shortcuts.
- Braille improvements – Narrator users can type and read using different braille translations. Users can also perform braille input for application shortcuts and modifier keys, which enables users to employ their braille display to perform common tasks such as pressing ALT + TAB to switch between active applications or pressing CTRL + B to bold text.
- Automatically generated image descriptions – Narrator will include the ability to use artificial intelligence to generate descriptions for images that lack alternative text on demand. The service includes the ability to extract text from images using optical character recognition.
Low vision improvements
The Fall Creators Update includes:
- Magnifier improvements – Magnifier on the Windows 10 Desktop will follow Narrator focus, so that Magnifier and Narrator are easier to use together for low vision users. Desktop Magnifier will include an option to provide smoother fonts and images. And, it will include new Settings and the ability to zoom in an out using a mouse wheel.
- Color filters – Windows 10 will include color filters at the system level, including filters designed to make it easier for people with color blindness to differentiate between colors like red and green and to make it easier for people with light sensitivity to create and consume content.
Reading and writing improvements
The Fall Creators Update also includes features that make it easier to read and write:
- Learning Tools in Edge – In addition to eBooks, Read Aloud or simultaneously highlighting and voicing text, Learning Tools will be supported on web pages.
- Word predictions – In addition to the touch keyboard, word predictions will be supported for U.S. English using hardware keyboards.
New Windows modes
The Windows team is committed to delivering built-in assistive technology that exceeds our users’ needs and expectations. We are also working closely with assistive technology partners to continue to improve their experiences with Windows 10 and to support deploying more assistive technology apps in the Microsoft Store. We recently announced Windows 10 S, which promises Windows 10 devices with faster boot times and improved security and reliability. We believe Windows 10 S is great for many customers. Others may prefer Windows Home or Windows Pro to meet their needs. Microsoft is committed to meeting the needs of people with disabilities and providing choices for devices and modes for operating Windows. We will provide assistive technology users with a switch to Windows 10 Pro from Windows 10 S at no charge as we continue to improve our built-in assistive technology and bring more assistive technology apps to the Microsoft Store.
Thanks, and keep the feedback coming
Thank you to the many people who have provided feedback — both positive and constructive — to help make Windows accessibility delightful. If you’re interested in providing help or suggestions, we welcome your feedback via the Windows Insider Program as these features are previewed in the coming months. Windows 10 makes it easy to share your thoughts and suggestions — just press Windows logo key + F to launch the Feedback hub and share what’s top of mind.
As well, if you are a customer with a disability (of any kind) and need technical assistance, the Disability Answer Desk is there to assist via phone and chat, and in the United States, we also have an ASL option for our customers with hearing loss (+1 503-427-1234).