By Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer
Today, with the launch of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Microsoft is taking a big step forward on our journey to make our products more accessible and empower people with disabilities. Our teams have been working tirelessly to build inclusive content and expand the usability of core accessible features. The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update delivers a ton of new features and experiences, some of which are mind blowing! But of course, I’m most excited by the updates, improvements and new tools for people with disabilities, and I want to share a few of my favourites with you.
First, let’s talk Eye Control. The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update will deliver a beta version of Eye Control, which empowers people with disabilities to use a compatible eye tracker, such as a Tobii Eye Tracker, to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard and text-to-speech experience in Windows 10 using only their eyes. Eye Control began as a hack project during our One Week Hackathon, turned into a Microsoft Research project and ultimately became a product concept in the Windows team. It is an early feature set so we are really keen to hear from you as we continue to work on this input vehicle. So please, check it out and continue to share your feedback!
An audio description of the video is also available.
We’ve also made updates to some products you may know and recognize that are already part of Windows 10. That includes new Learning Tools (also, originally a Hackathon project) capabilities in Microsoft Edge. Learning Tools are a set of features that make it easier for people with learning differences like dyslexia to read. In this update, we’ve added the ability to simultaneously highlight and listen to text in web pages and PDF documents to make it easier to read. These new solutions also make it easier not just for English language learners and people with dyslexia, but for everyone, to increase their focus, to improve their comprehension and to reduce their error rate when reading.
Another is Dictation on the Desktop. Already, this feature allowed people with vision, mobility and cognitive disabilities to speak into the microphone, and convert that using Windows Speech Recognition into text that appears on screen. In the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, you can now use dictation to input English text on the desktop. Besides dictating text, you can also use voice commands to do basic editing or to input punctuation.
It’s not just about productivity at work in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update – we want to make sure the time you spend online for fun is just as accessible and inclusive! We added a feature to our screen reader in Narrator that uses Microsoft Cognitive Services to generate image descriptions for pictures that lack alternative text. For websites or apps that don’t have alt-text built in, this feature will provide quick and accurate descriptions of an image. We also listened to your feedback and made it possible to use Magnifier with Narrator, so you can zoom in on text and have it read aloud.
Another one of my absolute favourite developments is a new feature for people with colour blindness, which affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women around the world. Color Filters are designed to improve the usability for people with colour blindness so they can more easily differentiate between colours like red and green. Consuming content is easier and since this feature works at the system level, all installed software and third-party apps will follow the filter you set up. Color Filters are available in greyscale, invert, greyscale inverted, Deuteranopia, Protanopia or Tritanopia.
There is so much goodness to digest in this update and we’re definitely excited about it. I’m thrilled at how far we’ve come since the initial launch of Windows 10, including enhancements with the Windows 10 Creators Update. At that time, we promised to invest in updates to improve the user experience for people with disabilities and I hope you’re seeing the progress. In July 2016, we shared the offer to extend the free Windows 10 upgrade. This extended availability is now coming to a close, as we’ll wrap this offer at the end of 2017. Please take advantage of this offer before it is retired at the end of this year!
It’s an exciting day for Windows users, and we hope that you’ll try out the new features and provide your feedback. This is how we make our products better and we want to learn from you. Don’t forget, 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, chat and in the United States, we also have an ASL option for our customers in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community (503-427-1234).