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One of my core responsibilities during the development of Office Web Apps has been to ensure that the apps are accessible to people with disabilities. Given that the Office Web Apps are web versions of productivity tools our primary focus is on supporting people who are blind, people with reduced vision, and people with limited mobility.
There are a lot of regulations (such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act) and guidelines that pertain to making both software and web sites accessible. These standards and regulations are in place to ensure that software developers take the needs of all users into account. However, compliance with these standards is a means to an end; it is not our goal. Our goal is to make our products accessible to as many people as possible. I personally find it hard to get passionate about regulations. I am, however, a passionate advocate for the people who will be using Office Web Apps.
When we approached the task of making Office Web Apps accessible we identified several core user goals. These are the three where we invested most heavily:
As such, we focus on two key strategies for providing support for screen readers. The first is careful use of HTML. The Word Web App editor, OneNote Web App and Excel Web App are XHTML Strict compliant and use CSS for layout (the PowerPoint Web App and Word Web App viewer use images – our accessibility solution for these is described below). We pay close attention to our use of HTML elements such that elements are primarily used based on their semantic value as opposed to how they function or appear. For example, tables are used to organize tabular data as opposed to layout.
Another important new technology we used to provide screen reader support is ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications). ARIA is an initiative of the W3C aimed at providing more robust mechanisms for exposing web application functionality to screen readers and other assistive technologies. The goal is to provide an experience that is comparable to a fully accessible desktop application. We have included ARIA markup in Office Web Apps so that browsers and screen readers that support the ARIA standard can provide a much clearer interpretation of our interface.
The PowerPoint Web App and Word Web App viewers render documents using images (or Silverlight if it is installed). Content that is presented as an image presents a challenge when making software accessible because screen readers can’t “see” the image. To get around this it is important to provide a text-based version of the file that has both the text and the structure of the content represented in the image.
For PowerPoint presentations we provide a structured outline view of the presentation. This outline contains the text content of the presentation organized by slide. It includes list hierarchy and tabular data in simple HTML that a screen reader can interpret.
For Word documents we provide the ability to open the document as a tagged PDF. This allows people to use a PDF viewer that is compatible with their screen reader to read the Word document. We considered several options here before choosing PDF. These included an HTML view of the document and XPS. Ultimately we chose PDF because we wanted to use a standard format that would retain the richness of the document without requiring that the user has Office installed. Of course, if users have the Office desktop applications installed, these provide the most accessible experience. We have made it very easy to transition from the Office Web Apps to the Office desktop clients when they are available.
Efficiency is key for someone who doesn't use a mouse. With this in mind we worked hard to enable the right set of keyboard shortcuts. Familiar shortcuts from the Office desktop applications such as CTRL+B, CTRL+S, and CTRL+C all work as expected. Also, we implemented the CTRL+F6 shortcut to make it easier to navigate between different areas in the Office Web Apps. For example, in OneNote Web App there is a ribbon, a nav pane on the left and an editing surface for content. CTRL+F6 moves between these areas.
High contrast mode changes the colors of the UI to a color palette that is easier for some people with reduced vision to see. High DPI (Dots per Inch) mode makes the UI larger. In most browsers this is now called “zoom”. The Office Web Apps work well in both high contrast and high DPI modes.
When supporting high contrast and high DPI modes success hinges on what you don't do more than what you do. We are extremely careful not to hardcode colors, pixel values and font sizes such that changes scale or to high contrast will be appropriately respected by our HTML. We did have to make some adjustment to some of the icons we use because they were not visible enough in high contrast mode.
One interesting challenge web developers face is taking high contrast mode into account. There is no consistent way of detecting when a system is in high contrast mode from a browser. This means that we can't change the way we render our interface in high contrast mode, which meant we had to tread carefully since some HTML is not rendered at all in high contrast mode (for example, background images).
For a broader look at Office accessibility check out Office 2010: Accessibility Investments & Document Accessibility.
Nick SimonsProgram Manager, Office Web Apps
Could you add a web app for outllok so that i do not have to deal with having it stored on my hard drive so i can reduce the amount of hard drive space that is used on mu computer.
Actually it's a great idea.. I can't wait that we can try office webs apps soon!
I hope too that outlook comes in a web apps. And publisher! :)
The only problem is you PDF engine isn't perfect.
At least when it deals with RTL languages.
It gets worse when the user combined RTL with LTR and some Math Equations.
Actually, Outlook has a Web App (it has had one since 1997). It was (until recently) called "Outlook Web Access", and it is technically a feature of Exchange.
If your company is using Exchange, you can ask your adminstrator about deploying the Outlook Web App.
One issue that I've not seen discussed is how Office Web apps will interact with other hosted applications. The scenario in question is where a user has multiple hosted applications from different vendors. For example, Hosted Exchange via OWA, Hosted QuickBooks, and Office Web. If the user opens a Word attachment in OWA, OWA will download the file to Windows. When Windows recognizes a Word file, will HOSTED Word automatically launch and open the file? Similarly, if I open an Excel file from QuickBooks, will Hosted Excel launch and display the file automatically? This is the experience end users expect with Office installed locally. Google does not support seamless integration of hosted apps. One must do the upload/download hokey pokey to get the files from OWA to Google Docs. Will Microsoft get Hosted Application file interaction correct?
@watsonrodriguez - Currently the Office Web Apps require that a file be hosted on Windows Live or SharePoint. This makes some of the scenarios you describe challenging. However, we are looking at ways to make the Office Web Apps available in more places and some of these are similar to what you are asking about. Sorry I can't be more specific but we are still in early planning stages.
Love the new graphic look- clean and crisp!!
Problem with Outlook 2010: When I create a calendar entry for an all day event and invite someone for that event, the e-mail gets stuck in the outbox, never goes. However, if the calendar entry has a start and stop time anytime during the day, the e-mail goes as expected.
However, I can receive and ACCEPT an e-mail for an all day event and the response goes to the sender.
@Drazick: We definitely know that our PDF engine isn’t perfect; however, we’ve continued to work hard in 2010 to ensure that it provides proper accessibility data regardless of content (there will always be bugs, but we’ve worked to address many of them) – we appreciate the feedback, though, and will continue to improve this going forward.
As I said but my comments never appeared Office is extremely inaccessible to visually impaired persons.
Even this blog is inaccessible because of the captcha and so I cannot enter even a comment without assistance.
1. Does not allow you to select text using the cursors consistently. Try pressing shift+down in Word and in Notepad and observe the difference. Word might also select partly the next line and so blind people have to press shift+end to make sure.
2. Formatting text is inconsistent and very hard. Especially creating or editing booleeted and numbered lists. Compare this with HTML easy formatting in Google Documents.
3. Using styles is hard. The combo for choosing a style is too much down the ribbon. The shortcut ctrl+shift+s does not activate it but it take you into a horrible task pain. If the task pain is already active but not in focus, the shortcut does not do anything, which I think is a bug.
4. Many times when you open a dialog box in Office the wrong button is hielighted. Like cancel or Ok is hielighted. The first control should always have the focus, not OK. It shows very bad design.
... and many other things which I cannot type again.
In Excel when you short something using the right-click menu, which is very handy to blind people because you can get to it using the applications key, you can never remove the shorting from that same right-click menu.
Styles and headings are very very useful because all screen readers have special shortcut keys for jumping from heading to heading. Many MS Word documents have no headings in them. Why? Because Word discourages the use of styles. Very very bad design.
I have too many other comments but I spent a day typing them and now they are all deleted and so I cannot type them again.
Equations also do not speak. Why can I enter equations on the web using LaTX but not in Word. and many other things.
So what's the deal? When will we be able to use OneNote via Skydrive? Is there a beta / ctp / MS Connect I can sign up for? I'm going positively bonkers waiting for OneNote via Skydrive.
Seems like development/testing of Office Web Apps has stalled. Been waiting for edit-enabled Word and OneNote Web Apps for many months. Can someone from MSFT shed some light on this? Thanks.
@Jonathan and @Jack, the development of the Office Web Apps is not stalled and is in full swing. OneNote Web App and Word Web App editing will start rolling out in the first half of 2010. Right now I can’t provide a more precise date as the details surrounding full availability are still being worked out.
I have a blind colleague who refuses to covert to Office 2007 because it utterly broke the familiarity of Office 2003, especially with respect to keystroke compatibility. Office still provides WordPerfect keystroke capability, so why not Office 2003? Could there not be a way to "layer" compatibility so that someone with disabilities could get used to layers of the new interface one or two aspects at a time? My busy colleague simply does not have the weeks to spend doing nothing but learning the new Office UI just to be productive once again. Time is money and, in his case, that is an awful lot of money that would be wasted.