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Productivity and inclusion—Office 365 accessibility update

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John Jendrezak, accessibility lead and partner director of program management for the Office Engineering team.

Over the past year, hundreds of engineers from the Office 365 team have been working hard to make progress towards the plans outlined in our 2016 accessibility roadmap. Key enhancements releasing this quarter bring us closer to two goals:

  • People with disabilities can communicate, consume and create content on any device.
  • Everyone can easily create content that is accessible for all people.

As we make Office 365 accessible by design and make it easy for everyone to create accessible content, we hope that people of all abilities will feel empowered to achieve more with our productivity technologies, have equal access to digital information and have fulfilling interactions with each other.

Here are some of the key accessibility improvements releasing this quarter:

Screen reader usability improvements in Word, Outlook and SharePoint

Narrator—our built-in screen reader—received several key updates as part of the recent Windows 10 anniversary update. These included new voices that can speak up to 800 words per minute, six levels of verbosity, so you can get varying indications of text properties and control over how much punctuation you hear, and verbal hints when automatic suggestions are available.

The Office 365 team continues to work closely with the Narrator team to enhance productivity experiences for screen reader users. While using the latest version of Word for the PC and Windows Store apps with Narrator, you might have already noticed improvements in documents with tables, lists, images and hyperlinks. With the latest version of Outlook for the PC, you will now find it easier to manage your calendar, use the Scheduling Assistant to set up a meeting with others, search for an email and set up signatures for your account. Learn more about accessibility enhancements in Outlook for PCs in this article and review this support article to get started with Narrator.

Screenshot of Narrator in Ease of Access Settings

Narrator, the built-in screen reader in Windows 10, can be started from Ease of Access settings.

In SharePoint Online, you will notice improved screen reader experiences as the most used features have been made accessible by design. The new SharePoint home page in Office 365 includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page, a new “search as you type” experience that alerts screen readers when there are matches found and improved navigation of sites by either table commands if using JAWS or arrow keys for all other screen readers.

Document Libraries now includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page, keyboard shortcuts for all major functions that can be viewed in the app by pressing ? and the ability to navigate lists of files and folders using arrow keys similar to Windows Explorer. Screen reader users can now hear announcements when uploads are in progress and confirmations for actions within Document Libraries. Similar enhancements are coming in SharePoint Lists as well.

Screenshot of keyboard shortcuts in SharePoint Document Libraries

Press ? to access keyboard shortcuts in SharePoint Document Libraries.

High Contrast mode allows people with vision impairments to see data more clearly

In May, I shared details about work underway to make Office 365 more usable with High Contrast themes on PCs, which is critical to ensure that the people with vision impairments, such as cataracts, can interact with data and commands in our applications with less eye strain. Since then, if you have been working in Excel Online on a PC with High Contrast enabled, you’ll notice that tables, active cell and cells-selection outlines are more visible, hyperlinks in sheets are respecting High Contrast theme colors and Sparkline, slicers, shapes and charts are rendered using High Contrast theme colors.

Screenshot of Excel Online in High Contrast Mode with active sheet, selected cells, table outlines and chart outlines clearly visible

Excel Online makes it easy to see the active sheet, selected cells, table outlines and chart outlines in the High Contrast mode.

Proofing and Learning Tools enable people with dyslexia to read and write more effectively

Recently, we announced Editor, a cloud-based advanced proofing and editing service. People with dyslexia who have tried spell-checking with Editor have observed significant improvements, including the ability to find spelling corrections even when the misspelled word is very different from the intended word. More Editor enhancements are coming in the next few months for Word on PCs—all inspired by the needs of people with dyslexia and beneficial for everybody. In particular, Editor will make it easier to choose between suggested spellings for a misspelled word. Synonyms or definitions will be shown alongside suggestions and it will be possible to have both read aloud.

Screenshot of Editor in Word for PCs with synonyms shown alongside suggested spellings and an option to have a suggestion read aloud.

Editor in Word for PCs will make it easier to choose between suggested spellings.

Recently, we also made Learning Tools for OneNote generally available. Learning Tools now gives you the ability to dictate text in Spanish, French, German and Italian and have text read back to you in multiple languages. Download Learning Tools for free and see if it transforms your reading experience as it did for these students with dyslexia.

Accessibility Checker available in Office for Mac and more

We know that some of you prefer to check and fix the accessibility of your content after you finish authoring it and find tools, such as the Accessibility Checker for Office on PCs, helpful to identify areas in your files with images or videos that are missing alternative text. You now have the ability to run the Accessibility Checker from more places including, Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Mac and Sway web and Windows Store apps. We are working to offer this capability for Word, Excel and PowerPoint Online apps and Outlook for PCs and Macs next. In apps where Accessibility Checker has been available for many years such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint for PCs, we are making it easier to discover and use.

Screenshot of Accessibility Checker in Excel for Mac, run from the Review tab with errors such as missing alt text for a chart shown

Accessibility Checker can be run from the Review tab of Office for Mac apps.

Export as tagged PDF from Word for Mac and more

This month, we also made available a highly requested ask from the Microsoft Accessibility Forum: Word applications for Mac now give you the ability to export documents as tagged PDFs and will soon be in conformance with the PDF/UA standard. We are working to offer this capability for Excel and PowerPoint apps for Mac next.

Screenshot of File -> Save As in Word for Mac with "Best for electronic distribution and accessibility" option selected

Export as accessible PDF from Word for Mac.

Ways for you to get more information

Eager to learn more about Accessibility Enhancements in Office 365 in person? Join us at the Microsoft Ignite conference next month in Atlanta for these sessions on Office 365 Accessibility Enhancements, SharePoint Online Accessibility and Strategies for an Inclusive Workplace. (Sessions will also be recorded and available to stream online.)

Responsible for ensuring that the products your organization develops or purchases meet accessibility requirements? You can now get conformance statements that demonstrate how Office 365 applications such as Delve, OneDrive, Outlook, Publisher, SharePoint, Sway and Yammer conform to the accessibility criteria of modern accessibility standards via our new pages for WCAG 2.0 AA reports and EN 301 549 reports. Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates continue to be published at the existing page for US Section 508 VPATs. Reports for more Office 365 applications will be added to these pages in the coming months as we make progress towards our publicly committed plans to meet the requirements of modern accessibility standards across the suite by the end of 2016.

Interested in getting help with accessibility issues? Visit the new Office Accessibility Center to find support articles on creating accessible content with Office 365 applications on various platforms or on using Office 365 applications with specific assistive technologies. If you require further assistance, reach out to an accessibility specialist via the Enterprise Disability Answer Desk or Consumer Disability Answer Desk.

How you can get these enhancements

You can start leveraging the capabilities described in this post to make you digital environment more accessible and inclusive by getting Office 365. Many more accessibility enhancements are coming to Office 365 apps by the end of the year and you can be the first to get access to these by signing up for Office Insider or First Release options with Office 365. I look forward to hearing about your experiences with these capabilities @MSFTEnable and welcome suggestions to help us improve.

—John Jendrezak

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