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Accessibility in Office 365—enabling greater digital inclusion

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Today’s post was written by John Jendrezak, accessibility lead and partner director of program management for the Office Engineering team.

Tomorrow marks the 2016 International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), and this year’s theme focuses on laying the foundation for a future of greater inclusion for persons with disabilities. In honor of IDPD, we invite all Office 365 customers to lay the foundation for a more inclusive digital environment by discovering and using accessibility capabilities built into Office 365.

Create accessible content with Office 365

Office 365 empowers you to communicate information to your colleagues and customers in a variety of ways: documents, presentations, spreadsheets, emails, chats, sways, notes, videos and more. As you communicate, it is important to meet the diverse needs of your audience. Making your content accessible ensures it can be used without barriers by people with varying levels of vision, hearing, cognition and mobility.

Noteworthy new capabilities built into Office 365 to help you with this include:

  • Accessible templates—When you create content starting with an online template in Word, Excel or PowerPoint for PC or Mac, you can now find templates tagged as “accessible.” These are structured to ensure ease of navigation with a screen reader and keyboard and use fonts and colors that are easy to read with low vision or color blindness. In the coming months, we will add more accessible templates not only for Office for PC and Mac, but also for Office Online and Office Mobile applications.

Screenshot of PowerPoint for PCs shows a new presentation being created from an online template by searching for the word accessible.

Hundreds of accessible templates are already available in Word, Excel and PowerPoint for PCs and Macs with more coming.

  • Image description controls—When you use visual objects to communicate information, you need to add alternative text descriptions (alt-text) to ensure this content can be understood by people with visual impairments. To make this process easier, we now offer you controls to add alt-text not only in Office for PC, Mac and Office Online, but also in several Office mobile applications. Furthermore, we are designing ways to make alt-text easier to discover and use. In the coming months, starting with Word and PowerPoint for PCs, we will merge the title and description fields in the alt-text control into a single field so you have no confusion about where to enter alt-text. Also, we will make this control discoverable via the right click menu and ribbon. Lastly, using the Microsoft Computer Vision Cognitive Service, we will offer you automatic suggestions for alt-text when you insert a photographic image that can be recognized with high confidence. Through machine learning, this service will keep improving as more people use it, saving you significant time to make media-rich presentations accessible.
  • Link display name controls—When you include links to webpages or documents, you need to add meaningful display names to ensure screen reader users find it easy to understand the purpose of the links. To make this process easier, we now offer you controls to add display names for links not only in Office for PC, Mac and Office Online, but also in several Office mobile applications. In the coming months, we are introducing a new control called Link Gallery in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for PCs, as well as in several Office Mobile applications. This gallery will show you your most recently used files from SharePoint and OneDrive, as well as any webpage from your clipboard. When you insert a link by selecting it from this gallery, the file or webpage name will automatically be added as the display text, and you can build on this to make it more meaningful.

Screenshot of Word for PCs shows a new control called Link Gallery being introduced in the Insert tab to make it easy to insert accessible links to recent items.

The Link Gallery is coming soon to help you efficiently insert links to recent items in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for PCs. File names will automatically be added as display text for links inserted via this new control.

  • Accessibility checker—Before sharing content, you can run the accessibility checker to find and fix any issues that might make your content difficult for people with disabilities to use. The accessibility checker is now easily discoverable in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for PC applications via the Check Accessibility button under the Review tab. It is also available in Visio for PCs and several Office for Mac and Office Online applications. It not only finds accessibility errors and tells you how and why to fix them, but also links to detailed support articles on creating accessible documents, accessible spreadsheets, accessible presentations and accessible emails.

Watch this short Microsoft Mechanics demonstration to learn more about these capabilities:

Consume content more effectively with Office 365

Office 365 applications receive regular updates to ensure they can be used seamlessly with assistive technologies and ease of access settings, as outlined in our 2016 accessibility roadmap. Also, new settings are built into applications to empower you to personalize your experiences to suit your needs. Earlier this year, we made you aware of key accessibility updates released in the second quarter and those released in the third quarter.

Now, let’s take a closer look at key updates releasing in the fourth quarter:

  • Usability with assistive technologies—If you use Office 365 with a screen reader and keyboard, you might have already noticed significant improvements such as the following:
    • In Skype for Business for PCs, we made it possible for screen readers to give automatic announcements of conversation invites, incoming instant messages and alerts, as well as changes to mute, video and screen sharing states. We also made it efficient to navigate through the main regions of the application using “F6” and take quick actions after selecting a contact by pressing Enter. Learn more about keyboard shortcuts in Skype for Business in this article.
    • In OneNote for Windows 10, Mac and iPad, we’re introducing an entirely new design to provide screen reader users a better navigation experience across notebooks, sections and pages. Currently available in preview, this can be enabled in the app settings by following the steps in this OneNote support page.
    • In Office Online, we made it possible to use access keys to navigate through the ribbon efficiently without a mouse. Read the article “Accessibility in Office Online” to learn more about keyboard shortcuts.
    • In Visio, we made it easier for screen reader and keyboard users to work with shapes and navigate diagrams. We also made it possible for diagram authors to define the keyboard navigation order of the diagram and to include alt-text for the following objects: shapes, illustrations, pages, masters, hyperlinks and data graphics.
    • In Project, we recently enhanced accessibility for the following views: Gantt Chart, sheet views, timeline, team planner, usage views and form views.
    • In Office Lens for iOS, we made it possible to capture images with real-time voice guidance through VoiceOver. Learn more about Frame Guide for Office Lens in this blog.

We’ve made hundreds of additional improvements, including making it possible for screen reader users to work effectively in documents with Math equations, comments and real-time co-authoring in Office for PCs. Learn more about these improvements in the following articles: What’s new in accessibility for Word, Accessibility for Excel and Accessibility for PowerPoint.

  • Built-in learning tools—If you have a learning disability such as dyslexia, you can now read content in Word documents more effectively by turning on settings built into Word for PCs in the View > Read Mode. These can read text aloud with simultaneous highlighting, increase text spacing and break words into syllables to promote concentration and comprehension. These controls are already having profound impact on students in classrooms with Learning Tools for OneNote and will be introduced in the coming months in OneNote Online and Word Online as well. We recently introduced them in the latest Office Lens app for iOS as well, enabling you to more effectively scan content in physical documents.

Watch this short Microsoft Mechanics demonstration to learn more about these capabilities:

The Office 365 team is committed to empowering organizations to remove barriers faced by persons with disabilities when accessing digital resources. We are committed to building technology that helps enable equal opportunities for everyone to achieve their goals. We believe that empowerment begins with inclusion, and inclusion requires action from all. Stay tuned to our Office 365 accessibility blog series for more updates to enable greater digital inclusion.

—John Jendrezak

Frequently asked questions

Q. How can I be the first to get the Office 365 enhancements described in this blog?

A. You can be among the first to start leveraging the capabilities described in this post to make your digital environment more accessible by getting Office 365 and signing up for Office Insider or First Release options with Office 365.

Q. How can I confirm that Office 365 applications meet the accessibility requirements for my organization?

A. Review our latest conformance statements that demonstrate how Office 365 applications conform to the accessibility criteria of modern accessibility standards via our pages for WCAG 2.0 AA reports, EN 301 549 reports and U.S. Section 508 VPATs.

Q. How can I get help with accessibility issues?

A. Visit the 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.

Q. How can I give feedback to the Office 365 team working on accessibility?

A. We welcome hearing about your experiences with our products either via @MSFTEnable or via the Microsoft Accessibility Feedback Forum. You can also meet with us in person at our showcase suite at the 32nd CSUN Assistive Technology Conference in San Diego, California, from March 1–3, 2017.

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6 comments
  1. How do I get the “Icons” button in Word as shown in the screenshot: Insert ==> Illustrations ==> Icons? This looks cool!

  2. Great article on the way Microsoft products help improve communication for vision/ hearing impaired users of Office. The template checker to check how readable your colour scheme is to colour blind people sounds fantastic.

  3. I don’t have these options like image alt text (Powerpoint), hyperlink history (Word)
    MS Office version 1610 (build 7466.2038), version of MS office you are using ?

    • These capabilities will become available to Office Insider Program members early next year. We look forward to hearing about your experience with them then!

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