Microsoft Demonstrates Accessibility Advances By Anne Maschino
Washington, DC - November 19, 2008 – Microsoft presented before government representatives and advocacy groups some of its latest accessibility features in development for its upcoming Windows 7 platform, which is the next Microsoft operating system.
There is no official release date yet, but it is widely anticipated that Windows 7 will be on the market by 2010. Windows 7 promises to bring many improvements over the Vista operating system. Windows Accessibility lead Norm Hodne noted, “As an end user, you will find that many of the problems (experienced with Vista) have been fixed” in Windows 7.
Some accessibility enhancements to the new Windows 7 operating system involve the magnifier, onscreen keyboard, speech dictation, color customization, overall user interfacing, and the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY).
Microsoft has made it easier to use the magnifier. Users will have greater control over dots-per-inch (DPI) for screen resolution, and they will be able to increase magnification in small increments. The magnifier will have full-screen capability. It will be possible to see where the magnifier is positioned on the overall screen.
Also new for Windows 7 will be an onscreen, scalable keyboard that has some extra attributes to it. Users will be able to control the built-in text prediction, which will have the ability to garner words from email, for example, to create a custom dictionary. The hover mode will allow users to select a letter from the keyboard simply by placing the cursor over that letter. A scanning mode is also included. Users will be able to set speed for the hover and scanning modes.
Windows 7 will have new speech dictation capability that will allow applications currently not available.
Reed Shaffner, a product manager at Microsoft, admitted that, “Users were having problems finding the functionality of the product.” This, he said, was true for users across the spectrum, not just those with disabilities.
To solve the problem, Microsoft has come up with a new Quick Action Toolbar. With Windows 7, users will be able to find a function that may be buried and bring it to the forefront of a customized, icon-based toolbar. This means tools that a user relies on will now be easier to access quickly.
Touch screen navigation and internet access will also be available with Windows 7.
Windows 7 is going to be loaded with improved accessibility. Many key enhancements are still in beta and the full extent of their value to the disabled and aging communities is yet to be shared publicly. For example, still in development is the Entertainment Media Center, which will feature significant advancements in user interface and built-in assistive technology.
There are other areas where Microsoft is making changes in accessibility. Office 14, which is a temporary name, will be the successor to Office 2007. It will have some components that are web-based. There is no official release date for Office 14 yet, but it is speculated that it will be released in conjunction with Windows 7.
Silverlight™ and DAISY are other Microsoft applications that promise important advancements in accessibility for the disabled and aging communities.
Silverlight is Microsoft’s rich application platform for the web; it competes against Adobe’s Flash. It supports high-definition video, and this is an area where the Microsoft demonstration offered its audience some very exciting proof of concept related to improvement in accessibility technology.
DAISY is a reader enhancement tool that provides audio content of written text. Microsoft is currently developing some impressive scalability of DAISY for the web.
Reaction to the Windows 7 demonstration given by the Microsoft assistive technology team is perhaps best captured by the first comment made in the question and answer period: “Remarkable job.”
Look for demonstrations at the upcoming Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) and California State University at Northridge (CSUN) conferences.
Anne Maschino is a partner at Kahr Communications, a web-based consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia. To comment on this article e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. This article has been printed on this website with permission. This article may not be reprinted or otherwise distributed without the express written permission of Kahr Communications.