Microsoft has made it known in the past that it wants to make technology more accessible and inclusive, with the most notable example of that mentality being the Xbox Adaptive Controller announced earlier this year. Today, the company is celebrating the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities with a new live captions feature for both Skype and PowerPoint.
The core functionality is the same on both apps, with the live speech being rendered as text on the screen as it's being said. In Skype, the feature is rolling out now, but it only seems to support English for now. Support for over 20 languages is promised for the coming weeks so you can also use it for communication with people who speak different languages.
Subtitles will show up in real time as the words are spoken, and they're optimized so that they adapt to the context of the conversation as they go. In the future, you'll also be able to scroll through previously spoken words, a feature which already seems to be available in the latest builds for Skype Insiders based on our testing.
As for PowerPoint, subtitles and live captions are promised to begin rolling out to Office 365 subscribers in late January 2019, with initial support for 12 spoken languages. The rendered text will be available in over 60 languages at launch, which should already provide a good set of options for presenters.
Subtitles in PowerPoint will be powered by artificial intelligence, working not only with the spoken text but also with the text on the slide being presented. This should make for more accurate recognition for names and specific terminology in presentations. Presenters will also be able to select the position of the captions on the screen.
This push towards inclusivity has earned some praise form the Canadian government, with Yazmine Laroche, deputy minister responsible for Public Service Accessibility, saying:
“We are constantly looking for new ways of ensuring that the Government of Canada sets the highest possible standards as an accessible and inclusive workplace. We welcome such positive advances in technology, like this feature, that allows everyone, and notably those with disabilities, to better communicate ideas. They help break down barriers and lead to greater inclusiveness to the benefit of individuals and society as a whole.”
This new feature marks Microsoft's latest efforts in making its products more accessible and inclusive to as many people as possible. The Office team has taken a number of steps in this regard over the past few months, including broader availability of its Stream video platform with text transcription, as well as support for alternative text in some Office apps and an improved accessibility center for Office 365.