Microsoft reveals accessibility improvements on the way in Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

Microsoft has announced details of accessibility improvements coming to Windows 10 as part of the Fall Creators Update, which is expected to arrive in September. The enhancements and additions are focused on three key areas.

Narrator

Microsoft said today that its Narrator team "continues to focus on making a screen reader that is both easy to learn and use, and powerful enough to support learning, working and playing on Windows 10 devices including PCs, phones and Xbox."

In the Fall Creators Update, Narrator users can look forward to the following improvements:

  • Device learning mode – Narrator will include the ability to send commands from a keyboard, touch or braille display and get feedback about what the command does without invoking the command.
  • Usability improvements – Narrator will read controls more accurately and consistently, will include Scan Mode turned on by default (and remember whether Scan Mode is turned on or off in apps across sessions), and will read apps like Settings and Weather like a web page. Narrator continues to make progress toward a unified interaction model, where Windows apps and web pages can be navigated with a consistent set of commands so that Narrator is easy to learn and use without having to remember a large set of keyboard shortcuts.
  • Braille improvements – Narrator users can type and read using different braille translations. Users can also perform braille input for application shortcuts and modifier keys, which enables users to employ their braille display to perform common tasks such as pressing ALT + TAB to switch between active applications or pressing CTRL + B to bold text.
  • Automatically generated image descriptions – Narrator will include the ability to use artificial intelligence to generate descriptions for images that lack alternative text on demand. The service includes the ability to extract text from images using optical character recognition.

Improvements for users with vision impairments

  • Magnifier improvements – Magnifier on the Windows 10 Desktop will follow Narrator focus, so that Magnifier and Narrator are easier to use together for low vision users. Desktop Magnifier will include an option to provide smoother fonts and images. And, it will include new Settings and the ability to zoom in an out using a mouse wheel.
  • Color filters – Windows 10 will include color filters at the system level, including filters designed to make it easier for people with color blindness to differentiate between colors like red and green and to make it easier for people with light sensitivity to create and consume content.

Enhancements to the reading and writing experience

Microsoft said that the Fall Creators Update will bring improvements "to make it easier to read and write" in Windows 10:

  • Learning Tools in Edge – In addition to eBooks, Read Aloud or simultaneously highlighting and voicing text, Learning Tools will be supported on web pages.
  • Word predictions – In addition to the touch keyboard, word predictions will be supported for U.S. English using hardware keyboards.

The new Learning Tools in the Edge browser will be a very welcome addition. Microsoft has already built some of these tools into its OneNote app, and a recent trial by the British Dyslexia Association found that using those resources resulted in significant improvements in reading comprehension and classroom behavior for students with learning differences.

The new features outlined above will join a range of accessibility improvements that Microsoft delivered in the Windows 10 Creators Update, which is currently rolling out to PCs and phones around the world.

Microsoft also revealed today that customers who use assistive technologies will be able to upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro free of charge. Windows 10 S is a new edition of the OS, which is limited to running apps downloaded from the Windows Store, and by offering the free upgrade to Pro, Microsoft will enable those users to install software not available from the Store onto their devices without paying the $49 upgrade fee that will apply to other Windows 10 S users.

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