Windows 8 is expected to be released later this year and with the recent announcement of the Microsoft Surface, the native assistive technology (AT) in the world’s most popular operating system is still being refined. Major AT applications offered in previous versions will be available with a few improvements. Touch enabled devices such as tablets and smartphones are quickly gaining in popularity and will be front and center in this release with a new multi-touch functionality that plays an integral part in enabling accessibility.
Overall the Magnifier is similar in functionality to that found in Windows 7. However, a new feature includes white borders on the edges of the screen where one can drag a finger for movement across the screen. A user will see a plus (+) signs at the top and minus (-) signs at the bottom corners allowing for zooming in and out. Tapping on opposite borders allows for a full screen view and a drag and place option to move magnification to another area. There are also improved keyboard shortcuts for use with the desktop version and the ability to set Magnifier to begin on start up.
Here is where the multi-touch possibilities really become apparent. A person can now drag one finger across the screen and the text-to-speech application will read aloud what is under the user’s finger. To activate an item, a user finds it with the first finger and then taps the screen with a second finger. Touch the screen with three fingers and the narration stops. So dexterity at least in the fingers seems like a necessity.
Windows 8 Narrator offers faster response and better support features including the ability to change voice settings such as speech rate. Improved web browser functionality and the ability to create customizable commands will also be seen in the upcoming version. As with the Magnifier, Narrator allows for launch on startup by holding the Windows logo key and pressing volume up.
No longer do developers have to come up with creative ways in retrieving information from the OS. Microsoft has chosen to comply with industry standards to solidify their accessibility foundation. Standards such as HTML5, XAML, Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA) and the Web Accessibility Initiative are now incorporated into the development of all apps. This allows a more consistent accessibility development platform. It is easier to think of this as an accessibility layer where apps that are validated as accessible will possess universal abilities such as bigger elements for ease of viewing, high contrast toggle settings and automatic DPI scaling making for a more manageable experience.
Windows 8 has powerful improvements to their assistive technology offerings none more important than the compliance to industry standards thus ensuring that future platform updates will apply to all accessibility apps. Add this to the accessibility filter when searching for apps and you have industry compliant software that is easy to find. With these nice advancements in accessibility, assistive technology vendors now possess the ability to focus more on availability of content rather than focusing primarily on user access. This should provide for more robust applications that will be welcomed by the disabled community.