Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers Help Spread Awareness for Built-in Accessibility

Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers Help Spread Awareness for Built-in Accessibility

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The following blog post was written by Ellen Kampel, Public Relations Manager for Accessibility at Microsoft. Ellen holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) and works on technology issues related to aging and people with disabilities.

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For nearly a decade Microsoft has partnered with a network of independent accessibility information and service centers across the U.S. These centers provide free training to the public as well as paid services that help individuals learn about the free accessibility options and tools in Microsoft products, and assistive technology available from independent manufacturers.  The network of centers is called the Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers (MARC).  Participants in the MARC program can be reached through webpages hosted on the Microsoft Accessibility website: http://www.microsoft.com/enable/centers/marc.aspx

With the introduction of the Windows 8 operating system last year many of the MARCs hosted special trainings to help people with disabilities and their teachers, families, therapists and other supporters learn to take advantage of the free accessibility options available in Windows.

For example, the North Carolina Assistive Technology Program, posted several online training modules on the Ease of Access Center, Narrator, and Magnifier in Windows 8.

The Washington Assistive Technology Act Program held several training sessions for parents and educators from southwest Washington and reported in their blog that there was enthusiastic interest in Magnifier, Narrator, and speech recognition in particular.

The Pacer Simon Technology Center in Minneapolis, MN hosted several training sessions and reported, “Ninety percent of participants said that after the trainings they are more likely to utilize accessibility features in their computer’s operating system; the other 10% said, if needed, they would utilize the features. Most participants found speech recognition and magnification most helpful among the tools.”

MARCs consistently report that built-in accessibility features and options in Windows and other Microsoft products go unnoticed and therefore unappreciated, and worse—unused.

The MARCs do a great job of helping spread the word, but another way to spread the word is to direct people with disabilities, parents, educators, therapists, and others to the Microsoft Accessibility website. The purpose of the website is to focus attention on the accessibility aspects of Microsoft products and it is packed with information covering a wide range of Microsoft products—from the most recent releases to classics like Windows XP. 

Some of the key sections of the Microsoft Accessibility website are:

  • Product Information—where you can get an overview of the accessibility features and options in Microsoft products, and links to more information.
  • Accessibility Tutorials—quick links to more information about how to access features and options and to control settings.
  • Accessibility Demos—links to online videos describing accessibility features and options.
  • News and Features—news and feature stories about developments in the field of accessibility.
  • Accessibility Guides—written specifically for people with vision, hearing, mobility & dexterity, language and learning, and communications impairments, these guides catalogue the specific Microsoft resources available for each.
  • Downloads—including facts sheets, tutorials, comprehensive product information, and educational guides are listed here.
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  • Unfortunately a lot of microsoft's good work in providing accessibility is undermined by the design of windows.  In particular the security checks.

    I really think they have little idea of what the OS puts elderly and disabled people through.  And the only way around it is to remove the security for the very people who need it the most because they can't see well, read well or other problem.

    Second security is presented in an incredibly inconsistent way from the various stages.

    I've just been helping my mother who is legally blind but can see a little at the right angles.  She downloads books for her audio reader.  Something that was easy and routine on XP.

    So lets go through the process of downloading an audio book packaged as an executable zip.

    1/ She clicks on the link - Window pops up - are you sure you want to download from an unknown source

    2/ Choose to save or run - pale grey text on grey background.  Sure you can make the desktop high contrast but then you lose most of the visual clues for bigger things on the desktop.

    3/ This type of file can harm your computer - in another window in another location.

    4/ Then we have the compatibility mode problem.  the files won't work under straight windows 8 - lots of these executable zips are set up for old computers.  So then there are no less than 4 dire warnings from compatibility mode.

    5/ the final message is whether that executable worked ok y/n  This is the icing on the cake because every talking book has an individual name.  two books might be 4567.exe and 9848.exe.

    That sounds bad enough for one book.

    But for the capacity on the reader she typically has to download 5.

    5 books times (let me count) 8 nag screens = 40 useless questions that a partially sighted person has to work out.

    XP used to be very streaightforward.

    You can provide good tools for accessibility but if devs are unaware of what partially sighted people have to go through they can totally ruin the experience.

    I can turn these all off and increase the risk of my mum hitting a wrong key somewhere else on the net ... but then the nag screens about security being turned off start cropping up.

    And each one she has to scan to identify what it is (using the magnifier - which is useful) locate the words one by one, put them together in her head and understand what is happening ... then carefully try and read the buttons so she can work out which one is best to press ... it could say "ignore" "no" "continue"

    Accessibilty is totally undermined by the security mess microsoft has made of its operating system.

    Michael Storer

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