Microsoft’s Accessibility Tools

Written By: Nicole Nash, Vice President of Instructional Design

Disability young blind person happy woman in headphone typing on computer keyboard working in creative workplace office.

 

 

Microsoft’s accessibility tools are getting smarter, and every educator needs to implement them.

As the second school year is affected by the pandemic ends, most faculty and administrators plan on a celebrated return to the traditional classroom environment. The sudden shift to digital learning was admittedly strenuous across the education spectrum,

from  K-12 to higher education. However, for one group of students, the pandemic forced a marked improvement in the education experience in some ways. Students with disabilities found that increased use of technology in the learning environment made education significantly more accessible, and they need it to stay that way (Puang, 2021). Returning to traditional classroom formats limits accessibility for many students. Faculty and administrators should spend time this summer preparing to address the needs of one of our most underserved student populations.

Microsoft Tools

Microsoft Office tools have often overlooked features that make improving accessibility … well, accessible. The onus is on professors in higher education and teachers and administrators in K-12 settings to use the tools available. Microsoft’s Accessibility Checker is built into Office 365 and has been added to many previous Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote versions. To use it, look in the Review tab and select Check Accessibility. From there, making your learning materials work better for your students is as easy as following the prompts. If you want a deeper understanding of what the prompts ask for, take a few minutes to read 10 Habits to create accessible content (Covington, 2020).

Updates that make creating accessibility in learning materials more intuitive are coming soon. The company recently announced new “accessible by design” features for Microsoft 365 that will use advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence to automate accessibility checking, reminders, and conversion of heading styles. Excel will get a new navigation pane that will work better with screen readers. Educators that use Teams with students will be glad to learn that a new high-contrast mode will add accessibility to PowerPoint Live (if your students experience light sensitivity, make sure they know about Word’s dark mode) (Smith, 2021).

Even as we prepare to return to in-person learning environments, students with disabilities need educators to be prepared and willing to provide accommodations. Having digital copies of learning materials that meet accessibility standards available to all students is crucial, and Microsoft’s new accessibility updates make it easier than ever.

References

Bowyer, R. (2020, April 13). UW isn’t ‘boundless’ for students with disabilities. Retrieved from The Daily: https://www.dailyuw.com/opinion/article_2c8b2e90-7d1b-11ea-81ff-df2a491a4478.html

Covington, C. (2020, October 16). 10 Habits to create accessible content. Retrieved from Microsoft Accessibility Blog: https://blogs.microsoft.com/accessibility/10-habits-to-create-accessible-content/

Puang, S. (2021, May 11). As Colleges Strive for a Return to Normal, Students With Disabilities Say, ‘No Thanks'. Retrieved from The Chronicle of Higher Education: https://www.chronicle.com/article/as-colleges-strive-for-a-return-to-normal-students-with-disabilities-say-no-thanks

Smith, B. (2021, April 28). Doubling down on accessibility: Microsoft’s next steps to expand accessibility in technology, the workforce and workplace. Retrieved from Official Microsoft Blog: https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2021/04/28/doubling-down-on-accessibility-microsofts-next-steps-to-expand-accessibility-in-technology-the-workforce-and-workplace/