Three Ways Windows 8 Will Boost Accessibility | PCWorld Business Center

Three Ways Windows 8 Will Boost Accessibility | PCWorld Business Center.  (No longer available online. Original text included below.)

According to the US Census, almost 50 million US citizens have disabilities, with the likeliness of a disability increasing with age. The Bureau of Labor estimates that nearly one-quarter of the workforce will be 55 or older by 2018. With technology increasingly finding its way into the day-to-day activities of businesses, accessibility on the devices we use is an important concern. Windows 8 will not only include existing assistive technologies (ATs) that are optimized for touch-enabled devices, but will also make all ATs easier for developers to implement and maintain.

In an article released yesterday, the Building Windows 8 blog says that Windows 8 will include improvements to ATs that relate to physical disabilities including vision, mobility, hearing and cognitive impairments. It focuses on the underlying AT changes to Windows 8, as well as two features that relate to low-vision that will make touch-enabled devices more accessible to a workforce that is growing older. 

1. Adopting Standards

The most important change is the adoption of industry standards, including those from the Web Accessibility Initiative, Accessible Rich Internet Applications, HTML5 and XAML. The blog notes that in previous versions of Windows, AT vendors had to use “different ‘creative’ ways of getting information from the system, in order to manipulate it and present it to their users”.  Providing a standards-based “accessibility foundation” for developers to build on not only makes adding ATs to apps easier, but helps assure they won’t break every time Windows receives an update. 

[Insert image 1, caption: Standards allow apps to reliably access information] 

2. Narrator

Narrator was first introduced in Windows 2000 as a way to read on-screen elements for those with vision impairments. Windows 8 improves Narrator by making it more responsive, able to read more controls, and support more languages. On a touch-enabled device, pressing the Windows logo key and volume up button starts narrator, allowing users to explore any part of the screen with a finger, while a description of the elements under their finger is read to them. Tapping the screen with a second finger activates the element. 

[Insert image 2, caption: Narrator reads what you touch, using a secondary tap to activate it]

3. Magnification

Magnification has been around since Windows 98, allowing low-vision users to enlarge areas of the screen for easier viewing, but it doesn’t work well on touch-enabled devices. Dragging the screen around with your finger results in your hand blocking what’s behind it. Windows 8 has Magnifier place a border around the screen that looks and behaves much like scroll bars. The corners of the screen contain ‘+’ and ‘-‘ boxes that allow zooming in and out, while dragging along any of the borders pans the screen left-to-right or up-and-down. When a border disappears, it indicates you’ve reached that edge of the screen. Touch the left and right border at the same time with your thumbs and you get a preview screen that shows where you are, and allows you to drag the focus to a different location.

[Insert image 3, caption: Borders work like scroll bars to allow zooming and panning]