Accessibility in Office 365—enabling greater digital inclusion

By John Jendrezak as written on blogs.office.com
December 3rd, 2016 marks the 2016 International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), and this year’s theme focuses on laying the foundation for a future of greater inclusion for persons with disabilities. In honor of IDPD, we invite all Office 365 customers to lay the foundation for a more inclusive digital environment by discovering and using accessibility capabilities built into Office 365.

Create accessible content with Office 365

Office 365 empowers you to communicate information to your colleagues and customers in a variety of ways: documents, presentations, spreadsheets, emails, chats, sways, notes, videos and more. As you communicate, it is important to meet the diverse needs of your audience. Making your content accessible ensures it can be used without barriers by people with varying levels of vision, hearing, cognition and mobility.
Noteworthy new capabilities built into Office 365 to help you with this include:
  • Accessible templates—When you create content starting with an online template in Word, Excel or PowerPoint for PC or Mac, you can now find templates tagged as “accessible.” These are structured to ensure ease of navigation with a screen reader and keyboard and use fonts and colors that are easy to read with low vision or color blindness. In the coming months, we will add more accessible templates not only for Office for PC and Mac, but also for Office Online and Office Mobile applications.
Screenshot of PowerPoint for PCs shows a new presentation being created from an online template by searching for the word accessible.
Hundreds of accessible templates are already available in Word, Excel and PowerPoint for PCs and Macs with more coming.
  • Image description controls—When you use visual objects to communicate information, you need to add alternative text descriptions (alt-text) to ensure this content can be understood by people with visual impairments. To make this process easier, we now offer you controls to add alt-text not only in Office for PC, Mac and Office Online, but also in several Office mobile applications. Furthermore, we are designing ways to make alt-text easier to discover and use. In the coming months, starting with Word and PowerPoint for PCs, we will merge the title and description fields in the alt-text control into a single field so you have no confusion about where to enter alt-text. Also, we will make this control discoverable via the right click menu and ribbon. Lastly, using the Microsoft Computer Vision Cognitive Service, we will offer you automatic suggestions for alt-text when you insert a photographic image that can be recognized with high confidence. Through machine learning, this service will keep improving as more people use it, saving you significant time to make media-rich presentations accessible.
  • Link display name controls—When you include links to webpages or documents, you need to add meaningful display names to ensure screen reader users find it easy to understand the purpose of the links. To make this process easier, we now offer you controls to add display names for links not only in Office for PC, Mac and Office Online, but also in several Office mobile applications. In the coming months, we are introducing a new control called Link Gallery in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for PCs, as well as in several Office Mobile applications. This gallery will show you your most recently used files from SharePoint and OneDrive, as well as any webpage from your clipboard. When you insert a link by selecting it from this gallery, the file or webpage name will automatically be added as the display text, and you can build on this to make it more meaningful.
Screenshot of Word for PCs shows a new control called Link Gallery being introduced in the Insert tab to make it easy to insert accessible links to recent items.
The Link Gallery is coming soon to help you efficiently insert links to recent items in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for PCs. File names will automatically be added as display text for links inserted via this new control.
  • Accessibility checker—Before sharing content, you can run the accessibility checker to find and fix any issues that might make your content difficult for people with disabilities to use. The accessibility checker is now easily discoverable in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for PC applications via the Check Accessibility button under the Review tab. It is also available in Visio for PCs and several Office for Mac and Office Online applications. It not only finds accessibility errors and tells you how and why to fix them, but also links to detailed support articles on creating accessible documentsaccessible spreadsheetsaccessible presentations and accessible emails.
Watch this short Microsoft Mechanics demonstration to learn more about these capabilities:

Consume content more effectively with Office 365

Office 365 applications receive regular updates to ensure they can be used seamlessly with assistive technologies and ease of access settings, as outlined in our 2016 accessibility roadmap. Also, new settings are built into applications to empower you to personalize your experiences to suit your needs. Earlier this year, we made you aware of key accessibility updates released in the second quarter and those released in the third quarter.
Now, let’s take a closer look at key updates releasing in the fourth quarter:
  • Usability with assistive technologies—If you use Office 365 with a screen reader and keyboard, you might have already noticed significant improvements such as the following:
    • In Skype for Business for PCs, we made it possible for screen readers to give automatic announcements of conversation invites, incoming instant messages and alerts, as well as changes to mute, video and screen sharing states. We also made it efficient to navigate through the main regions of the application using “F6” and take quick actions after selecting a contact by pressing Enter. Learn more about keyboard shortcuts in Skype for Business in this article.
    • In OneNote for Windows 10, Mac and iPad, we’re introducing an entirely new design to provide screen reader users a better navigation experience across notebooks, sections and pages. Currently available in preview, this can be enabled in the app settings by following the steps in this OneNote support page.
    • In Office Online, we made it possible to use access keys to navigate through the ribbon efficiently without a mouse. Read the article “Accessibility in Office Online” to learn more about keyboard shortcuts.
    • In Visio, we made it easier for screen reader and keyboard users to work with shapes and navigate diagrams. We also made it possible for diagram authors to define the keyboard navigation order of the diagram and to include alt-text for the following objects: shapes, illustrations, pages, masters, hyperlinks and data graphics.
    • In Project, we recently enhanced accessibility for the following views: Gantt Chart, sheet views, timeline, team planner, usage views and form views.
    • In Office Lens for iOS, we made it possible to capture images with real-time voice guidance through VoiceOver. Learn more about Frame Guide for Office Lens in this blog.
We’ve made hundreds of additional improvements, including making it possible for screen reader users to work effectively in documents with Math equations, comments and real-time co-authoring in Office for PCs. Learn more about these improvements in the following articles: What’s new in accessibility for WordAccessibility for Excel and Accessibility for PowerPoint.
  • Built-in learning tools—If you have a learning disability such as dyslexia, you can now read content in Word documents more effectively by turning on settings built into Word for PCs in the View > Read Mode. These can read text aloud with simultaneous highlighting, increase text spacing and break words into syllables to promote concentration and comprehension. These controls are already having profound impact on students in classrooms with Learning Tools for OneNote and will be introduced in the coming months in OneNote Online and Word Online as well. We recently introduced them in the latest Office Lens app for iOS as well, enabling you to more effectively scan content in physical documents.
Watch this short Microsoft Mechanics demonstration to learn more about these capabilities:

The Office 365 team is committed to empowering organizations to remove barriers faced by persons with disabilities when accessing digital resources. We are committed to building technology that helps enable equal opportunities for everyone to achieve their goals. We believe that empowerment begins with inclusion, and inclusion requires action from all. Stay tuned to our Office 365 accessibility blog series for more updates to enable greater digital inclusion.




Microsoft Releases 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report

By Susan Hauser as written on blogs.microsoft.com
At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.
We care deeply about how we achieve that mission and our lasting impact on the world. Across the company, we are working to apply the power of technology to ensure corporate responsibility, safeguard human rights and protect our planet. This commitment is central to why many of our employees come to work every day, and it impacts the type of products and services we develop.
In our 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report, which we published today, you will find information about our policies and business practices which reflect our commitment to making the planet a better place.
During fiscal year 2016, Microsoft made progress on a number of fronts:
·       Expanding our commitment to sustainability by establishing new energy goals, including having our data centers rely on a larger percentage of wind, solar and hydro power electricity over time.
·       Prioritizing inclusive design and accessibility in the development of our products and services to empower everyone, while deepening our inclusive culture at Microsoft.
·       Enhancing our companywide privacy principles and the Microsoft Privacy Statement to protect our customers’ personal data and their right to privacy.
·       Holding our suppliers accountable to human rights, labor, health and safety, environmental, and business ethics practices prescribed in our Supplier Code of Conduct.
·       Expanding economic opportunity to every corner of the planet through Microsoft Philanthropies’ three-year commitment to donate $1 billion in public cloud computing for nonprofits around the world.
·       Contributing to public policy discussions with a new book, “A Cloud for Global Good,” which lays out a roadmap of 78 specific policy recommendations to help ensure cloud computing is trusted, responsible and inclusive.
 As part of our commitment to transparency, this report builds on Microsoft’s prior annual citizenship reporting, but is now designed to be a living reporting website where we can offer both the year-over-year data we traditionally provide as well as ongoing updates throughout the year on important developments on our efforts.
We take seriously our responsibilities to help the world achieve more and are committed to meeting our responsibility to address economic, social and environmental issues. We also recognize the importance of partnerships and value the opportunity to work with nonprofits, advocates, governments, academics, customers and employees to advance progress. Together, we can strengthen communities and ensure greater outcomes for all.
We will continue to dedicate ourselves to the challenges humankind faces, the role technology can play and the unique contributions Microsoft can make in cooperation with others around the world.

Productivity and inclusion—Office 365 accessibility update

By John Jendrezak as written on blogs.office.com
Over the past year, hundreds of engineers from the Office 365 team have been working hard to make progress towards the plans outlined in our 2016 accessibility roadmap. Key enhancements releasing this quarter bring us closer to two goals:
  • People with disabilities can communicate, consume and create content on any device.,/li>
  • Everyone can easily create content that is accessible for all people.

As we make Office 365 accessible by design and make it easy for everyone to create accessible content, we hope that people of all abilities will feel empowered to achieve more with our productivity technologies, have equal access to digital information and have fulfilling interactions with each other.

Here are some of the key accessibility improvements releasing this quarter:

Screen reader usability improvements in Word, Outlook and SharePoint

Narrator—our built-in screen reader—received several key updates as part of the recent Windows 10 anniversary update. These included new voices that can speak up to 800 words per minute, six levels of verbosity, so you can get varying indications of text properties and control over how much punctuation you hear, and verbal hints when automatic suggestions are available.

The Office 365 team continues to work closely with the Narrator team to enhance productivity experiences for screen reader users. While using the latest version of Word for the PC and Windows Store apps with Narrator, you might have already noticed improvements in documents with tables, lists, images and hyperlinks. With the latest version of Outlook for the PC, you will now find it easier to manage your calendar, use the Scheduling Assistant to set up a meeting with others, search for an email and set up signatures for your account. Learn more about accessibility enhancements in Outlook for PCs in this article and review this support article to get started with Narrator.


In SharePoint Online, you will notice improved screen reader experiences as the most used features have been made accessible by design. The new SharePoint home page in Office 365 includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page, a new “search as you type” experience that alerts screen readers when there are matches found and improved navigation of sites by either table commands if using JAWS or arrow keys for all other screen readers.

Document Libraries now includes headings for easy navigation across the major areas of the page, keyboard shortcuts for all major functions that can be viewed in the app by pressing ? and the ability to navigate lists of files and folders using arrow keys similar to Windows Explorer. Screen reader users can now hear announcements when uploads are in progress and confirmations for actions within Document Libraries. Similar enhancements are coming in SharePoint Lists as well.


High Contrast mode allows people with vision impairments to see data more clearly

In May, I shared details about work underway to make Office 365 more usable with High Contrast themes on PCs, which is critical to ensure that the people with vision impairments, such as cataracts, can interact with data and commands in our applications with less eye strain. Since then, if you have been working in Excel Online on a PC with High Contrast enabled, you’ll notice that tables, active cell and cells-selection outlines are more visible, hyperlinks in sheets are respecting High Contrast theme colors and Sparkline, slicers, shapes and charts are rendered using High Contrast theme colors.


Proofing and Learning Tools enable people with dyslexia to read and write more effectively

Recently, we announced Editor, a cloud-based advanced proofing and editing service. People with dyslexia who have tried spell-checking with Editor have observed significant improvements, including the ability to find spelling corrections even when the misspelled word is very different from the intended word. More Editor enhancements are coming in the next few months for Word on PCs—all inspired by the needs of people with dyslexia and beneficial for everybody. In particular, Editor will make it easier to choose between suggested spellings for a misspelled word. Synonyms or definitions will be shown alongside suggestions and it will be possible to have both read aloud.


Recently, we also made Learning Tools for OneNote generally available. Learning Tools now gives you the ability to dictate text in Spanish, French, German and Italian and have text read back to you in multiple languages. Download Learning Tools for free and see if it transforms your reading experience as it did for these students with dyslexia.

Accessibility Checker available in Office for Mac and more

We know that some of you prefer to check and fix the accessibility of your content after you finish authoring it and find tools, such as the Accessibility Checker for Office on PCs, helpful to identify areas in your files with images or videos that are missing alternative text. You now have the ability to run the Accessibility Checker from more places including, Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps for Mac and Sway web and Windows Store apps. We are working to offer this capability for Word, Excel and PowerPoint Online apps and Outlook for PCs and Macs next. In apps where Accessibility Checker has been available for many years such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint for PCs, we are making it easier to discover and use.


Export as tagged PDF from Word for Mac and more

This month, we also made available a highly requested ask from the Microsoft Accessibility Forum: Word applications for Mac now give you the ability to export documents as tagged PDFs and will soon be in conformance with the PDF/UA standard. We are working to offer this capability for Excel and PowerPoint apps for Mac next.


Ways for you to get more information

Eager to learn more about Accessibility Enhancements in Office 365 in person? Join us at the Microsoft Ignite conference next month in Atlanta for these sessions on Office 365 Accessibility Enhancements, SharePoint Online Accessibility and Strategies for an Inclusive Workplace. (Sessions will also be recorded and available to stream online.)

Responsible for ensuring that the products your organization develops or purchases meet accessibility requirements? You can now get conformance statements that demonstrate how Office 365 applications such as Delve, OneDrive, Outlook, Publisher, SharePoint, Sway and Yammer conform to the accessibility criteria of modern accessibility standards via our new pages for WCAG 2.0 AA reports and EN 301 549 reports. Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates continue to be published at the existing page for US Section 508 VPATs. Reports for more Office 365 applications will be added to these pages in the coming months as we make progress towards our publicly committed plans to meet the requirements of modern accessibility standards across the suite by the end of 2016.

Interested in getting help with accessibility issues? Visit the new Office Accessibility Center to find support articles on creating accessible content with Office 365 applications on various platforms or on using Office 365 applications with specific assistive technologies. If you require further assistance, reach out to an accessibility specialist via the Enterprise Disability Answer Desk or Consumer Disability Answer Desk.

How you can get these enhancements

You can start leveraging the capabilities described in this post to make you digital environment more accessible and inclusive by getting Office 365. Many more accessibility enhancements are coming to Office 365 apps by the end of the year and you can be the first to get access to these by signing up for Office Insider or First Release options with Office 365.


Managed Solution is a full-service technology firm that empowers business by delivering, maintaining and forecasting the technologies they’ll need to stay competitive in their market place. Founded in 2002, the company quickly grew into a market leader and is recognized as one of the fastest growing IT Companies in Southern California.


We specialize in providing full Microsoft solutions to businesses of every size, industry, and need.

Contact us Today!

Chat with an expert about your business’s technology needs.