Microsoft Now Offers Accessibility Insights as Open Source Code

Accessibility Insights, which is available for Windows or for web use, allows developers to fix accessibility issues early in the dev cycle.


Making computers, software and the internet more accessible to users who have physical handicaps is the goal of Microsoft's two Accessibility Insights applications, which are now  available as open source code.

The two free tools, Accessibility Insights for Windows and Accessibility Insights for Web, help developers find and fix common accessibility issues early in the software development cycle. They can be used as stand-alone tools or can be integrated through their rules engines into a developer's build process, Keith Ballinger, a developer services general manager with Microsoft, wrote in a March 12 post on the company's Open Source Blog.

"We're on a journey to design, build and launch more accessible products to foster inclusion" for users with a wide range of physical disabilities, wrote Ballinger. "That's why we created Accessibility Insights, a first step in developing tools that help developers address accessibility issues early in the design process. Our aim with Accessibility Insights is not to reinvent the wheel, but to modernize existing technology and optimize it for use in developer workflows."

The applications are built on open-source axe technology from Deque Systems, which works with companies to make their websites and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities, wrote Ballinger. The Accessibility Insights applications are part of Microsoft's larger inclusion efforts that also involve inclusive hiring and the Department of Homeland Security’s Trusted Tester program, he added.

"We are driven by the promise of more accessible products for more people," wrote Ballinger. "That's why we’re releasing Accessibility Insights to the open source and accessibility communities—it's all of ours now, and together we'll continue to make it a better tool and build a more accessible future."

To foster the new open-source efforts, Deque Systems is providing GitHub issue filing for Accessibility Insights for Web and color contrast detection heuristics for Accessibility Insights for Windows, wrote Ballinger. Microsoft contributed its Windows rules engine to the axe accessibility project so all major platforms could be covered.

Identifying Common Accessibility Issues in Code

Using automated checking systems, Accessibility Insights can quickly identify common accessibility issues in a developer's code, enabling them to find code problems before proceeding to additional tests that require human judgment. Those human-powered tests also get assistance from the tools, wrote Ballinger, which helps the tests go more smoothly.

"By focusing on easy-to-use tooling, we hope to help make accessibility more accessible," wrote Ballinger.

After downloading the code for the two Accessibility Insights tools, developers can join the open-source projects for Windows or for the web on GitHub.

The Accessibility Insights for Windows tool includes a Live Inspect feature that allows developers to verify that an element in an app has the right UI Automation properties when hovering over the element or setting keyboard focus on it. In addition, the FastPass feature is a lightweight, two-step process that helps developers identify common, high-impact accessibility issues in less than five minutes.

Troubleshooting capabilities within the application allow developers to diagnose and fix specific accessibility issues, including viewing the patterns supported by a control and invoking associated user interface methods to see whether an element responds correctly to user input and recording application events to verify that an app is generating the expected events.

The Accessibility Insights for Web tool is a Chrome extension that helps developers find and fix accessibility issues in web apps and sites. It includes FastPass to help developers identify common, high-impact accessibility issues quickly and assessment capabilities that allow anyone with HTML skills to verify that a web app or website is 100 percent compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA.

"We value the insights of a diverse community to ensure that we build the best tooling in the industry," wrote Ballinger. "Together, with partners, developers, designers, and the disability community, we can ensure equal access to information for everyone."