Microsoft Makes Year-End Improvements to Office 365 Accessibility

Microsoft has added technology to help users create Office content that can be more readily accessed by people with various levels of vision, hearing, cognition or mobility impairments. .

Office 365 Accessibility 2

Microsoft is closing out the year with new updates that make Office 365 documents easier to read for individuals with less than perfect eyesight, among other conditions.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Office group, took to his company's official blog to announce the new content creation features in Office 365 aimed at making documents and other content produced by the productivity suite accessible to practically every person who wants them. Among those features is an Accessibility Checker function that's easier for users to find.

"The Accessibility Checker is now easily discoverable in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Visio, helping you ensure your content can be consumed without barriers by people with varying levels of vision, hearing, cognition and mobility," Koenigsbauer wrote. "The Accessibility Checker analyzes your material and provides recommendations alongside your document, helping you understand how to fix errors and create more accessible content over time."

In Word and other Office applications, the Check Accessibility option can be found under the Review tab. The feature is available now in the Windows desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Visio, as well as Office Online and Office for Mac.

Outlook on the Web now allows commercial customers to promote a more inclusive environment for coworkers with disabilities.

Users can now enable Outlook MailTips requesting accessible content, Koenigsbauer announced. This will remind users to run Accessibility Checker before sending an email to a specific address, encouraging them to fix issues that make it tough for their colleagues to get the message as intended. The feature is also in the works for Outlook on Windows PCs, he added.

PowerPoint and Word will soon get an intelligent descriptive text feature for images based on the software's new Designer functionality that assists users in creating professional-grade presentations.

The feature automatically generates suggested alternative text descriptions for images that appear in PowerPoint presentations and Word documents. The feature employs Microsoft's Computer Vision Cognitive Service, an image analysis technology that uses machine learning to identify visual content and label it.

As more users put the automatic alternative text creation feature through its paces, Microsoft hopes to include it in more of its applications and platforms, Koenigsbauer said.

Finally, Microsoft wants people who use screen readers to easily determine what shared files and websites have in store before they click on a link. Instead of attaching long, cryptic URLs, Microsoft will soon enable a feature that generates meaningful, more user-friendly display names.

"Now when you click to insert a hyperlink, a Recent Items list similar to the one in Outlook will show your recently used files on SharePoint, OneDrive and OneDrive for Business, as well as webpages already copied to your clipboard," Koenigsbauer explained.

After selecting a link, the display text automatically defaults to the file or web page name, instead of a URL. Alternately, users can add their own display text, he wrote.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...