Microsoft Promotes Cross-Platform Accessibility Tech

Microsoft is transitioning to a new accessibility model, UI Automation, which allows mobile devices to transfer information and is supported in Windows Vista.

Microsoft Corp. is in the process of transitioning from its old accessibility model to a new model supported in Windows Vista.

Microsoft is moving from its MSAA (Microsoft Active Accessibility) model to a new cross-platform accessibility model called User Interface Automation, which will be supported in Windows XP and Windows Vista, said Rob Sinclair, director of Microsofts Accessible Technology Group.

One of the chief architects of UI Automation, Sinclair is leading the efforts to promote the advantages of moving the industry toward adopting one accessibility standard.

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Having one accessibility standard would make it easier to innovate across the industry in the accessibility space—and not just on Windows, Sinclair said. Developers would no longer have to spend time writing separate code for each platform.

Sinclair said he hopes to see UI Automation take a pivotal role in the larger industry ecosystem of assistive technology.

UI Automation works with assistive technology products and automated testing frameworks by providing programmatic access to the GUI, Sinclair said. Microsoft will offer a cross-platform, royalty-free license for UI Automation to foster use of it across various operating system platforms, he said.

"We have implemented this for Windows, and were making it freely licensable for other platforms," Sinclair said. "We are talking to Linux and Mac folks to get them on board."

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Sinclair said Microsoft has licenses for application development, client development and platform development. However, the platform developer license could present a slight issue for some developers because of open-source licensing concerns, he said.

One use of UI Automation would be to enable devices to transfer information from one device to another, such as from a smart phone to a kiosk, Sinclair said. UI Automation exposes information about the UI to allow one application to interact with another.

About 48 percent of the U.S. work force is over 40 years old, and 57 percent of Windows users employ accessibility features—such as magnifiers, color settings, font sizing and speech recognition, Sinclair said. Accordingly, Microsofts ATG is moving to make Windows more accessible for aging baby boomers and disabled users across the enterprise.

David Orris, an enterprise architect at the U.S. Department of Defense, in Washington, who required assistive technology following surgery, said, "Assistive technology is a real equalizer for people with disabilities."

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Tools/platforms Microsoft ATG invests in:

  • Visual Studio
  • Microsoft Expression "Sparkle Interactive Designer"
  • Windows Presentation Foundation
  • Windows Client Platform
  • FrontPage
  • Windows Vista

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