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Office 365's latest updates simplify accessibility options for everyone

Microsoft's Accessibility Checker will spot issues that could make your work difficult for those with disabilities.
Andrew Dalton, @dolftown
December 20, 2016
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At the company's big Surface event earlier this year, Microsoft made a point of highlighting many of the accessibility features baked into its hardware and software. This month, Redmond continued that work, announcing new Windows 10 accessibility features like support for braille and updates to its Narrator text-to-speech program. Today, Microsoft is going one step further and introducing a few new Office updates designed to help users more easily create content that can be accessed and read by anyone.

First up, Microsoft's Office VP Kirk Koenigsbauer notes that his team has moved the new Accessibility Checker front and center in every major Office app from Word, Excel and PowerPoint to OneNote, Outlook and Visio. The feature, which is found under the Review tab, analyzes your document and will recommend changes or fixes that will "ensure your content can be consumed without barriers by people with varying levels of vision, hearing, cognition and mobility." Aside from making sure anyone can read your documents, the idea is to help users get better at creating widely accessible documents over time.

Outlook will also be taking advantage of the Accessibility Checker by adding a MailTip that will alert your coworkers to any accessibility preferences you might have when they start composing an email to you. The MailTip will remind your coworkers to run the Checker before sending in order to make sure everything will be readable by everyone on the team.

And finally, Word and PowerPoint will also soon offer intelligently generated alternate text for images in documents and presentations. Using Microsoft's in-house Computer Vision Cognitive Service, Word and PowerPoint will analyze your images and save users time by proposing text-based descriptions for users with visual impairments.

While the Accessibility Checker is available now on Windows machines and several Office for Mac apps, the intelligent alt-text suggestions are still "coming soon," according to Microsoft. Meanwhile, the company is also adding more easily accessible hyperlinks for recently accessed documents, new cloud storage options for Office on Android and Visio is launching on the web and iOS.

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