The 5 Best Accessibility Tools in Microsoft Office
Microsoft has equipped its products with built-in accessibility tools to support dyslexic or visually impaired users. You can also use these tools to create more inclusive documents.
Most of the features work at the operating system level. Since late-2016, Microsoft has started offering specific tools for its Office suite. But what tools are available? And how do you use them? Keep reading to find out.
1. Accessible Templates
The nature of some of these templates makes it difficult for some users to interact with them — perhaps because the text is too small or the colors are indistinguishable.
Microsoft now offers a new tag in its template library called “Accessible.” All the templates with the tag are designed for users who struggle with the regular offerings. Certain templates specialize in certain features. For example, some are easy to use with a screen reader, some are high-contrast, some use large fonts, and so on.
To find templates tagged with “Accessible,” head to File > New in any of the Office apps. Enter Accessible in the search box at the top on the screen and press Enter to view all the results. To refine your search further, use the category listings in the right-hand pane. You can select multiple categories.
Click on your desired template to see a description. Select Create to load it into the main app for editing.
2. Dyslexia Assistance
Users who have severe dyslexia find it harder to read text on a screen than on a piece of paper. Research suggests the bright white background of an Office document exacerbates the problem further.
Of course, you’ve always been able to change the Office theme for a darker color by heading to File > Account > Office Theme and choosing either Black or Dark Grey, but it doesn’t alter the color of the virtual paper you’re typing on.
Microsoft has recognized the issue and introduced new tools to its Read Mode. To turn Read Mode, go to View > Read Mode. The app will remove all the other clutter from your screen and only display the text.
Once Read Mode is enabled, click on the View menu for further options. You can change the page’s background color (white, sepia, or black), split words by syllables, increase the spacing between words, and get your computer to read the text out loud, highlighting words on the screen as it progresses.
Check out the video below for more information:
3. Integration With External Accessibility Tools
Microsoft has been working hard to improve how both its own accessibility tools and third-party accessibility tools, such as screen readers, work within the Office suite of apps.
Specifically, six apps have received a makeover. They are:
- Skype — Screen readers can announce conversation invites, incoming messages, and other on-screen notifications.
- OneNote — Improved navigation across your notebooks, sections, and pages. At the moment, it’s still an experimental feature. To enable it, go to More > Settings > Options > OneNote Preview > Enable Experimental Features.
- Office Online — You can now use access keys and other keyboard shortcuts to navigate the web app.
- Visio — Screen readers can recognize shapes and diagrams, while authors can add alternative text to shapes, illustrations, pages, masters, hyperlinks, and data graphics.
- Project — Gantt charts, sheet views, timelines, team planners, usage views, and form views have become compatible with screen readers.
- Office Lens on iOS — You can use VoiceOver to capture images and screenshots.
4. Accessibility Checker
The three enhancements I’ve discussed so far primarily focus on users who need accessibility tools to interact with their machines effectively.
But what about if you’re producing content for people with disabilities? How do you know whether the recipients will be able to interact with the documents you’re sending to them?
Thanks to a new tool, it’s easy.
You can find the new Accessibility Checker by heading to Review > Check Accessibility. It will automatically scan your document for any issues. If it finds any problems, it will tell you what the issue is, why it’s important, and how you can fix it. Clicking on each item will highlight it in the body of your text.
In the example above, you can see the tool thinks the hyperlink is unclear. The tool also provides links to training about how to create accessible documents in all the Office apps.
5. New MailTips in Outlook
Microsoft has offered MailTips in Outlook 2010, 2013, and 2016. They are designed to eliminate inadvertent email errors , such as failing to add an attachment, hitting “Reply All” to lots of people, and sending sensitive information to unknown users.
A new MailTip is now available. It lets you alert fellow users that they are about to send an email to a person who needs their documents to be accessible. Soon, you’ll even be able to specify which types of content you’d like to receive. The MailTip will also remind senders to run the Accessibility Checker on any documents before hitting send.
At the time of writing, accessibility MailTips are only available on the Outlook web app. To configure them, go to Settings > Options > General > Accessibility Settings and mark the checkbox next to Ask Users to Send Content That’s Accessible.
Microsoft has confirmed the feature will be available on desktop versions of Outlook in the coming months. As soon as it is, you’ll find it in File > Options > Mail > MailTips > MailTip Options.
Has Microsoft Gone Far Enough?
The five tools I discussed are a step in the right direction, but are they enough?
I’d love to hear from people who use them in their day-to-day workflow. What did Microsoft get right? What did they get wrong? Are there any missing features that would make a significant difference to your productivity?
You can leave your opinions and feedback in the comments section below.
Image Credit: Ollyy via Shutterstock.com
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