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Windows 8 adds help for visually impaired, physically challenged

Windows 8 beefs up accessibility features that enable those who are blind, nearsighted, hard-of-hearing and who have mobility impairments to navigate PCs.

These include touch-screen support for Narrator, the Windows 7 tool that allows users to hear controls that are displayed on the machine and to talk their way through commands rather than using a mouse and keyboard. Some of these accessibility features are spelled out in the Building Windows 8 blog written by Jennifer Norberg, lead product manager for the Windows 8 Human Interaction Platform team.

HANDS-ON: First look: Windows 8 breaks new ground

Windows 8 Narrator more quickly reads controls that have been selected, speaks in more languages and allows adjusting speed of speech, volume and voice pitch. It enables creation of custom keyboard commands as well.

To show off these new features, Narrator support has been built into Windows 8's setup routine; Narrator literally talks users through setting up the operating system by responding to verbal commands.

Windows 8 has accessibility features for touch screens including a magnifier that can be controlled from the borders of the screen so users' hands don't block the elements they are trying to see.

For blind users, Narrator will speak what elements a single finger is being dragged over without activating the control it happens to be on. Tapping anywhere on the screen with a second finger will activate the control being touched.

Among other enhancements, Windows 8 has a new toggle to change contrast settings that is simpler than the current method and has made it easier to increase the size of elements so they can be seen better.

From the coding standpoint, Windows 8 adds support for standards that make it easier for developers to include accessibility features in their applications. These include standards from the Web Accessibility Initiative, Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA), HTML5 and XAML.

While it has tried to make coding accessibility easier for developers, Microsoft acknowledges it is still difficult when, for example, coding games and applications based on HTML5 Canvas.

The Windows Store will sort for apps that support accessibility so customers can find them more readily.

Improving these features is not easy, Microsoft says, and is a work in progress. "In each public release of Windows 8, you will see improvements being made in this area," the blog says.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.


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