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Why Microsoft? Office 365 is Accessible

Why Microsoft? Office 365 is Accessible

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Microsoft is committed to Universal Access
Microsoft has invested heavily in accessibility for more than 20 years, and we strive to create technology that anyone can use—regardless of age or ability. This foresight is part of our Office product history, our present offerings and our plans for the future. In doing so, we plan accessibility into new product lines. --Our product release cycles include an accessibility analysis to help ensure products are released with consideration for every community. 

Accessibility across the Office 365 Suite
For example, when creating the Office Web Apps components of Office 365 we invested most heavily in these, focus areas:

  • Provide screen reader support for people who can't see the screen.
  • Ensure that people who don’t use a mouse can access all functionality via a keyboard.
  • Ensure that Office Web Apps functions well in high contrast and high DPI modes for those who rely on these mechanisms to see their screen.

The resulting range of accessibility features in the Office 365 suite demonstrates Microsoft’s longtime commitment to accessibility, and its successes in providing enabling technologies. Each component of the suite: Office Web Apps, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, Exchange Online and Office meets multiple, specific guidelines. Microsoft customers can also complement Office 365 capabilities with any of the specific Office and Windows capabilities listed at the end of this post. 

In the table below, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines show conformance to guidance developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative which focuses on making content more accessible for people across a wide range of disabilities: visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive language, learning and neurological abilities, and even aging-related difficulties.

Also available in the table, the Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) describe how Microsoft complies with the US Section 508 standard. All organizations need to take accessibility into account and provide equal access to the tools and technologies to all people. In many cases, government entities must evaluate the accessibility of a product, including its findings as key selection criteria for tools. It can be difficult for organizations to evaluate whether a technology is accessible. VPAT can help, but evaluators should know that if a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template exists, it does not necessarily mean that a technology is accessible or complies with applicable regulations. Non-compliance can result in both lack of usability and penalties.

Accessibility Provisions in Office 365




Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

Office Web Apps

Office 2010: Accessibility Investments & Document Accessibility

Office Web Applications

Conformance statement AA-level
Conformance statement A-level

SharePoint Online

Accessibility and SharePoint 2010   

SharePoint Foundation 2010
SharePoint Server 2010

SharePoint Foundation 2010
Conformance statement AA-level; A-level

SharePoint Server 2010

Conformance statement AA-level; A-level

Lync Online

Lync 2010 Accessibility

Lync 2010 Attendee
Lync 2010
Lync Web App

Not applicable

Exchange Online

Enablers for People with Disabilities

Exchange Server 2010

Not applicable


Accessibility in Office 2010  

All Office components

Not applicable

A broad set of individuals can benefit from productivity tools. In turn…

I challenge Google to fulfill its own mission:

“Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” 

Last March, the National Federation of the Blind asked the Department of Justice to investigate after two universities adopted Google Apps for Education. Since Google Apps had technology barriers for the blind, use of Google Apps potentially violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Last week, Educause reported on the National Federation for the Blind’s assessments of Google Apps’ accessibility:

“Recent NFB testing has found that Google Apps still exhibit substantial, and in some cases new, accessibility problems.”

Google’s turmoiled past
Google Chrome Accessibility reviews for both versions 1.0 and 2.0 show that their product releases didn’t include obvious considerations for those with disabilities. The risk of not being able to serve potential clients inspired action. By May 2011, Google revealed an early beta for developers of an accessibility tool, ChromeVox. Yet ChromeVox seems to be Google’s one-size-fits-all answer to accessibility. It is a Google Chrome extension that works only on Chrome.

Most users who are blind have a screen reader such as JAWS, NVDA or Windows-Eyes, which they prefer to use in lieu of a browser-only solution. Screen readers help those with vision problems to navigate the software by reading content and commands on the screen aloud. Yet, in order to use Google tools, they must use ChromeVox for the Chrome browser and use their preferred screen reader to read copy on the screen aloud for everything else. Once again, Google delivers a glitchy user experience. The user must access two tools regularly to accomplish the basic task of reading. Assisted with his preferred reader and Google’s ChromeVox, one user commented last month:

"Google Sites has accessibility problems with all screen readers, including Chrome. ChromeVox has accessibility problem<s> with all the sites, including Google Sites."

Google technologies don't make the grade
Google has only scratched the surface in recognizing the needs of a broader base of users and taking action. Checking in on how well traditional, assistive technologies work with Google tools, the Access Technology Higher Education Network (ATHEN) evaluated and then graded Google technologies. ChromeVox received a ‘D’ grade for instability, for being buggy and for incomplete accessibility. Google got a ‘D’ for poor interaction with JAWS, the most-used reader for sight-disabled people. Even keyboard-only access received a ‘C’. This technology is critical because many assistive technologies imitate keyboard behavior to work. ATHEN summarizes the significance for us:

“An application is neither considered accessible nor providing equitable access until it receives a grade of A.”

Microsoft is committed to accessibility
Microsoft develops a wide range of tools to enable all content for all users, including Save as DAISY which converts Word files to talking books, a Screen Magnifier in Windows, a Speech to Text tool that controls a computer by voice commands and many more enablers.

We provide tools for those working with people who have technical challenges, so they can create documents and tools that the accessible community can use. This is an area that Google hasn’t tackled. For example, Subtitling Add-in for Microsoft PowerPoint (STAMP) helps people add subtitles to audio and video in PowerPoint.  Also in this area, we have added technology into Office to help all people create more accessible content. The Accessibility Checker for Office analyzes files to help the user identify potential problems which someone with special needs may have in using a document. In addition, we enable customers to create Tagged PDF files as alternative, accessible documents.

Our commitment to accessibility isn’t only in services and software. We have embedded enablers in the operating system. Windows 7 features like touch and on-screen keyboards create new possibilities for users!


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