Web Accessibility in Microsoft Vista

June 7, 2006

Topics: Accessibility, News.

There’s no doubt that the eventual release of Microsoft’s new Vista operating system is a big thing for the world of computing. Windows holds the vast majority share of office and home computing, and the release of their first new system in over 5 years will be very significant.

Matt Bailey recently pointed out Microsoft’s claims that Vista would be the most accessible Windows ever. His description of their new features sounds promising – one of the key improvements will be an extensive set up wizard which, rather than focusing on "normal" options and "accessibility" options, will interview the user about their work habits and demonstrate new features, hopefully resulting in operating system settings which match the needs of the user.

It’s a good idea – the interview process removes the stigma of disability from your computer settings, and instead focuses on the user experience. Whether it works, of course, is another matter – but that won’t really be testable until there’s a much larger body of users. Not to mention the inevitable bugs in a beta system…

Vista will also incorporate substantially reworked versions of existing accessibility options. These options will include speech recognition (now with a learning engine which will adapt to your own style and vocabulary) and more advanced magnification. The new magnification style will render images and text at a larger size, rather than simply stretching the view, which has always created distortion in the magnified view.

All of this is discussed at some length with Rob Sinclair, the Director of Microsoft’s Accessible Technology Group, in Microsoft’s PressPass. The press version, of course, carries the usual highly-positive spin of a Microsoft press document, but is thorough enough to give you a pretty accurate sense for what’s coming up.

Finally, Vista will incorporate a testing model to allow 3rd party software providers to incorporate accessibility features into their software. This is unquestionably a great addition. The easier you make it for developers to make their software accessible the more likely it will be they’ll take the time and effort.