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Windows 8 to feature assistive tech improvements for disabled users

Posted at 16 February 2012 00:37 CEST by Justin_Massoud

Pleasing everyone, especially with an operating system, is nearly impossible. Microsoft is trying anyway. The software giant has already claimed its upcoming Windows 8 OS will offer tons of usability options for both the PC old guard and folks running it on cutting-edge tablets. But what about people with disabilities? And aging workers whose keyboard skills aren’t what they used to be?

Image: Building Windows 8/Microsoft

“We want all users to be able to experience Windows 8 Metro style apps on their desktops, laptops, or the new touch-capable devices,” explained Jennifer Norberg, lead program manager, Windows human interaction platform team. “This includes people with disabilities who rely on assistive technologies to use the PC.”

To accomplish that, Windows 8 will feature tweaks to some assistive technology (AT) included in previous versions of the operating systems to make daily usage easier for disabled people. A noble goal, considering the number of people suffering from some form of physical ailment.

“In the United States alone, 49.6 million people have a disability and 45 million in Europe,” said Norberg, adding “the rates of individuals with disabilities are also increasing across the world due to the aging population and increases in chronic health conditions.”

To put that figure into perspective, Microsoft announced last summer that it had sold more than 400 million software licenses globally for Windows 7, while 2001’s Windows XP retained some 200 million users. It’s unknown exactly what the overlap is, but the company isn’t taking any chances.

Norberg outlined several changes to AT components such as Windows Narrator, a screen-reading program for visually-impaired or blind users that comes standard in Windows 7.

The new and improved Narrator will read quicker and feature more languages and voices, said Norberg. Developers can already use the software to download the exclusive preview build of Windows 8 released last September, and the final product will increase the amount of content Narrator reads during web browsing.

The Magnifier AT, which helps those with poor eyesight, is also being revamped for Windows 8 on touch-screen devices. Accessing the feature will bring up a border that determines the direction the magnifier moves, while plus and minus buttons control the magnification level.

Norberg admitted that there’s still work to be done, but said she’s confident those with accessibility issues will be satisfied with the improvements. (via Building Windows 8)

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