Microsoft has announced software and hardware designed to make it easier for people with disabilities to work with digital products. In addition to functions for Microsoft Edge and Windows 11, a number of hardware products are also planned (adaptive accessories): the mouse, button and hub should be available in the Microsoft Store in autumn. The group explained this at the Microsoft Ability Summit, an event on the topics of accessibility and inclusion.
According to Microsoft, the three adaptive accessories should interact and be configurable. There are different attachments for the mouse and the button: you can convert the mouse to a left-handed mouse or use the button as a joystick. The button should be able to be programmed for different purposes. For example, it would be conceivable to send an e-mail at the touch of a button. The hub is said to be able to connect wirelessly to multiple buttons and replace a keyboard; With the help of three profiles, it can be used with multiple devices.
What’s new in Microsoft Edge and Windows 11
not all announced software projects are already freely available. Text prediction for Notepad, an add-on to Microsoft Edge, has been available since March. This includes several languages, German has not yet been included. Some Windows 11 features are currently in beta testing, such as live captions and voice commands, which were announced back in April. Other functions are already in use: Windows 11 has its own area for accessibility in the settings, and Microsoft Edge can replace missing alt text for images. These texts are recorded by screen readers, which in turn help people who cannot see or can only see poorly.
In order to include people with disabilities in the development process themselves, Microsoft operates an “Inclusive Tech Lab” at its headquarters in Redmond, in the US state of Washington. There, Microsoft works with people with disabilities to develop optimal products for them and their needs. This is how products are created that are “inclusive by design”, explains Dave Dame, Director of Devices Accessibility at Microsoft. Originally, the inclusive laboratory was founded in 2017 for developments related to the Xbox, now it has been expanded.
In February, a team at Microsoft founded the “SkillAll” initiative. This is intended to give people with disabilities access to special Microsoft training courses and thus more (digital) participation.