Accessibility in Windows 8 – what it means for education users

Continuing the theme of previous Accessibility blog posts, I thought it would be useful to take a look at accessibility going forward, and some of the work that has been done within Windows 8, and how that will help schools, TAFEs and universities to provide support for their students and staff.

This is important as we’re going to see students accessing learning resources across a much wider range of devices – phones, slates and conventional PCs and laptops. And with new interfaces (such as the Metro interface on Windows 8) it’s important that we keep increasing the accessibility of systems and information.

The World Health Organisation says one in six people has a disability*, and so in every educational institution there are going to be tens, hundreds or thousands of students needing support. With Windows 8, the team have built on top of the existing capabilities in Windows – like the narrator, magnifier and speech features talked about in the workshop in this blog post – by firstly improving some of these – for example, by improving the way that narrator can help you on websites.

And the Windows 8 team have made a lot of changes from the ground up – for example, providing clearer support for other software developers to make software that can use the in-built accessibility options. A really simple example is the ability for the user to change default font sizes across applications, rather than having to do it in individual programmes. And this extends to other assistive technologies from third parties, where they can more easily be integrated into the system – to reduce the need for workarounds by both users, assistive technology developers and software designers. (Developers not only get guidelines and advice from us, but also access to specific testing tools to ensure that their applications are accessible).

Accessibility options within Windows 8On the right are the options I see on my Windows 8 laptop, when I search for Accessibility settings in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

What does it mean for education users?

On top of the existing accessibility features, and the new ones being added, life will be made easier as we do things like adding an accessibility filter in the Windows Store, making it easier to find the apps that have been declared more accessible by the developer.

And a lot of work has gone in to ensure that the new interfaces for touch devices are accessible. Many of these features are also really helpful for teachers when using interactive whiteboards, where they can be used to highlight areas of the screen, and zoom in and out so that all pupils can see the display.

Hopefully the outcome of all of this is that it not only will it become easier to find accessible resources, but more software will be accessible to start with – making it much easier to support the needs of individual learners.

Find out more on accessibility in Windows 8

There’s a lot of detailed information on accessibility in Windows 8 – and links to resources – in a blog post (below) by Jennifer Norberg, a senior program manager lead on the Windows ‘Human Interaction Platform’ team.

Learn MoreLearn more about accessibility in Windows 8 on the ‘Building Windows 8 blog’


Note to self: It’s not just about the technology. I’ve just checked the readability of this article, and it’s scored at just below graduate level. It looks like there’s a lot of long words in the world of accessibility. I’ll attempt to make future blog posts more readable!