ATU424 – Jeremy Curry with Microsoft Accessibility

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes: Jeremy Curry – Senior Programming Manager Windows Accessibility Team 

twitter: @msftenable

website: www.microsoft.com/accessibility

FCC Chairman’s Award: http://bit.ly/2NjEqbN

Candidate Website Accessibility: http://bit.ly/2NmEwzh


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Jeremy Curry:
Hi, this is Jeremy Curry with Microsoft, the Senior Program Manager on the Windows Accessibility Team. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update. A weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to Episode 424 of Assistive Technology Update, it’s scheduled to be released on July 12th, 2019. On today’s show we’re very excited to have a frequent flyer of Assistive Technology Update Airlines, Mr. Jeremy Curry. And he’s going to be on to talk about some of the exciting updates with Windows and Microsoft Accessibility and the Ease of Access Center.

Josh Anderson:
We also have an exciting story about the Chairman’s Awards for Advancements in Accessibility from the FCC. We also have a story about just how accessible are the 2020 presidential candidates websites. Thank you for listening today and let’s go ahead and get on with the show. For an interesting story about something that really I had no idea about over at, well, at the FCC. It turns out the FCC has a Chairman’s Award for Advancements in Accessibility. And this is the Chairman’s Award for Advancement in Accessibility or the Chairman’s AAA Award and it’s an FCC program that recognizes products, services, standards, and other innovative developments that improve the experience of people with disabilities and telecommunication and technology.

Josh Anderson:
And This has been going on for quite a few years actually, it looks like the first ones were in 2011. But this year’s award winners, the first one is Microsoft, Tobii and EyeTech for making a USB Human Interface Device standard for eye trackers. So, basically what they did is make it to where there’s a USB interface that’s going to be standard for all eye trackers. That’ll enable generic all-purpose eye tracking technology to be used at controlling consumer electronics right out of the box. Without requiring assistance from someone who can manipulate the input devices or install the software and drivers and make all those changes. Now a lot of times an individual is probably still going to need to learn to use the eye tracking, but still wouldn’t that be nice if everything that had eye tracking was just plug and play? Plug it right in, put it right on and next thing you know, you’re ready to begin training or begin using that device to meet your needs.

Josh Anderson:
And for those of you who’ve never used eye tracking software, it’s used a lot in, oh, it’s a different way to control your entire computer. Essentially you just look around, uses your eye as the mouse. It’s also used a whole lot in augmentative communication devices. So, it’s used in those so the individual can look at and dwell over what it is they want to say. And blink or just stay on it for long enough and it will click on that so they have to physically access the device. So, very cool that they’re coming out with plug and play USB standards so that that’ll make all that a whole lot easier. The second winner is actually Cisco. And they have a text to speech functionality for their 8,800 Series phones. Anyone who’s ever worked in an office has probably seen an 8,800 Series phone. I’d say it’s got a little screen on there that displays some different information. Well, if you’re blind or low vision you can’t see that information.

Josh Anderson:
So, it’s impossible to really be able to tell what’s going on or maybe who’s calling or all these other things. So what they’ve done is, they’ve actually made a functionality so that it gives users audible options for phone functions. This is to help people with vision related disabilities have the same workplace capabilities as their co-workers. So very cool. Something else that I would love to see is if maybe more text information could be shown there as well, the backwards way go with speech to text style. Just because I know I’ve worked with some folks who are deaf or hard of hearing that have worked in different kinds of positions. And they’ve had trouble accessing these phones as well, just because they’re not going to be able to hear the person on the other line without an interpreter. So very cool. Very cool the FCC is actually taking time to give these awards. Plus these are also two pieces of accessibility that I did not know about. So, we’ll put a link to that story over in our show notes.

Josh Anderson:
So, here we are in about the middle of 2019 and already there’s a lot of talk about the 2020 elections. As many of our listeners know, we don’t really talk about politics on here and you know what, we’re going to go ahead and keep it that way. But, I did find a story over on thehill.com and it’s titled, No 2020 candidates websites are fully accessible to the blind, this is by Rebecca Klar. And it actually goes through all of the candidates websites and pretty much tells you just how accessible or inaccessible they are. It says that none of the top candidates currently running for the president have websites that are fully accessible for a blind person to navigate. Now this is according to a review by a Miami based Institute for the Blind. So it says here that the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired conducted a review of campaign websites for the 20 democratic candidates that were in the debates as well as President Trump and his only GOP challenger, who is William Feld.

Josh Anderson:
So, it’s basically looking through here that they have a range from one to four. One is not accessible and four is fully accessible. So, there’s Joe Biden, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard and Kirsten Gillibrand each got a three for mostly accessible. So, their websites are mostly accessible although everything is not accessible. Senator Elizabeth Warren had the least accessible page with a two rating. Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders both came in with a 2.11. Does say that the two Republicans running had a 2.67 just a little bit higher than those. And please do not take this as any sort of endorsement for anyone mentioned or not mentioned in this article. But really it just shows that for a lot of folks, still accessibility of their websites is such an afterthought. And I really got to think that if you’re running for office, this has got to be something on your radar.

Josh Anderson:
If you don’t make your website accessible all this information about you, especially in such a crowded field of participants, these folks that are going to want to find out more about you might not be able to get the information that they want to know and they might move on to someone else. Not only might they move on to someone else, they might tell their friends to move on to someone else. They might tell someone else to move on. And that could lose you, not just the vote of that individual that can’t see your website, that can’t get that information they need, but anyone that they come in contact with. Because they will let them know that you didn’t take the time to make this accessible for them. And a lot of people might say, “Oh, but it’s so hard to make these things accessible.” If you build it in, it’s really not. There’s a lot of tools out there that can really help you with this.

Josh Anderson:
And I realize this doesn’t completely fall up on the candidates. They probably did not build their own websites. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that none of them did. But still these people that you hire to do these kinds of things for you, make sure this is something you’re taking into consideration. Because just think if every person in the United States who is of legal voting age, who’s blind or visually impaired, all of those for someone just based on the accessibility of their website. Do you want to be the person who had that accessible website? Or the person who just lost all those votes? Not even depending on what your policies are, what you actually want to accomplish because the folks looking at your website may have not been able to even get to that page.

Josh Anderson:
So, we’ll put a link to that story over in our show notes. Hopefully once we get a little bit closer to the election. And maybe some of those numbers get whittled down a little bit, the folks that are still running, will take the time to make those websites accessible. Our guest today is no stranger to the Assistive Technology Update Podcast. He’s been our guest many times from back as far as I think the 10th Episode maybe even farther back. But today, he comes to us in a whole different role and with a different host. Jeremy Curry has been working in Accessibility and sharing his wisdom with us here on this podcast since the early episodes. And he’s here today to talk about his work at Microsoft, with the Ease of Access Center. Which, I guess, has also been around for quite some time. Jeremy, welcome to the show.

Jeremy Curry:
Thanks Josh. It’s great to be back. It has been a while and just feels like family coming home now.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, and we’re very excited for your new role to be able to help folks with Windows and everything else. And you’ve had a really long career in Accessibility. So, for our listeners who haven’t heard you before, can you tell them a little bit about your background before joining Microsoft?

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah, you bet. I’ve been in assistive technology for about 15 years. I guess that’ll show my age.

Josh Anderson:
Well, if you started when you were 15 then that’s, you’re close to 30. That’s fun.

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah that’s right. I’m now 30. Yeah, that’s right. But I’ve been dealing mostly with vision my whole life. I’m visually impaired and I’ve got a genetic eye condition that’s caused my vision to go down. Kicked in when I turned 18 and it’s just gotten worse and worse since then. And so I’ve had a real passion for both teaching and technology for a long time. And so, I worked in screen readers like Window-Eyes and JAWS. I’ve worked with screen Magnifier ZoomText. One of the last things I did in assistive technology was bring together both screen magnification and screen readers when making the first ever ZoomText fusion years ago. And I’ve been in that field and worked with Braille notetakers and electronic magnifiers you name it. When it comes to vision I’ve done it in the assistive technology field.

Jeremy Curry:
And I just have a real passion for the users and trying to make life better because I remember what it was like to be sighted. I remember what it’s like as I’m going through, being a high partial and then a medium partial and now on the low end of the below vision spectrum. And now I have landed at Microsoft which is just a huge opportunity. And I Love this company, love this team. And I started there in January, so I’m relatively new to Microsoft, but I’ll tell you these people share the exact same passion that I do and it’s just incredible. Well, one of the reasons I decided to join, I had been watching the response of people asking Microsoft to do things. And then just like clockwork, they were just starting to push things out and I wanted to be a part of that. And so it’s been awesome to be able to take all my background from years and years of assistive technology and then now bring it to the global marketplace, I guess, if you will.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. And I know they’ve been having a big push to really help out with Accessibility and I love that you joined that team. It can help them with that. Jeremy, before we get into all the new features, can you tell our listeners what exactly is the Ease of Access Center?

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah, sure. So, Ease of Access Center is where your Accessibility settings are located. So, for those of you who have no idea about what a Microsoft included, we’ve got our own built-in Magnifier, we’ve got our own built-up screen reader. We’ve got things that will help for hearing, things that will help for interaction and so, you can go to the Ease of Access Center inside of Windows. And you can easily access it just by pressing Windows key and the letter U once you’re inside of these… Excuse me, once you’re logged into Windows and open it up and you can change all the settings to make it personalizable for you. And what’s great about it, it really helps people like myself with disabilities, but it’s really helping people everywhere.

Jeremy Curry:
For example, you could turn on closed captions. And somebody who’s fully sighted, maybe you’re sitting in a library or an airport and closed captions are able to help them be able to actually see what the words are on the screen without having to turn the volume way up. And there’s some features that we’ve recently added that just started shipping in May that I’m pretty darn excited about. Especially from the low vision side, that’s where I’ve been focusing at here at Microsoft. But Ease of Access has got all sorts of different things for vision, hearing, different types of interaction. And if you are brand new to Windows again, it’s Windows key, U that’ll bring those up. And if you are on the login screen inside of Windows, maybe you’re low vision and you can’t see what the words are saying. Always down at the bottom right of that login screen are the places where you can access the Ease of Access Center.

Jeremy Curry:
So it’s in the same location, making it easy to find. Or if you’re someone who is totally blind… So, while I’m not totally blind, yesterday I was at the eye doctor, my eyes were dilating and I was trying to do some work at the same time. And I couldn’t see things even with their magnified. And I was on the login screen and I thought that, well, I’m going to need speech. So, I can press, Control, Windows key and the Enter key. So, Control, Windows and Enter and it brought up Narrator or built-in screen reader and I was able to access everything. So, even if you are someone who is totally blind and you’re still able to access all of that stuff even at the login screen, so before and after. And there’s just some really fantastic features inside of Ease of Access that make it wonderful for everyone to enjoy Windows.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. And I’ve noticed also in helping folks set up new computers that Cortana walks you through, but I’ve noticed about the first thing she asks is, “If you need Narrator turned on, click this key.” And so, even if you’re setting up a brand new computer and need that screen reader, you can turn it on right there. It’s nice that it helps you through that so that you can do it independently.

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah. It feels almost like Star Trek, doesn’t it?

Josh Anderson:
It does.

Jeremy Curry:
It’s fantastic. The last time I set up Windows 10 on a device, I was going through that and it was just nice because it felt conversational. I was able to go through it very easily with someone with a visual impairment. And I love some of the things that Microsoft had done on the Cortana side, because you always have to accept a legal agreement with every single software out there, right? Like I accept or I don’t accept or whatever it is. And so, I remember one of the very explicitly Cortana as I was using it would say, “Well, this is illegal stuff, you can either accept it or if you don’t, well then no Windows. So there you go.”

Josh Anderson:
That is kind of nice. Jeremy you alluded to it, some of the new features that you’re excited about. Go ahead and tell our listeners about those.

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah. So, we just released the Windows 10 May 2019 update, which is a free update for anybody who is in Windows 10. So, if you’re running Windows 10, you can go check for updates and you can download this update. And as I mentioned, I’m really focused on the low vision side and we added some additional mouse pointer sizes because we had a lot of users saying, “Hey, we’re going to have to mouse pointer really big. So, even if you’re not a low vision user, right? We have people lose a mouse pointer all the time. You go around you see sighted people and they walk away from their computer, they come back up to it and they’re shaking their mouse pointer trying to find where it’s at. Now you don’t have to worry about that because you could actually adjust the size of the mouse pointer and you could personalize it. You can make it any color that you want.

Jeremy Curry:
So, it defaults to a nice lime green color, if you pick a custom color which you can make it any color, you can leave it the standard white color. But some people just like to personalize their stuff and make it their own. Or if you’re a person who’s colorblind, you can change it to a color that works for you. And so, that’s one of the features that we recently added to this latest update. And there are other things that have been extremely popular. For example, we’ve been using really simplistic language, right? We get away from this techie stuff of trying to make things difficult for people. We want to make things easier for everyone. So recently, we added a feature called make everything bigger, right?

Josh Anderson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jeremy Curry:
Some people just need text a little bit bigger. Maybe you’re not someone who identifies as a person with a disability, but perhaps you need reading glasses, right? Sometimes you just want texts a little bit bigger. You can go and you can set your text just a slight bit bigger. You can change it to 125 or 150% or somewhere in that range or a little bit more and you can change the size of the text everywhere. So, maybe you are someone who just got diagnosed with macular degeneration, for example. And you haven’t really started losing vision yet, but you notice things starting to get a little blurry. And you could turn this on, make it, and you’re not using any type of magnifier or anything, you’re just making text bigger. Or maybe your eyes just get tired. Maybe you’re fully sighted. You don’t have any type of vision issue, but your eyes get tired because you’re tired of squinting and looking at the screen all the time.

Jeremy Curry:
And so again, making this text bigger can be very helpful. And there’s other things inside of Windows, such as a high contrast and the ability to change colors and your color theme to make it right for you. And then my personal favorites that I use all the time, every day is Windows Magnifier. So as I mentioned, since I’m very low vision, if I have my screen just at 1x I can’t see it. I mean, I see there’s stuff there, but I don’t know what it is. And so I use the Windows Magnifier to be able to magnify my screen and be able to see it and access it all the time. And there are some features that we’ve been pushing out for the next version of Windows that are going to make a lot of these stuff even better. So, there’s something called the Windows Insider program. Are you familiar with that Josh?

Josh Anderson:
A little bit, but I’m sure you probably know a lot more about it than I do. So, go ahead and tell our listeners and me about it.

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah. So, the Windows Insider program is a way that you can go and download and use the latest preview versions of Windows. If we were going to have another, well, when there’s another version of Windows, that basically you’re previewing that so you can get and try the latest features. It’s not a fully finished build, but you can go and try it and anybody can do this. It’s not restricted. You can go into the check for updates inside of the Windows 10 menu, and you can say, “Hey, I want to be a Windows Insider. And you can select if you want to be on the Fast ring, which means give me the stuff as fast as Microsoft pushes it out. Or you can be on the Slow ring which means, hey, I want to make sure that this stuff is going to be really stable. So, maybe don’t give me the absolute latest bleeding edge bits, but give me the stuff that’s been tested a bit.

Jeremy Curry:
And for those people who are on the Windows Insider, you can test out the features that we’re making. And so, one of the things that we just put into Windows Magnifier is the ability to have the text cursor centered on the screen all the time. So, as someone with low vision, I get really tired of having to move my head up to the left and right and down and all over. And it becomes fatiguing trying to move my eyes to try [inaudible 00:20:11] where the text cursor is at. So what this does is, it actually centers the text cursor on the screen so as I’m typing, like if I’m in a word document or if I’m in the web, wherever, it’ll always be in the center of the screen and so that I can keep my eyes in one place. Or maybe you only have peripheral vision, maybe you’ve got blind spots in the center of your screen.

Jeremy Curry:
You can turn your head so you can look out the peripheral of your sight and look at that particular center text cursor and have it in the same spot. Rather than it tracking and being up to the left, right, up, down, wherever it happens to be and try and make it more a smooth and consistent experience. So, that’s one of the things you’ll be seeing that you can actually get today inside of Windows Insider. And then another thing that we’ve just shipped for people who are using space screen reader, and which Narrators are built-in screen reader. This has got to be one of the coolest things I’ve seen. If you’re a screen reader user, oftentimes you run into these links that all they say is, click here and you’re thinking, great where is this thing going to take me?

Jeremy Curry:
And even for sighted users, they’re got to hover their mouse pointer over and see a link or something. So, what we’ve done is we’ve added a feature where you can, if you have a link that says, click here and you’re on that link, you can press a hot key. And then it’ll actually tell you the title of the webpage that it’s going to take you to. It’s really awesome. So, that you no longer have to wonder like, what’s this going to do? Is it going to take me to a virus? Or is it continuing to the right spot? It’s no longer has to be ambiguous, you can actually find out where you’re going. And so these are some examples of some of the features you can get that are on the Windows Insider build. And eventually these will be officially part of Windows 10, but you can preview them and use them today.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, that’s so perfect. I think I heard everyone on my vision team cheer when you talked about the larger mouse pointer. Because I know that is a huge issue for a lot of folks. And not just folks with vision impairments, like you said, anyone really working on two monitors or anything like that. It’s nice if you can actually figure out where the mouse is, as opposed to when you look down, you do something else, you look back up and, Oh goodness, where the heck was I. So having that’s good. And then when you talked about the things coming in the Insider program.

Josh Anderson:
I know with Magnifier, especially for folks who are just starting to use a magnifier, figuring out where they are on the screen is sometimes the hardest part. Just because it blows up the whole screen so I’m only seeing a portion of it. So being able to always have that centered is really going to be helpful for them. And then those things come into Narrator. I mean, especially if you’re just going through the links, if you just click here, click here, click here, click here, and don’t have the context. Well, you don’t know what any of those things are, so that will be so helpful for folks.

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah, exactly. And it’s just, I’m so proud of this team for what we’re putting out. It’s really neat to see some of these innovations coming out.

Josh Anderson:
It really is. And I know that you can’t tell us any of the brand new things that might be coming out down the road, but that always just gives us an excuse to have you on some time later.

Jeremy Curry:
That’s right.

Josh Anderson:
If our listeners want to find out more about Accessibility for Windows or maybe they have questions about Accessibility features for Windows, what’s the best place for them to find that information?

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah. We’ve got a site specifically for Accessibility. So, if you were to go to microsoft.com/accessibility, we’ve got all sorts of information there about what’s included in Windows and what we’ve done and other resources too. And one of the things that I love about Microsoft, before I joined here, I thought this was one of the coolest things they’ve done. And it’s something called the Disability Answer Desk or DAD for short D-A-D. And so, you can go to microsoft.com/accessibility and you can get the contact information for the Disability Answer Desk. But if you’re a person with a disability, Microsoft offers free support in multiple languages, not just English, but multiple languages. And so you can ask them questions about your system technology or built-in assistive technology.

Jeremy Curry:
The team that answers those questions is just phenomenal. I’ve heard so many wonderful stories about them. And then it’s really great when customers give feedback to the Disability Answer Desk gives filters back to our team. And so, we see all that feedback and try and fix or change or think about the things that are coming up based on information that users give them. So microsoft.com/accessibility, if you’re someone who is a Twitterfier, I that what people on Twitter are called? Twittifier?[Crosstalk 00:25:16].

Josh Anderson:
Twitterfier? I have no idea. [crosstalk 00:25:18]
Jeremy Curry:
If you’re someone who’s on Twitter you can follow Microsoft Enable @MSFTEnable, it’s M-S-F-T Enable. And you can tweet at them, they’ll answer things and also check out all the cool stuff that they’re sending it out as well. So, those are some of the best places to get information about what’s going on with Microsoft and Accessibility at the moment.

Josh Anderson:
Well, we’re very excited to have you as part of the Microsoft team, just because I know you’ll keep them moving in the right direction. And I’m glad you’ve got a great team around you. And we’re very excited for all the new things coming out. Jeremy, thank you so much for coming on the show today and we can’t wait to have you on again sometime to talk about the newer features whenever they start coming out.

Jeremy Curry:
Absolutely. Thanks so much Josh for having me. And yeah, we’ll be keeping you posted for sure. So, a virtual wink.

Josh Anderson:
That’s great. Thanks again. Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.EasterSealsTech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this plus so much more head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update, I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.