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ATU504 – Windows 10 Accessibility with Jeremy Curry and Doug Geoffray from the Empower Team at Microsoft

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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.

Microsoft Windows 10 Built-In Accessibility
The Empower Team
Jeremy Curry – Sr. Program Manager – Empower Team
Doug Geoffray – Sr. Program Manager – Empower Team
D.A.D. – Disability Answers Desk –
1-800-936-5900
Chat: aka.ms/dad
Twitter – @msftenable
aka.ms/narratorguide
ATIA Link: www.atia.org/ATupdate
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If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org
Check out our web site: http://www.eastersealstech.com
Follow us on Twitter: @INDATAproject
Like us on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/INDATA————————— Transcript Starts Here —————————

Jeremy Curry:
Hi, this is Jeremy Curry, senior program manager from Microsoft on the Windows and power team.

Doug Geoffray:
Hi, this is Doug Geoffray. I’m a senior program manager on the Empower team at Microsoft. 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 504 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on January 22nd, 2021.

Josh Anderson:
Today, we’re super excited to be talking about Windows 10 built-in accessibility with Jeremy Curry and Doug Geoffray from the Empower team at Microsoft. Thank you so much for listening and let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
As I’ve told you before, one of my favorite events of the year is the ATIA Annual Conference. Every year, I look forward to meeting with a global community of folks who use assistive technology to enhance their lives or the lives of their family, friends, students, or clients. Now, like so many other events, this year the conference will be held online. This virtual format means there’s more opportunities for flexible scheduling and registration options. And I hope that means each of you will join me online for ATIA this winter.

Josh Anderson:
ATIA 2021 AT Connected, will be held online January 25th through the 28th and February 1st through the 4th of 2021. You can learn more by visiting ATIA.org/atupdate. Again, that’s ATIA.org/atupdate. And I’ll see you all at in January.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners on today’s show were lucky enough to have longtime friend of the show, Jeremy Curry and Doug Geoffray, both from the Empower team with Microsoft. And they’re on to talk about some of the built-in accessibility in Windows 10 and how it can help individuals with disabilities. Jeremy, Doug, welcome to the show.

Jeremy Curry:
Thanks Josh. Thanks for having us. It’s always great to be here.

Doug Geoffray:
Yeah. Great to be here, Josh. Thanks.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. And it’s always great to learn about all the new stuff and the great accessibility features. And I’m really excited about some of the ones that I’ve found out and been able to use lately. But before we get into that, can you start off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds?

Doug Geoffray:
Sure. Again, my name is Doug Geoffray. I’ve been in the blindness field since 1982. That’s about 38 years, where I started working at a startup, not really a thing back then. But a company called Computer Aids Corporation, as a developer. Computer Aids was a Fort Wayne, Indiana, based company. So Josh, in your backyard there, and more of the pioneers, I would say, of the blindness industry.

Doug Geoffray:
Some of you that go way back may remember things I developed such as WordTalk FileTalk Braille Talk, Term Talk, and other things like Small Talk and Sounding Board. But in ’89 [Bill Grin 00:03:08] , The owner of Computer Aids, decided to close the company. And this left me figuring out what to do next. I didn’t want to just see all the products that I had created simply die, leaving customers with no support or upgrades and such. And I really enjoyed what I was doing.

Doug Geoffray:
So in 1990, I started GW Micro with my business partner, Dan Weirich. We continued providing the previous products and created new products like Vocalize, the Dos Screen Reader. And five years later, Window Eyes, a Windows Screen Reader, and several other products.

Doug Geoffray:
After 24 years, we sold GW Micro, but I felt I still had more to give. So I reached out to Microsoft and was happy to land a position as a program manager on the Narrator and UIA team, which I’ve been doing for a little over three years now.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And Jeremy, for those of our listeners who haven’t heard you on the show before, tell us about your background.

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah, Doug and I have kind of a combined background for a little bit. I worked at GW Micro with him starting back in 2005, which seems like a long time now, but I’ve been using assistive technology and dealing with it since the late ’90s. And I’ve worked on Window Eyes, screen readers, screen magnifiers, digital electronic magnifiers, braille note takers, braille displays, you name it. And if it’s got to do with low vision or blindness, I’ve probably dealt with it in terms of product management. And ended up coming here to Microsoft about two years ago now. That seems quick. And have been working on this team, basically on the low vision experience for Windows. And it’s just been awesome and so glad to be back here. And it just so happens, I guess we’ve got two fellow Hoosiers that are on the Microsoft team.

Josh Anderson:
I guess we should probably start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about accessibility in Windows 10 and how folks can actually find it if they’re not aware.

Jeremy Curry:
Sure. Windows 10 has lots of built-in accessibility tools and we call it Ease of Access. All of your accessibility tools are under something called Ease of Access. And, we’ve got things in three different categories and inside of Ease of Access. On the first one is for people with visual impairment. The second is for people with hearing. And the third one is for interaction, things like keyboarding and things like that.

Jeremy Curry:
And so you can get to Ease of Access by just pressing a Windows key U. That’s Windows key Unicorn if you want to just get there very quickly. You can also search for it inside of the start menu. You can just type in Ease of Access, and it will pop up there, as well. Things like Magnifier to actually magnify the screen. Or Narrator, which is our screen reader, to actually read the screen.

Jeremy Curry:
Then there are things like closed captions for hearing. Or if you’re wanting to, again, deal with things through the interaction portion, such as, if I only have one hand, there are things like sticky keys, where I can actually press multiple keys at one time just using one hand. Because it actually could, say if I want to do Shift S, I can press shift and then the letter S without having to have both of my hands on the keyboard to be able to do that.

Jeremy Curry:
All of these are built into Windows 10, and I know we’re going to talk a lot about these features today. And one thing I want to note is that, everything that we’re talking about is in the Windows 10 May 2020 update. These are things that you can go out and actually get today, and everybody that has Windows 10 can get access to them.

Josh Anderson:
There are a lot of new accessibility features and updates in the newer version of Windows 10. But let’s start off by talking about the updates to Narrator. What’s all new with Narrator?

Doug Geoffray:
Sure. I love to talk about Narrator. We love to talk about Narrator, but I thought maybe we should back up just a little bit. I wanted to make sure that your listeners are aware of what Narrator is. Narrator is Microsoft’s inbox Windows screen reader. It has been around for many years, but over the last few years, it’s been getting a lot of, I’d say, love and intention.

Doug Geoffray:
Microsoft is really in a unique position because we provide Narrators cart of Windows. You don’t need to pay extra for it or install it. It’s just always there. This means no matter where you are in Windows, you can always launch Narrator. And in fact, you can launch Narrator even during the installation of Windows. This means that you can install Windows without sight and assistance. And to start narrating, you just simply press Control Windows Enter. If Narrator isn’t running, it’ll just start up, and if it is running, it’ll shut down, so it’s really just a toggle.

Doug Geoffray:
I also wanted to point out, that you can get to the Narrator settings directly within Windows just by pressing Control Windows N. These settings allow you to get to the Narrator Guide, which is in the user guide, the Narrator Home, and all the Narrator configuration options. That’s just a little, little backup.

Doug Geoffray:
But now that everybody’s an expert in Narrator, let me highlight some of the biggest enhancements in the Windows 10 May 2020 update. All of the Narrator enhancements are geared around making the user more productive. I’m going to break this into three buckets to make this a little bit simpler. I’m going to talk about just general consumption enhancements, browsing the web enhancements, and working with email.

Doug Geoffray:
For the first bucket general consumption, I think there’s three items here. One, we made reading text more natural by processing complete sentences. This reduces the unnatural pauses and aids in proper pronunciation, which can change how words are pronounced based on the context, like read or read, or record or record. It’s the context that determines the correct pronunciation. Previously, Narrator would send out arbitrary chunks of text giving text-to-speech little context to figure out the best pronunciation pausing.

Doug Geoffray:
Two, we redesigned Narrator sounds to enable users to be more efficient. We added sounds for common actions and reduced the total number of sounds, making them easier to learn and use. For example, instead of hearing “Scan on” or “Scan off,” you can hear an ascending tone or a descending tone. This new refined sound scheme allows you to be more productive as you navigate and consume your content.

Doug Geoffray:
And finally, three, we made proofing easier by improving support for indicating capital words. For example, you can tell if only the first letter’s capital, if it’s all upper or it’s mixed. Again, for general consumption, we’ve made reading texts more natural by processing complete sentences on reading, improved efficiency with smart sounds and provide confidence of content with the capital indicator.

Doug Geoffray:
Or the second bucket, browsing the web, we improved user’s efficiency when working with webpages through several enhancements. I think there’s maybe seven of these, and we’ll run through it pretty quick. To give the user more confidence that the intended page loaded, Narrator will now automatically start reading from the top of the page when it is loaded. Two, to get a quick understanding of the page, we added a Get Summary command. You can press Narrator S. When you press this, Narrator will give the total number of landmarks, links and headings for the current page.

Doug Geoffray:
Three, if you press the Get Summary command twice quickly, like Narrator SS, the same information will now be displayed in the dialogue allowing you to navigate at your own pace. But what’s super cool about this, the dialogue will also display the page’s most popular links. This allows you to quickly jump to the pages most people are ultimately navigating to. You just simply tap through the dialogue and hit enter on one of the popular links. The new page will automatically load.

Doug Geoffray:
This uses the Microsoft Bing services. This is like when you do a general Bing search and under some of the results, you get direct links to other pages. These are the pages most people tend to go to, just a quick shortcut there.

Josh Anderson:
Nice.

Doug Geoffray:
And four, we addressed one of the top accessibility issues with poorly designed pages. We made it possible to disambiguate links such as Click Here. How many times have you gone to a web link and said, Click Here? What does that mean? Click Here a link. Instead of having to arrow up or down or around to get context of what Click Here means, or spend time navigating to the page and having to come back because it wasn’t the page you really wanted, you can just now simply press Narrator Control D, or the Describe Image or Link command. Now, Narrator will again use the Bing services to get the title of the destination page and provide that to you, without you having to actually navigate to the page, which can save you a lot of time and frustration. So give that a try on those to disambiguate those links.

Doug Geoffray:
And five, we made the Narrator find command much faster when searching for things on the web. You can engage the Narrator fine with Narrator Control F. And on large pages, you’ll really notice that it’s much faster now. Six, we improved the table reading experience to be more efficient and intuitive when reading and navigating tables. Tables are very common on the web, so we want to make sure that that reading experience is what you would expect. And finally, for web browsing on seven, we added support for Firefox. We previously had Chrome support, but now we’ve rounded that out by adding the Firefox support, as well.

Doug Geoffray:
Again, for web improvements, Narrator now automatically reads the page when it loads. You get a quick summary with the Get Summary command. We can pop up a dialog with the same summary information, but also get popular links. We disambiguate those wonderful Click Here type links, made Find faster, improved table reading and added Firefox support, all of which makes you more productive on the web.

Doug Geoffray:
One last group that I’d like to discuss, for the third bucket, really, around working with email. And we’ve improved the user’s experience with Outlook, from triaging to reading your actual email content. There’s going to be four topics here that I’ll talk about.

Doug Geoffray:
First, we made it faster and easier to triage mail. We did this by focusing on what’s important and what’s not, and optimizing what gets read first. Imagine arrowing up and down through your inbox. You don’t necessarily need to hear the column headers, subject, from, to, date, those types of things. You don’t need to hear that, so those are off by default. You also don’t need to hear columns that are the expected, like importance, normal or attachment. No, you don’t need to hear those so we make sure we get rid of the columns that don’t really give you better or more information.

Doug Geoffray:
And we also make sure that you get the status of the email first, if it’s unread or if it’s forwarded. You get that the very first thing. And then we put the important columns. If it’s tagged as important, we make sure that comes next. And then just read in the order that Outlook provides. And you can even adjust those columns within Outlook if you don’t like the order that they read.

Doug Geoffray:
And two, we optimized the time from hitting enter on a message in your inbox, to Narrator actually starting to read the content. And so not only does it start reading faster, but the reading now starts at the very first line of the message. Previously, it’s likely when you press enter on a message, the new window opens up. Narrator would go read the title of the window, which is the subject. And by the time it’s done with that, then it would start reading the mail. Now, it just gets right into that content, making it just a much more pleasant experience and makes you far more productive.

Doug Geoffray:
And three, we improved the reading experience by removing table references that are simply used for visual layout purposes. Many times, tables are used to give a visual appearance on the screen. That’s their only purpose up there. And so it’s annoying that your screen reader or Narrator would go through and tell you about these tables that are only there for visual layout purposes. We’ve got some heuristics now that will remove those layout tables and not inform you about it. You still get the content, of course, but you don’t get burdened with the table overhead of that. And finally, four, we improved Outlook’s responsiveness by reducing lags when arrowing through the text content of a message. So, arrowing up and down, we want to make sure as soon as you hit that key, you start hearing speech. And so we’re optimizing for that performance.

Doug Geoffray:
Again, to summarize the Outlook email improvements, you’ve got Narrator’s optimized for triaging experience by focusing on what’s important. And maybe even more important, what’s not important. We optimize to read faster when you open up a message to get right to that content. We improved the table reading experience to get rid of those layout tables. And we just made it faster when navigating around the content.

Doug Geoffray:
I know I threw out a lot of things here, all these changes, general consumption, web browsing, consuming, email, were all based on user feedback. We listened to those users, so please keep that feedback coming, and we’ll keep these upgrades coming out.

Josh Anderson:
Along those same lines, I know you’ve also been making some changes to Magnifier. Maybe adding some new settings and other stuff. Can you tell us about those?

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah, absolutely. There’s also some great stuff going on inside of Magnifier. And before I get to that, I’ll start with one thing that we added that is for people with low vision or really for anybody that does not require a Magnifier. And that is called the text cursor indicator. For a long time, people had had problems seeing the mouse pointer. We made the mouse pointer larger and that was great. And then we started getting requests from customers and saying, “Hey, I really can’t see the text cursor.” Whether you’re low vision or you’re trying to see the presentation across the room, that the text cursor is just one pixel thin vertical line. It looks like text. It gets lost in this quote, unquote, sea of black and white. And it is just really difficult to find.

Jeremy Curry:
Or, if you walk away from your document and you come back and you’re like, “Oh, where is that thing?” Some people are trying to highlight things or move their arrow keys to try and find it. What the text cursor indicator does, is it allows you to easily see the text cursor wherever it’s at. It’s got an image on the top and an image on the bottom. And so it just follows along the text cursor, and you can change the color of it, you can change the size of it. And again, you don’t have to be running Magnifier. Anybody could be using this. It’s a really cool, useful feature that helps people with low vision and really scales out to anyone who wants to be able to see the text cursor easier.

Jeremy Curry:
And then, in conjunction with that, when we start looking at Magnifier, one of the things we did was also look at the text cursor. We said, okay, well, we’re making the text cursor easier to see. What are some other things that we should consider with the text cursor in Magnifier? Users had been asking for the mouse pointer, as I mentioned, to make it larger, and we had that. And then inside of Magnifier, we had a way to center the mouse pointer when you’re moving the mouse pointer around the screen, you could center it. And we got feedback that said, Hey, we’d really like to be able to do that with the text cursor as well. Because when you’re typing that way, you can see everything right in the center and you’re not having to move your head up, down, left and right, and move around. It’s always in one location.

Jeremy Curry:
And so now when you start up Magnifier by default, when you type everything will be in the center of the screen. And you can easily look right at that one spot and be able to see things very easily with Magnifier. So, that’s one of the new things we had to do with Magnifier. But I think many listeners are really going to appreciate the new reading functionality that we’ve added with Magnifier. We have had the ability to run both Magnifier and Narrator together for a while. You get these visual highlights, and you could navigate around the screen, and Magnifier will follow that. You could have both a full screen reader and full screen magnifier, simultaneously. But when we got the feedback from customers, they were saying, we want the reading capability, but we don’t want everything that the screen reader is giving us.

Jeremy Curry:
And so, we added a reading capability directly into Magnifier without having to run Narrator. So you could just run Magnifier, and then whenever you want to read documents or emails or webpages, or pretty much anything on your PC, you can just either go to the Magnifier toolbar and click play, or you can press a hotkey, which is Control Alt Enter, to start a location. Or, you can take your mouse pointer and you can do Control Alt left click and say, start reading from here. And it will read, highlight, and track all of that text on the screen. It really helps reduce eye fatigue, which a lot of people with low vision have. Or if you want to, you could even put it out to 1X. If you’re someone who doesn’t use magnification all the time, then you could have it read your documents to you just to help you with eye fatigue towards the end of the day.

Jeremy Curry:
We have lots of users who have eye conditions that actually change during the day. Some might need little or no magnification at the beginning of the day, and some might need a lot of magnification at the end of the day. Maybe they don’t need any speech at the beginning of the day, and by the end of the day, they need a lot of speech. And so this provides them the ability to be able to access all of this content, very nice and easy with the new reading functionality inside of Magnifier.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, Jeremy, I’m so glad you brought up putting a 1X and being able to use it, because I’ve had folks use think, who don’t really have what I guess you would call a visual impairment, but more of maybe a traumatic brain injury or headaches, as you said, eye fatigue, all these kinds of things. Especially now that everyone’s working from home and on a computer 10 hours a day. Being able to use that tool is great for anyone who experiences those issues, not just folks who may have a visual impairment.

Jeremy Curry:
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got quite a few accessibility features for people that have visual impairments, but also extend to people who may not, like you said, they don’t identify as someone with a visual impairment. For example, if you go into Ease of Access, like I was talking about earlier, there’s something called text scaling. Sometimes users need text just a little bit larger. They don’t necessarily need magnification. They just need the text to be larger. You can go in to text scaling and actually make the text bigger. You just slide a slider under some plain language that says, make text bigger. You slide it and you can choose whatever tech size you want.

Jeremy Curry:
There are other things such as color filters for people who maybe are color blind or lack of perception of color, as we say. And so you can change those color filters, or maybe you want to invert the screen. People like me who are light sensitive, I often invert the screen so that I’ve got white text on a black background. And there’s other tools to similarly help people with light sensitivity and make things easier to see. We have a high contrast mode that allows you to do that, as well.

Jeremy Curry:
And then, one that a lot of users will adjust is the mouse pointer. You can change the size of it. You can change the color of it. Some people just like to personalize the mouse pointer. It might not necessarily be for a visual impairment. But these are features that are inside of Ease of Access, that really helped people with visual impairments, as well as people who, like I said, don’t identify as someone with a visual impairment.

Josh Anderson:
Definitely. I know when you change those pointer enhancements to make it to [inaudible 00:21:45] bigger, I don’t know if you heard everyone in the world applaud. But I know I had a lot of users that were very excited, because they would turn it up as big as they could, but still it just got lost. And I mean, I don’t even identify as someone with a visual impairment. Just as somebody who’s hit 40, and I have a harder time looking, finding the mouse, if it’s the mouse pointer, if it’s the normal size.

Josh Anderson:
Again, I love the enhancements and I love that you guys are, as Doug said, they’re taking, maybe not the advice, but the things that you get from your actual users. And putting those into practice to be able to just make everything a whole lot more accessible in the Windows operating system.

Josh Anderson:
Well, guys, I have to ask you this question and you can go ahead and tell me no, but, is there anything new maybe coming out soon that you’re working on that you’re allowed to talk about?

Jeremy Curry:
Well, we’re always working on things, right? We’re continuing to work on lots of things. And one of the things we do as we’re continuing to get feedback from the community, just like you mentioned earlier. And so as we work on continuing to make Windows even better than it already is, there’s something that’s called the Feedback Hub, which is a really great tool for people who want to reach out to us and talk to us. And if you press Windows key assets, Windows key Foxtrot, it’ll bring up something called the Feedback Hub. And you can actually send our team or even other Microsoft teams, feedback. But you could send the Empower team information about accessibility, whether it’s related to Narrator or Magnifier, or any of the other features that are inside of the Ease of Access settings. You’ve got that ability. We review that information every week. We go through and read all of it.

Jeremy Curry:
And so it’s a great way to stay in touch with us and also let us know what are the things that you want to see. Because, we really have made a concentrated effort to listen to customers, so we can come out with these new, awesome features that we’ve been talking about. And that doesn’t happen without our customers talking to us, and us listening to them. The feedback hub is something that’s a really great method to be able to give us feedback and just anything you want to tell the accessibility team.

Josh Anderson:
If our listeners would need to find out more about accessibility or maybe have questions or those kinds of things, what are some other ways besides maybe just the Feedback Hub that they could actually get a hold of Microsoft? And get their voice heard or their questions answered?

Jeremy Curry:
There’s a couple different ways. One, you can go to microsoft.com/accessibility. It’s got all sorts of information there. There’s also the Disability Answer Desk, or the acronym is DAD, D-A-D. The Disability Answer Desk is essentially free technical support that Microsoft provides to anyone who has a disability. You could call up and ask questions about the built-in assistive technology that Microsoft has. If you’ve got a technical support issue with it, you can call in and ask about that.

Jeremy Curry:
Additionally, if you are using a third-party type of assistive technology tool, you can call in and they’ll help you with that. It’s just a great resource. And there are a couple of different ways you can contact them. One is by phone, as I mentioned. So it’s 1-800-936-5900. That’s 1-800-936-5900. There’s also other ways to contact them such as chat. And if you go to aka.ms/dad, that’s aka.ms/dad, you could find all the different ways to contact them and their times and how you can get ahold of them. Again. Another great resource.

Jeremy Curry:
Another way is through Twitter. You can tweet to MSFTEnable, and we are happy to listen to things there. So, lots of different ways to reach out to us and ensure that we’re hearing from customers. And we just really strongly encourage you to do that.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We’ll put all that stuff down in the show notes, just so our folks can definitely contact as needed. Well, Doug, Jeremy, I wish we had more time. I feel like we could talk about this forever, but I do love all the new stuff that you guys are working on. And I know with new updates, even more will be coming out and we’ll have to have you back on to talk about those and just keep our listeners in the know. But again, thank you so much for taking time out of your day and coming on here, just to tell us about all the great things that your Empower team is doing and everything that you’re helping out with Windows accessibility.

Jeremy Curry:
Thanks so much for having us. Always happy to be here, Josh.

Doug Geoffray:
Yeah. Thank you, Josh. Thanks for the opportunity.

Josh Anderson:
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.

Josh Anderson:
Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at www.eastersealstech.com.

Josh Anderson:
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.

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