Accessibility in Microsoft 365 Core Apps

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Community Hub.

“Accessibility is not a bolt on. It’s something that must be built in to every product we make so that our products work for everyone. Only then will we empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. This is the inclusive culture we aspire to create" - Satya Nadella 


Our journey in accessible technology is grounded in a shared conviction at Microsoft. As product makers, we believe in the obligation to build technology that truly empowers people, fostering an inherently equitable experience. 

In this pursuit, we've embraced a mindset we call "shift left," incorporating accessibility at every stage and right from the inception of designing and building our products.  


Reflecting on my tenure, I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's most impactful technologies, particularly with Office and Windows. Traditionally, these products were well established with years of development and only later received our focused attention on accessibility.  


However, Copilot presented a rare opportunity for us to incorporate accessibility right from the inception of the product and therefore "shift left", the entire design and development process. And what’s more, AI technologies like Copilot brought a unique opportunity to reshape how humans interact with computers in a way that makes the experience MORE equitable and transformative for all. 

Now, integrated into our Microsoft 365 Core Apps, Copilot brings forth exciting capabilities. Our goal is to bridge the gap between your interaction with technology and how you express your ideas, making the user experience more inclusive and empowering for all. 

At Copilot's core lies a commitment to equity, underscoring our ongoing dedication to fostering a technology landscape that truly serves every individual, ensuring that no one is left behind. 


Equity at Copilot's Core 

We are actively shifting left in our product development by making accessibility a core part of Copilot's design and functionality. Copilot is designed to work well with assistive technologies, such as screen readers, magnifiers, contrast themes, and voice input, and to provide a seamless and intuitive user experience. 


But in addition to that, Copilot is a tool designed to be accessible itself. 


In this process, we have collaborated and co-innovated with a diverse set of customers, 600+ members of Microsoft’s employee disability community, partners in research and design, and the commitment of engineers and product makers to listen and be accountable.  

To illustrate how Copilot can enhance accessibility, I want to share with you some highlights from engaging with participants who had early access to Copilot: 


  • Drafting emails: Copilot can help create 1st drafts in a matter of minutes. This can be especially helpful to those who have more limited mobility and challenges typing. You can generate different versions of the email with different levels of formality and detail and ask Copilot to check their calendar and suggest a meeting time, just with a few clicks of a button.  
  • Using voice commands: With Copilot, you can create entire PowerPoint presentations just using your voice. Just tell Copilot about what you want to create, and Copilot can generate relevant graphics and notes for slides. 

These examples demonstrate how Copilot can save users time and effort, as well as help them express their ideas and communicate their expertise more effectively. They also show how Copilot can adapt to their preferences and needs and provide them with a supportive partner that can enhance their communication and productivity. 


In addition to some of these areas of feedback, we also conducted a deep dive study with those of the neurodiverse community. The neurodiverse community (which makes up 10-20% of the world) faces common challenges that we can all relate to, but their lives are disproportionately affected by them. Examples include planning, focus, procrastination, communication, reading ease and comprehension, being overly literal, and fatigue. 


For the neurodiverse community, our study showed that Copilot can be a powerful ally, offering assistance in overcoming these challenges. It serves as a facilitator for thought organization, acts as a springboard for writing tasks, aids in surmounting task initiation barriers, and assists in processing extensive information found in documents, messages, or emails. 


Members of the community reported Copilot helping their communication effectiveness by distilling action items from team meetings and documents, generating  summaries, adjusting the tone and context of their content, and bridging communication gaps. 

As one of the participants in the study said, "For me, Copilot itself is accessibility. Having Copilot is like putting on glasses after I've been squinting my entire career. It is equity and I think as a neurodivergent individual, I can't imagine going back." 


Making Accessible Content with Ease 

On our journey to create products that are truly inclusive, we're also empowering document authors to shift left and build better authoring habits by catching accessibility errors early in the doc creation process. Ensuring that your content is comprehensible to all individuals, irrespective of their visual abilities or preferences, is a crucial component of accessibility. To assist you in this endeavor, we have created the Accessibility Assistant, a robust tool that can detect and resolve potential problems in your documents, emails, and presentations. You can access the Accessibility Assistant from the Review tab in Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint. 


New Features of the Accessibility Assistant include some of the following highlights: 


  • The in-canvas notifications for readability is a feature that notifies you of accessibility hurdles for common issues, such as text color not meeting the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) color contrast ratio or images lacking descriptions. You can use the inclusive color picker to choose an appropriate color from the suggested options and utilize the automatically generated image descriptions to provide alt-text, making it easier to create accessible content. 
  • Quick fix card for multiple issues: This feature allows you to fix several issues of the same type with fewer clicks. For example, you can change the color of all the text that has low contrast in your document. 
  • Per-slide toggle for PowerPoint: This feature enables you to view and fix the accessibility issues for each slide individually, instead of seeing them by categories. This can help you focus on your own slides and collaborate with others more easily. 

These capabilities are designed to help you create accessible content faster and easier, and to ensure that everyone can access and enjoy your work. The Accessibility Assistant for Word Desktop has started rolling out to Insider Beta Channel users running Version 2012 (Build 17425.2000) or later. This feature for Outlook Desktop will be available in Insider Beta Channel by April 2024, followed by release to PowerPoint Desktop this summer 


Our Commitment 

At Microsoft, we believe that everyone has something valuable to offer, and that diversity of perspectives and experiences can enrich our products and services. That's why we are committed to empowering everyone to achieve more, fostering an inherently equitable experience. Copilot is one of the ways that we are fulfilling this commitment, by providing a supportive partner that can help you with common challenges, enhance your communication, and bridge the gap between your interaction with technology and how you express your ideas. 


But we also know that we are not done yet. We are still on a journey of understanding how AI and LLMs will continue to evolve and make the world a more equitable place. We are constantly learning from our customers, partners, and the disability community, and we are always looking for ways to improve our accessibility features and functionality. We welcome your feedback and suggestions on how we can make Copilot better for you and for everyone. 


To learn more about Copilot and how to get started, please visit the Copilot website or the Copilot support page. To learn more about accessibility at Microsoft and how to access our accessibility features, please visit the Microsoft Accessibility website or the Disability Answer Desk. And to share your feedback or suggestions on Copilot, please use the feedback button (thumbs up or down). 

Together, we can make the world a more equitable place for everyone. 


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