In a new post to the Buildingblog this week, Microsoft discussed its plans for minor accessibility improvements in Windows 8, particularly in the Metro environment and for touch-based devices.
Microsoft claims that while these features are inspired by a need to make Windows accessible to those with physical handicaps, they make Windows 8 better for everyone.
"New technologies and designs are especially difficult for people with disabilities to adopt because many new technologies are not made accessible when they are first released to the public," Microsoft senior program manager Jennifer Norberg writes in the post. "We have heard this concern about previous versions of Windows and we want to ensure that everyone can experience Windows 8 right away by providing a comprehensive accessibility platform for the desktop and Metro style features."
Microsoft describes the following accessibility improvements in Windows 8:
Improved Narrator. On multi-touch systems, the Narrator screen reading utility can read what's under your finger. It offers better performance, and supports more languages and voices. More UI Automation features support Narrator now as well, allowing more system components and features within Windows be read by Narrator. You can even install Windows 8 using Narrator, and Internet Explorer has been updated to continuously read web pages, respond quickly to commands, and interact with hyperlinks. Best of all, there's a new hardware trigger for Narrator on Windows logo'd devices: Just hold down the Windows key button and tap the Volume Up button.
Simpler Magnifier. The Magnifier utility is now easier to use on touch-based systems. It supports both touch and multi-touch.
Be sure to check out the accompanying video, which ironically is the only one of the 24 videos released on Building Windows so far that includes any form of captioning. However, they're not true captions, but are instead hard-coded into the video, so they're there whether you want them or not.
As the parent of a deaf child, I find Microsoft's ignorance of these issues to be alarming, embarrassing, and personally insulting, to be honest. There are technical solutions for soft captioning and subtitling videos, and why Microsoft isn't using them in 2012 is beyond me.
I further wonder if the video playback solutions in Windows 8 will include any form of captioning support, as Apple has done for years in Quicktime and iTunes, and in iOS. Frankly, I doubt it.