Making A Difference With Accessibility

blog-11I’ve blogged previously about my observation that accessibility is at the heart of product design at Microsoft, particularly in the Windows 10 and Office 365 product suites. This morning I read a great blog post from the Microsoft Australia Education team:


Making a difference – NSW Education and Office 365 changing school culture.

It’s a great read and I encourage you to link through to this and see it in detail. It includes the following video case study:

In my previous work as a secondary school social sciences teacher, we were often focusing on lifting the learning outcomes for targeted students. Literacy levels were something that was important for all, and often implementing strategies for improving educational outcomes for Māori and Pasifika students was also a focus. The point here was that the messaging around targeted strategies for these groups was that it would also help improve outcomes for all students because it was fundamentally sound pedagogy.

The same is true for the accessibility features in Office 365 and Windows 10 – ensuring compliance with accessibility standards will help all students (and indeed, all users, such as teachers, administration staff and parents). The blog post from the MSAU team highlighted the following key features in the area of accessibility:

  • Check Accessibility
    In the Review Tab in Office 365, simply click on the Check Accessibility button to see if your document – test, assignment, teaching notes – can be read aloud. The key is to use styles and avoid using the return key to create space on the page, which can be done in the paragraph styles. That way when your document is being read it can alert the reader – “Heading: Year 5 test”. “Subheading: Answer any two questions”. “Subheading. Question One”. You can immediately grasp the difference this makes to vision impaired students or those who respond better to the spoken word. Plus, by applying styles, you’ll be learning some good writing habits yourself!
  • Learning Tools
    Learning Tools gives students new ways to approach learning tasks in Word, OneNote, Outlook, Office Lens or ePubs. The Immersive Reader is a standout. It enables students to have a text read to them, giving vision-impaired students learning independence and putting them on an equal footing with their peers. The Dictation tool allows students for whom writing is an impossibility to record their thoughts without writing. And the contrast tool is a powerful decoding aid for dyslexic students. Learning tools don’t just make a huge difference to students with learning difficulties, they can increase fluency for English language learners and help emerging readers to progress to higher levels.
  • Office Lens
    This app is a game changer. A free download, it enables students to snap a photo of, for example, the class whiteboard, a printed page or rough sketch on paper. They can then import it into OneNote, OneDrive, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook or Immersive Reader where it appears as editable text. Just from a research perspective it’s a huge time-saver, enabling every student to collate information quickly without having to rekey. For students with reading difficulties it means that text can then be enlarged or different fonts or colour backgrounds to make it more accessible. Now even the school canteen pricelist can be quickly scanned and read back to a blind student. Plus, teachers can save a lot of time after team brainstorming meetings by simply photographing the whiteboard ready to take the next step – from sharing to editing!

Text from a photo on the left is scanned via OCR and read in Immersive Reader

  • Presentation Translator
    Presentation Translator is a new add-in to PowerPoint that translates and subtitles live presentations, displaying subtitles directly on a presentation in any one of more than 60 languages. By unmuting the microphone, teachers can also allow students to ask questions by typing or speaking, which are displayed for all to see. This enables hearing impaired students to follow along with the class on their phone, tablet or computer and participate in the discussion without requiring assistance.


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