Windows 8 introduces accessibility features for touchscreens

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Monday, 3 September 2012 11:04am

Microsoft Windows 8 is set to be released on 26 October and has a number of enhanced assistive features to increase accessibility for blind and vision impaired users. Most significantly, these features have been adapted for touchscreen devices such as tablets.

As noted in our test of the developer preview,the Narrator screen reader has been significantly updated in its ability to read elements in Windows and in Internet Explorer. While people who are blind may still prefer a more advanced screen reader such as NVDA, one advantage of the updated Narrator is that it can be easily used on a touchscreen. 

Once enabled, Narrator features the ability to explore Windows and applications by touch, providing verbal feedback from the screen reader as the user moves their finger around the screen. An element can then be selected by tapping the screen with a second finger. Narrator can also be easily turned on by using a combination of the Windows button and the ‘volume up’ button.

The Magnifier has also been significantly improved. In addition to addressing the issue in Windows 7 where high contrast and zoom couldn’t work at the same time, it has also been optimised for touch.  When Magnifier is launched, bars appear around the screen which allows the user to navigate the zoom. Gesturing up or down on the vertical bars, and left or right on the horizontal bars, provides the user with navigation around the magnified area. The corners, when touched, allow the user to zoom in and out. 

As with Narrator, the traditional keyboard commands are still available. Developers are also able to incorporate the new touch-based features into their own applications.

The Microsoft Accessibility website has a number of guides to its software products for users with a disability.

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