2022 Update: Since we first posted this, there have been lots more accessibility updates within Microsoft 365. Head to our more recent post for the most up-to-date tips.
With over 1 billion people globally challenged by some form of disability, technology has a more significant role than ever in giving universal access to customers and employees across all aspects of their lives.
With more than 60% of people who have a disability choosing not to inform their employers, and with even more reporting that their disability is invisible, it can be easy to understand how the need for accessibility in the workplace can be under-estimated.
Challenges that could affect, or even impair, an employee’s ability to work to their full potential include:
Visual – e.g. colour blindness, or vision impairment.
Hearing – e.g. hearing loss, or tinnitus.
Cognitive – e.g. learning difficulties such as dyslexia, learning disabilities, autism, or seizures.
Mobility – e.g. variable conditions such as arthritis or ME, or progressive conditions such as muscular dystrophy.
Neural – e.g. depression, PTSD, anxiety, or eating disorders.
Tackling accessibility is vital not only for those with long-term disabilities but also for those with temporary impairments such as injuries, or situational challenges such as needing to stay in contact from the road.
Considering that 83% of people acquire their disabilities while they are in work, the likelihood is that every business has, or will have, the need to support an employee with a disability at one time or another.
The law in the UK states that ‘Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, aren’t substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs.’ But for all businesses, surely the goal is to ensure that every colleague has every advantage, and the potential to do their best work every day. Indeed, tackling accessibility from the ground up, and in every aspect of the workplace, has benefits that reach far beyond the legislative.
Microsoft’s Seeing AI
The role of technology
Technology has already opened up the workplace, with hands-free, mobile devices and voice recognition all playing a significant part, but it seems to have somewhat stalled, inhibited in part – says Diane Lightfoot, CEO of the Business Disability Forum – by compatibility issues across new assistive technologies and established, legacy systems as well as the truth that many business leaders, and even IT departments, aren’t aware of the solutions that are out there.
Microsoft offers a wide range of tools that may even be available to you right now, as an existing Microsoft 365 business. There are six primary ways that these tools and capabilities can help businesses and individuals to improve accessibility in the workplace.
Keyboard shortcuts – Users with mobility or vision disabilities may find keyboard shortcuts easier than using the touchscreen and are an alternative to a mouse that benefits all users. In Modern SharePoint keyboard shortcuts can be used not only for navigating, but also editing. Use the shift + ? to see a list of the keyboard shortcuts across many Microsoft 365 apps including SharePoint modern.
Microsoft Translator – To ensure everyone can follow your presentations you should always use subtitles and Translator provides real-time subtitles and translations of text, websites and voice, giving wider access for all. As you speak in any of the 10 supported speech languages the add-in – powered by the Microsoft Translator live feature displays subtitles directly on your PowerPoint presentation in any one of more than 60 supported text languages. This feature is invaluable for audiences who are presenting, or attending a presentation, in a language they don’t speak, as well as for the deaf and hard of hearing. The tool generates QR codes to allow viewers to access the translation and follow the presentation in their own language.
Ease of Access Settings – There are several ways to change individual PC settings that will significantly improve accessibility not least of which is the ability to use your PC with limited or no visibility of the screen. The narrator function lets you hear audio descriptions for elements on the screen, like text or buttons, zoom into screen content using Magnifier, or use Learning Tools to customise the page view.
One commonly invisible challenge is colour blindness which affects 3 million people in the UK, about 4.5% of the population, most of whom are men. Colour filters are essential for these PC users who otherwise may not be able to distinguish between things which differ only by colour: think pie charts, or even RAG status charts. Apply Colour Filters to change the screen palette or simply use the High Contrast mode to negate issues with colour.
Accessibility Checker – This essential tool can be used across Microsoft 365 apps including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook and Visio. The recently enhanced version Accessibility Checker analyses your file and uses AI to provide in-document recommendations, helping you to understand how to make fixes and avoid the errors in future, enabling you to create more accessible content over time.
Automatic Alternative Text – Alternative Text (Alt Text) provides a description for an image or object so that a person using a screen reader, because of vision or accessibility reasons, can understand the context of the visual. The Automatic Alt Text tool leverages intelligent image analysis to provide automatic suggestions for alt-text description for images in PowerPoint and Word, and provides a confidence rating for the accuracy of the image description. In Modern SharePoint, in many cases, the automatically generated Alt Text is saved as a default with your image, unless you change or remove it. The tool also highlights if the confidence level of the alternative text for the image is low – you’ll see an alert on the image that allows you to review and change or keep the alternative text.
Microsoft Stream – Video is a highly valuable medium for people with learning difficulties, amongst others, but can also present challenges of its own for the hard-of-hearing. Enterprise Video service Microsoft Stream automates the creation of video transcripts bringing significant search and accessibility benefits. The application supports over 320 different file types.
Automated transcription services are also natively available for video and audio files in OneDrive and SharePoint using the same AI technology available in Microsoft Stream.
Across the Microsoft 365 platform there are such a broad range of tools, tips and tricks that can be deployed at a business-wide or an individual level to enable and empower your entire workforce, regardless of ability or disability. Silicon Reef are experts in delivering the solutions that work. But first and foremost – as with all change – it must start with a good understanding of your business needs, your employees, your culture and your goals. With an accurate picture of what you need to achieve, anything is possible.
Questions about Accessibility and Microsoft Solutions? Let us know and contact us now to find out more about how Microsoft solutions can help your business to ensure you are enabling your employees to reach their best potential.