The following is a recap of our Agile IT Tech Talk entitled “Accessibility Features in Microsoft Teams.”
There are more than 1 billion people in the world with some kind of disability. That’s why optimizing accessibility and inclusion are essential to Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and every organization to achieve more. Let’s take a closer look at how Microsoft Teams leverages technology to embrace this spirit of inclusion, enabling team-wide collaboration via greater accessibility.
One study found that 73% of the participants in the study chose not to disclose a disability to their employer for fear of repercussions. You likely have members on your team with disabilities you aren’t aware of because they choose not to share. With Microsoft tools, you can foster a more inclusive environment without knowing the specific needs of your team members. Everyone can feel comfortable knowing they have access to the same tools as everyone else.
For example, one common disability is color blindness. The latest version of Windows allows you to change your display to accommodate different vision impairments. By hitting “Ctrl+Windows C,” you then have access to a variety of filters that you can adjust depending on the specific type of color blindness of the user.
Teams has built-in accessibility features for a diverse range of users, giving them ways to empower them at work. Take the example of a developer who may need dark mode after hours spent staring at their screen. By going to “Settings,” you can choose a default dark contrast. Conversely, high contrast can help those with eye fatigue reduce the strain on their vision. Teams can also highlight text so it’s easier to read. Whether a team member has a visual disability or is just learning a language, Microsoft’s Immersive Reader tool increases the readability of chat and channel conversations. You can adjust your text preferences, altering the text size, spacing, and font (while you can choose whichever font you like, our professional opinion is that you steer clear of Comic Sans). You can also select different color themes.
For emerging readers who are learning a language for the first time, you can set grammar options that help you better understand sentence structures highlighting different parts of a sentence. For reading preferences, you can use a feature known as Line Focus. This acts as a reading ruler, removing extraneous information while placing the focus squarely on your chosen text. Other options for reading preferences include graphical hints for specific words as well as translation options.
For individuals with dyslexia or low vision, there’s a feature known as Read Aloud. This read texts out loud while highlighting it for the reader’s benefit. This feature helps improve reading comprehension. It can also automatically detect languages in a multi-lingual document. Recently, one Microsoft partner deployed Windows Virtual Desktop to 50,000 students in a week during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindergarteners used Teams’ features to help them learn to read. This demonstrates the power of Microsoft’s accessibility capabilities.
It’s also vital that meetings and videos meet all accessibility requirements as well. Recorded meetings provide the option of transcription. This is helpful for those with a hearing disability, different levels of language proficiency, or if they’re simply calling into a meeting form a loud location. It provides subtitles the reader can follow along with. Closed captioning for videos and recorded meetings are automatically generated. You can customize captions by text size and color to deliver an easier, more customizable experience for your team.
With automatic transcription, all words spoken within videos and meetings become searchable metadata. Live captions and subtitles improve the accessibility and effectiveness of live events. Teams supports 12 different languages and display onscreen captions in any one of 60 languages. Your audience can then follow these presentations in their own language from their own device. This aids in breaking the language barrier. You can present your content to a much wider audience. Additionally, Teams’ Translate function can increase cross-language understanding as well.
Accessibility is also critical for documents. Within many industries, a lack of document accessibility can lead to everything from accusations of poor customer service to lawsuits. The healthcare and insurance sectors have plenty of accessibility requirements for their documentation. It’s important that you’re able to seamlessly collaborate, so you’ll want to check the accessibility of documents before sharing. With AI features in Office 365, there are plenty of ways to guarantee maximum accessibility. For example, AI can identify what’s featured within a picture moved into a document, suggesting automatic alternative text. These accessibility features aren’t just good for your internal team operations — it can then drive out to your customers when they consume or use any of your documents.
You can also dictate what you’d like to type to Teams using your voice. The Dictate function helps team members save time and get better results through voice-typing.
Teams’ accessibility features aren’t just available via the desktop version, however. It also works for the mobile app as well. Via the app, Teams allows you to set “quiet hours” when you won’t receive notifications. This is particularly useful for clients dealing with hourly employees who, due to labor law restrictions, are prohibited from being contacted during specific hours.
Teams Navigation was tested with JAWS (Job Access with Speech) and may work with other Screen Readers. You can listen with JAWS and know where you are within the Teams desktop at all times even without the ability to see the screen. If you encounter any challenges, Microsoft has plenty of support: you can contact their Disability Answer Desk. For larger organizations, there’s an Enterprise Disability Answer Desk that can assist.
To sum it up: Microsoft has gone “all-in” on creating accessible environments. You may recall the TV commercial from last Christmas where a differently-abled child used an adaptive xBox controller. Along with showcasing an incredibly inventive and innovative tool, it was also indicative of Microsoft’s push to encourage greater accessibility. They put a lot of thought and care into these features, and it shows as you move through the experience of using Teams.
All the Windows accessibility features from the past (i.e. sticky keys) are being rolled into Microsoft’s current platform. These features help boost productivity for the differently-abled while offering support of services when there are more advanced accessibility challenges or compliance requirements.
Teams is designed for people of all ability levels. It gives everyone the opportunity to collaborate, leveling the playing field. This spirit of inclusivity allows everyone in Teams to work together in their own way, removing barriers to effective communication and collaboration.