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7 tech tools that can help people who are blind or have low vision

It’s estimated that there are about 36 million people in the world who are blind, and a further 216 million who live with moderate to severe visual impairments. Although the World Health Organization points out that up to 80% of vision impairment around the world is avoidable with better access to treatment, the number of people who are blind or have low vision is rising as the global population ages.

But technology is playing a vital role in tearing down barriers, and artificial intelligence is making real inroads into improving accessibility.

Here are seven examples of how smart technology can be a game-changer, allowing everyone to interact with the world in new ways.

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The eye in AI

As we’ve reported, Microsoft’s Seeing AI is an app designed to help people with low vision or who are blind. It enhances the world around the user with rich audio descriptions. It can read a handwritten note or scan a barcode and then tell the user what the product is. Point a camera at something and the app will describe how many people it can see and where they are in the image – center, top left and so on.

3-D Sound Maps

YouTube Video

For a sighted person, walking along the street can mean taking in every detail that surrounds them. Microsoft Soundscape replicates that behavior by building a detailed audio map that relates what’s taking place around a person with visual impairment.

It creates layers of context and detail by drawing on location data, sound beacons and synthesized 3-D stereo sound to build a constantly updating 3-D sound map of the surrounding world.

Knowledge at your fingertips

Braille has been used for nearly 200 years as a tactile way of reading with fingertips. It has now jumped from the page to the screen with the updated version of Narrator, the screen-reader for Microsoft Windows, supporting digital Braille displays and keyboards.

Outside of Microsoft’s efforts, Braille touchscreens that work in the same way as tablets have already proved popular among students and teachers. At the Assistive Technology Industry Association’s 2019 conference in Orlando, Florida, innovations on display included the BraiBook, a Braille e-reader that fits into the palm of a hand, and even an electronic toy called the Braille Buzz, designed to teach Braille to preschoolers.

Beacons of change

Bluetooth beacons, such as those being used by the company Foresight Augmented Reality, act like highly precise, personalized guides for people who are blind or partially sighted. While basic GPS technology can take users to a location, beacons mounted in a store, restaurant or public building can guide them to the entrance of the building in question. And when the user is inside, other beacons can direct them to the bathroom or other important facilities.

Electric vehicles

The European Union is taking no chances with people’s safety. New legislation means electric vehicles have to be audible  at low speeds and while reversing. Some manufacturers are already incorporating artificial noise into their electric vehicles.

Smart Glasses

Researchers at Ajman University in the United Arab Emirates are working on the development of a set of smart glasses that can use AI to read, provide navigation information and potentially identify faces. Glasses are connected to a smartphone through a processing unit, allowing the system to function without an internet connection.

These smart glasses are still in the early stages of development but are said to work with a reading accuracy rate of 95%.

AI for Accessibility

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility program was launched last year, with a $25 million commitment to put Microsoft technology in the hands of start-ups, developers, researchers and non-profits in order to drive innovation and amplify human capability for people with disabilities. The program is continuously looking at new projects to support.

For more on these innovations and accessibility initiatives at Microsoft, visit microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility and follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter.

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Study finds Microsoft 365 assistive technologies save teachers money and time, elevate student performance

Inclusive-learning environments enable all students to achieve more.

Building a more inclusive world starts at the education level, with schools as the cornerstones. Schools everywhere are taking transformative steps to develop more inclusive environments—ones that value diversity and promote belonging, with the goal of empowering students to fulfill their potential. Here at Microsoft, we’re trying to help – with new tools and a new analysis of what works.

While many schools have made inclusivity central to their missions, hurdles still stand in the way of progress. It can be challenging to pinpoint and address learning disabilities. And, due to stigma, some students don’t seek out the support they need. In addition, schools struggle with the high cost of resources aimed at meeting the needs of all students and the time needed to serve those with learning disabilities effectively.

At Microsoft, through our partnerships with educators and school IT staff, we have learned more about these challenges and what it takes to foster inclusive classrooms. We recently set out to develop new solutions, with an approach grounded in the belief that when technology reflects the diversity of all users, it empowers everyone to achieve more.

The result? A wide-ranging suite of assistive technology tools built right into Microsoft 365. Tools like Immersive Reader and inking are seamlessly integrated into Word, PowerPoint and OneNote, so they’re available for all students, by default. This removes the stigma of one student using a different tool from his or her peers. These solutions elevate the capabilities of all students, including those with known learning disabilities, but also those who have indiscernible, undiagnosed or temporary challenges.

To really understand how these assistive technologies benefit children, teachers, IT staff and administrators schoolwide, we commissioned a Total Economic Impact™ study from Forrester Consulting. Here’s a quick snapshot at what the February 2019 study, “Microsoft Accessibility and Assistive Technologies for Education,” found:

Students improve learning outcomes – Up to 40% boost in reading and writing performance when scaled to all students

“We roll out laptops to all students and install the Microsoft solutions on every device. Not every student feels that they need the help, but when they see the tools, they may start using them and benefit from it. The teachers demonstrate them to everyone.” – TEI study interviewee

Teachers save time – 97 hours of instructional time back each year

 “This is a big win for general teachers who may see a special education student every few years. They know how to use Microsoft and can provide the help a student needs.” – TEI study interviewee

Schools reduce total cost of ownership – $50 savings per student per year

“We were able to get rid of one solution that was costing $500 per student.” – TEI study interviewee

IT staff simplify management – Go from 3 hours to 21 minutes to get a computer ready to ship

“Intune for Education allowed us to run a single deployment configuration using one master image to every computer that we have organization-wide. That cut our deployment time from months down to weeks.”—TEI study interviewee

Assistive technologies included in M365 worth $4.2M in net present value

Learn more about assistive technologies in M365

There are many assistive technologies in Microsoft 365. To learn more, check out a full menu of accessibility options in M365 or visit the Microsoft Education Center, which contains Microsoft Inclusive Classroom helpful links all in one place. To advance that goal in your community, check out this new integrated approach to using assistive technology in the classroom and please give the study a closer read here.

We’re proud to partner with schools and educators working to create student-centered learning environments that serve all young people well. To advance that goal in your community, check out this new integrated approach to using assistive technology in the classroom.

Click here for free STEM resourcesExplore tools for student-centered learning

Make your apps more inclusive with Immersive Reader, a new Azure Cognitive Service

This blog post was authored by Tina Coll, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Azure Marketing.

Today, we’re unveiling the preview of Immersive Reader, a new Azure Cognitive Service in the Language category. Developers can now use this service to embed inclusive capabilities into their apps for enhancing text reading and comprehension for users regardless of age or ability. No machine learning expertise is required. Based on extensive research on inclusivity and accessibility, Immersive Reader’s features are designed to read the text aloud, translate, focus user attention, and much more. Immersive Reader helps users unlock knowledge from text and achieve gains in the classroom and office.

Over 15 million users rely on Microsoft’s immersive reading technologies across 18 apps and platforms including Microsoft Learning Tools, Word, Outlook, and Teams. Now, developers can deliver this proven literacy-enhancing experience to their users too.

People like Andrzej, a child with dyslexia, have learned to read with the Immersive Reader experience embedded into apps like Microsoft Learning Tools. His mother, Mitra, shares their story:

Literacy is key to unlocking knowledge and realizing one’s potential. Educators see this reality in the classroom every day, yet hurdles to reading are commonplace for people with dyslexia, ADHD, or visual impairment, as well as emerging readers, non-native speakers, and others. In the spirit of empowering every person to achieve more, the features of Immersive Reader help readers overcome these challenges.

Immersive Reader Cognitive Services GIF

Azure is the only major cloud provider that offers this type experience as an easy-to-use AI service. Skooler, an ISV on a mission “to do education technology better,” integrated Immersive Reader. As Tor Henriksen, Skooler’s CEO and CTO remarks, “In 27 years of software development, this was the easiest integration we’ve ever done.” Multiple businesses to date have already started embedding Immersive Reader into their apps, including: Logos of businesses embedding Immersive Reader into their apps

With millions of users like Andrzej having discovered the power of the written word with Immersive Reader, we look forward to seeing what people can achieve with what you build.

To start embedding Immersive Reader into your apps, visit the Immersive Reader product page. The service is available for free while in preview.

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5 accessibility features that empower everyone

Empowering everyone means creating technology that reflects human diversity. Many of the features designed for people with disabilities can be used by all because they’re created to help make work, life and play easier.  

Microsoft’s recent Ability Summit gathered employees and, on its second day, the broader disability community to participate in sessions, a product exposition and the Disability Talent Job FairThis included people with disabilities, parents of children with disabilities, and accessibility-focused engineers, specialists and organizations. 

Here’s a glimpse at five features highlighted during this year’s Ability Summit and accessibility product exposition. 

Set your visual tone
Your screen should fit your vision needs, including color, light and filter optimizations. Whether you prefer bright, vivid screens for designing and gaming, or you rely on low light or high contrast for better visibility, you can easily set your default tones and color filters across devices and applications.   

Go screen-free with narration
If you don’t use a screen — or if you’re multitasking — Narrator, built into Windows 10, can read pages out loud, describe images and link users to content via a Braille keyboard. Office 365 is designed to work seamlessly with Narrator and other screen readers. And apps like Seeing AI and Microsoft Soundscape go a step further, narrating the world around people who are blind or low vision. 

a woman uses an accessibility device

Navigate with AI-powered apps
Microsoft 365 makes it easier to steer around your screen with the keyboard shortcuts, voice commands and eye control built into Windows 10. You can also quickly find the documents and people you need using the Microsoft Search bar in Windows 10 and Office 365 applications. 

And through Microsoft’s newly announced partnership with Moovit popular transit app — navigating the physical world will get easier, too. Developers who use Azure Maps will gain access to the app’s trip planner and transit data, including wheelchair-friendly routes. With this information, they can build innovative, accessible tools to help people of all abilities travel more easily and safely.

Enhance comprehension and learning
Microsoft 365 helps people of varying hearing and language needs with auto-generated subtitles and captions for videos and presentations built into PowerPoint and StreamAuto-generated transcripts provide comprehensive notes of meetings to enhance everyone’s team experience, productivity and collaborationIncreased spacing between lines and letters; word suggestions that appear while typing; and reader support that breaks up tricky parts of speech are featuredeveloped for people with dyslexia but can help anyone 

Find your focus
We’re all distracted sometimes, but for those who regularly struggle to concentrate, features like Focus Assist and Reading View are designed to help keep us on task. Clear distracting content from web pages; block unwanted alerts and notifications; and breeze through your to-do list by keeping track of projects and deadlines across synced applications.  

For more on accessibility initiatives at Microsoft, follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter.

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Control the action with your eyes in 4 new ‘Eyes First’ games

By Bernice You

We are excited to announce the release of four new Eyes First games on Microsoft Store for Windows, including Tile Slide, Match Two, Double Up, and Maze. With this release, people can now play the Eyes First games on Windows 10 PC using their eyes.

These games are powered by Windows 10 eye tracking APIs and can be used with or without Windows 10 Eye Control, a key accessibility feature for people with speech and mobility disabilities.

People with speech and mobility disabilities can face limitations in communicating and using computer technology to play (games), collaborate, engage, be productive. With innovation in accessibility technologies, such as Windows 10 Eye Control, these limitations can be addressed to unlock the potential of their powerful minds.

The Eyes First games are popular games reinvented with a bit of a twist. Playing these games is a fun way to start and get familiar with eye control, learn the skills to apply to other eye gaze-enabled assistive technologies, and simply to have some fun. Although the games are designed and optimized for an Eyes First experience, they are still mouse and touchscreen friendly.

Download the free games today. Challenge yourself to complete the Tile Slide puzzle in the fewest number of moves; exercise your memory playing Match Two; sharpen your math and strategic thinking playing Double Up; and see how fast you can get your lost puppy home, without getting lost yourself, in the Maze. Compete with friends and family for high score honors. And the twist? Play by using your eyes!

Play the games and practice your skills. Check out the resources including “getting started” and “how to play” that will help you become a champion for Eyes First games.

Four square animated images for the four Eyes First games, Tile Slide, Match Two, Double Up, and Maze.

*To play Eyes First games or to use Windows Eye Control, you need a compatible eye tracker device and Windows PC with Windows 10 April 2018 Update (version 1803) or newer. See more information in Windows support. These games can also be played in the classic ways via mouse or touch.

There are already stories showcasing real-life impact from the use of eye gaze technology for people with speech and mobility disabilities, including former pro football player Steve Gleason, who uses a Windows 10 powered Surface and drives his wheelchair with his eyes, and data guru, Otto Knoke, living with ALS who is modernizing industries by using Windows 10 Eye Control.

If you have speech and mobility disabilities (often related to ALS, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injuries) and envision a different way to access your computer and to be in control, download the games (Tile Slide, Match Two, Double Up, Maze), have some fun and start your eye control journey today.

Play the games and share your feedback. We design with users in mind and want to hear your voice to make the Eyes First games better. Share your thoughts in the Microsoft Accessibility Feedback Forum. For technical help with Windows 10 Eye Control check out the resources on Microsoft Disability Answer Desk. See Windows support to get started with Windows 10 Eye Control.

If you are a developer who craves to build products that create positive changes and have life altering impact, check out Windows 10 Gaze Interaction Library and see the possibilities.

Explore the Windows blog to learn more about Windows 10 Eye Control, and the Windows eye tracking APIs and open-source libraries that enable app developers to build more accessible and immersive app experiences with eye tracking. It’s exciting to see what you all create and the positive impacts your development will bring.

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For help using Microsoft’s assistive technology, DAD has the answers

Globally, more than 1 billion people are living with a disability, yet just one in 10 people has access to assistive technology, according to the World Health Organization 

a man uses a smart phoneOver the years, Microsoft has been building inclusion into its products and services. And to help everyone get the most from accessibility resources, the company has the Disability Answer Desk, or DAD. It is free, 24/7 technical support from Microsoft experts trained in assistive technologies.   

“Our goal is to make the Disability Answer Desk a best-in-class support team for customers with disabilities and to use feedback to drive greater accessibility across our engineering teams,” says Sean Marihughan accessibility escalation engineer at Microsoft. 

Technology has the power to strengthen opportunities for everyone, but it must be intuitive to have an impact. DAD gives customers the technical support they need while gathering critical feedback to improve the assistive features in products.  

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a man in a wheelchair views his computer monitorsEach year, DAD experts field about 150,000 inquiries, assisting customers with products such as Office 365, Xbox, Windows and Skype, as well as third-party assistive technologies, such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, and speech recognition software.   

Microsoft has also established an Enterprise Disability Answer Desk, or eDAD, that supports enterprise customers. Available globally as a free service in English, eDAD also reports customer feedback to specific product teams so they can quickly resolve issues.   

“With eDAD, we have the potential to empower people with disabilities to achieve more at work and schooland enable organizations to provide more accessible experiences to their employees and customers,” says Crystal Jones, also an accessibility escalation engineer at Microsoft.  

Since introducing DAD in 2012, Microsoft has extended the service to customers in 11 English-speaking countries: the US, UK, South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, and India. The service has been rolled out to French and Spanish-speaking countries, including France, Belgium, Canada, Mexico, and Spain. 

With eDAD, we have the potential to empower people with disabilities to achieve more at work and school—and enable organizations to provide more accessible experiences to their employees and customers.
Crystal Jones

Over the years, Microsoft has gradually expanded the channels for accessing the service. DAD is available through 24/7 chat service and on Twitter by sending a direct message to @MSFTEnable 

DAD also has American Sign Language support through videophone. People who are blind or have low vision can use Be My Eyes, a free app that connects customers through live video calls 

DAD is among a growing number of efforts by Microsoft to empower people with disabilities and create a more inclusive work environment.  

For more on these innovations and accessibility initiatives at Microsoft, visit microsoft.com/en-us/accessibilityAnd follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter. 

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Graduate Molly Paris proves the power of inclusive technology

In 2018, the team at the Microsoft Store in Jacksonville, FL, met a young lady that forever changed them. Her name is Molly, and she is a remarkable example of ingenuity, grit and gusto.

At the age of two, Molly’s parents learned that she was born with a neuro-developmental disorder called Rett Syndrome, a rare condition which, over time, has severely impacted her mobility and her ability to speak. But as Molly will be the first to tell you, the disorder has not impacted her interminable spirit or her intense desire to empower those around her.

With the support of her family, Molly found The Foundation Academy, a school that was able to accommodate her needs and has spent her academic career there.

Over the years, the Microsoft team has grown close to Molly and her mother, Robin. They’ve helped her with a number of projects, including one where she hacked the Xbox Adaptive Controller to make a dancing wheelchair. The team was happy to jump in to support her big ideas because it’s clear when you meet Molly that she is going to do great things for the world.

Last week, we had the honor of watching Molly give her Valedictorian speech at her graduation from The Foundation Academy. She has blossomed into a curious developer, eager to pursue a career in computer science and engineering, so she can one day develop new technologies to empower herself and others like her.

But the story doesn’t end there because, after all, graduation is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning and potential.

Video for Celebrating Molly, a Changemaker in inclusive technology

Our graduation caps are off to you, Molly, your family and the team at The Foundation Academy!

Share your story or a story about another Changemaker in education, submit here through the Microsoft Education blog.

To discover everything Microsoft has to offer and how we can work with you, please visit your local Microsoft Store.

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How Moovit improved its app to help people with disabilities ride transit with confidence

Alexandr Epaneshnikov, a 19-year-old Russian student who is legally blind, recently decided he wanted to be more independent by commuting on his own and relying less on his mom for rides to school. It meant taking a streetcar to a subway to his high school in Moscow, a 30-minute trip that Epaneshnikov assuredly navigates with a cane and Moovit, an urban mobility app optimized for screen readers.

“I am very happy that Moovit is accessible and offers a good amount of information about Moscow public transportation,” says Epaneshnikov, who wants to study information technology at a university. The app has helped him meet friends at cafes and restaurants, and take a train to an unfamiliar city outside Moscow to visit his girlfriend’s family.

“I feel it adds more confidence and independence,” he says.

Launched seven years ago in Israel, Moovit has become the world’s most popular transit-planning and navigation app, with more than 400 million users and service in 2,700 cities across 90 countries. The company is also a leader in inclusive technology, with innovative work that helps people across the disability spectrum use buses, trains, subways, ride-hailing services and other modes of public transit.

In addition to offering a consumer app in 45 languages, Moovit has partnered with Microsoft to provide its multi-modal transit data to developers who use Azure Maps, and a set of mobility-as-a-service solutions to cities, governments and organizations. The partnership will enable the creation of more inclusive, smart cities and more accessible transit apps.

Headshot of Yovav Meydad
Yovav Meydad, Moovit chief growth and marketing officer. (Photo courtesy of Moovit)

“Our mission is to simplify urban mobility and make it accessible, because mobility is really a basic human right,” says Yovav Meydad, Moovit chief growth and marketing officer. “Efficient mobility opens a lot of opportunities for employment, education and a better life, and we want to help all users make their journey as easy as possible.”

For Moovit, the work means not only helping rural residents reach cities for work and school, but also helping people with any disability travel. Of the hundreds of daily emails sent to Moovit, emails from people with low vision are some of the most profound pieces of feedback.

“Sometimes, it’s very emotional,” says Meydad. “They say, ‘Thanks to Moovit, I’m more independent. I can now leave home on my own.’ It’s very, very important for us to make Moovit accessible for everyone.”

The company’s accessibility work began in earnest in 2015, when Meydad and other leading app developers met a focus group of people who are blind or low-vision to see how they used their apps.

“Honestly, I was shocked,” says Meydad, who wrote about the experience twice in Medium. “I saw people trying to use our product, but couldn’t do it efficiently or at all, because screens were not properly labeled or meaningful [for screen readers].” In one case, Moovit’s search button – a major feature to start a trip plan – had the unhelpful audio label of “Button 56.”

Meydad took notes and promised big changes. He worked with Moovit’s team and a developer who is blind to optimize the app for the mobile screen readers TalkBack on Android and VoiceOver on iOS. The team scrutinized every screen for accessibility, added useful labels and condensed intricate data – routes, trip duration, start and end times, entry and exit stops – into clear sentences for audio. They incorporated feedback from users around the world with low vision.

“After one quarter, we released a major version upgrade that completely changed their experience,” says Meydad.

The accessibility work didn’t stop there. To ease public transit for people who use a wheelchair, Moovit asked its “Mooviters” – 550,000 local contributors who help map transit systems for the app – to identify wheelchair-accessible stations in their cities. That enabled the company to add a feature that shows only routes with stations with ramps and elevators.

“This means the entire journey can be fully accessible,” says Meydad.

For users with hand motor disabilities, Moovit redesigned menus and buttons for easier use with one hand, especially on larger phones. For people who are colorblind and use color-coded transit systems, such as “the green line,” Moovit includes the name of the line, instead of just a colored dot or symbol, a space-saving practice in many maps.

The company also ensures no broken or overlapped text when a user needs to magnify the font. It partnered with Be My Eyes, an app that connects sighted volunteers with people who are blind or low-vision. It’s studying how to use a phone’s vibration and flashlight to serve users with hearing loss. And it continually works with people with a disability to improve or customize the app.

Man in wheelchair on a street uses Moovit app on his phone
A Moovit user in a wheelchair uses the app. (Photo courtesy of Moovit)

For Microsoft, working with Moovit, who has developed accessible features such as screen readers and global data on wheelchair-friendly routes, is part of a deep commitment to accessibility and inclusion in its products and services. Developers who use Azure Maps will soon have access to Moovit’s trip planner and rich transit data  to help build innovative, accessible tools.  

“What I love most about Moovit is how they’re empowering other companies to build inclusion into their solutions,” says Megan Lawrence, senior accessibility evangelist at Microsoft. “Our partnership can help people across the disability spectrum use technology to move more freely and independently, a key metric for improving quality of life.”

The clarity of Moovit’s live audio navigation also helps people with an intellectual disability who want extra guidance, such as alerts for when a bus is coming, when to transfer and when to get off. The features are a main reason why Community Living Toronto, an organization that supports people with an intellectual or developmental disability, chose Moovit as the platform for their branded transit app, Discover My Route.

“We tested many apps and Moovit was the full package,” says Angela Bradley, director of resource development and marketing at Community Living Toronto.

“It’s not just an app for riding transit. It’s almost like a coaching tool. It gives people the confidence to take transit and open up their world, which can mean seeing friends, getting a job, going to college or joining a dance class.”

Top photo: Alexandr Epaneshnikov in Moscow. (Photo courtesy of Epaneshnikov)

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Building the inclusive workplace we imagine, together

Today marks Global Accessibility Awareness Day, one of the days we get to celebrate the progress our customers and partners have made to make their workplaces more inclusive, and then look ahead to what more we can do as a community to empower everyone in the workplace.

We celebrate because our customers are empowering their employees both with the accessible technology built into Microsoft 365, and with the inclusive cultural practices that make people love coming to work. We are comparing notes and learning from them as we also build that same inclusive culture at Microsoft.

Here in the U.K., we recently celebrated a milestone—a point on our journey—with recognition from the U.K. Government as a Disability Confident Leader. This status is awarded to organizations that commit to diversity and inclusion and encourage suppliers and vendors to do the same. Our team has worked tirelessly to put processes in place that can both create and sustain a diverse and inclusive culture; attracting and recruiting people with disabilities via our global Inclusive Hiring Program; training managers to understand the needs of those with visible and non-visible disabilities; assessing people for roles more flexibly so those with disabilities have the best opportunity to show their skills; adjusting workplaces to include sign language interpreters, and ensuring all staff have access to disability equality awareness training.

Looking ahead

We also look ahead to our big vision—an accessible and inclusive workplace for everyone—and what more we can do as a company and as a community to make it a reality. Today we’re excited to announce that live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint are rolling out now, and will soon be generally available to Microsoft 365 and Office 365 subscribers worldwide for Windows, Mac, and the web. We also look forward to the coming release of other new inclusive technologies built into Microsoft 365, like live captions and subtitles in Teams Meetings.

Present inclusively with live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint—We know how powerful a great presentation can be—whether it inspires us or aligns us to a common goal. Now, with support for 12 spoken languages and 60+ on-screen captions or subtitle languages, people who are deaf or hard of hearing can be included in these important team building moments. Additionally, with an increasingly global and remote set of collaborators, those who speak a different language from the presenter, or are listening in from a loud environment, can also more easily be included.

Transform the meeting experience for people with disabilities—We also know the critical role meetings play in how we work, and recently announced that live captions and subtitles will also be available in Teams Meetings. These capabilities are coming soon as a preview in English and complement the captioning and transcription features already generally available for recorded Teams meetings and live events in Stream, Teams, and Yammer. Whether in a 1-1 with your manager, or a company-wide all hands, everyone should feel included when the team gets together to meet, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

We constantly release new features and improvements to make our products not just compliant with the latest standards, but empowering for all users, both with and without disability. We encourage you to read all about these features in the Microsoft Accessibility Features Sway.

Building the inclusive workplace together

Many of our customers are committed to making this vision of an inclusive workplace a reality and are partnering with us to make it happen. Last month the Federal Government of Canada chose Microsoft as a partner in their effort to create a more modern and accessible Public Service. The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, said, “Equipping our public servants with accessible, reliable, and innovative technologies will unleash the potential of our world-class public service and result in better service delivery for all Canadians.” Here at Microsoft we agree—only when we represent the diversity we see in the world internally can we build the most innovative technology and serve our customers as they ought to be served.

We also see Rogers Communications, a leading Canadian communications and media company, shares our vision of a more inclusive workplace. Rogers is doing everything from transforming their physical workplace to be more collaborative and inclusive, to using the accessible technologies built into the Microsoft 365 applications their employees can use every day. Best of all, we’re helping and learning from each other along the way—our teams work regularly with Rogers to understand how our technology can better support their commitment to building an inclusive workplace, and Rogers’ Persons with Disability Diversity group works with us to learn how we embed Inclusive Design principles into our products and our culture. Read the full blog, published today, to learn more about how Rogers is building an accessible and inclusive culture to benefit employees, customers, and the broader community.

Join us!

We have so much more to do—as an organization, an employer, a leader, and a follower—in this journey towards an accessible and inclusive workplace, and we hope you’ll join us. Visit the Microsoft Accessibility site to learn more about our approach. Share your learnings with #LearningTogether and #GAAD and continue the conversation with @MSFTEnable on Twitter.

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10 ways Microsoft tools can help you build a classroom that works for every student

In today’s classroom, diversity is the new normal. Teachers don their superhero capes every day, going to extraordinary lengths to reach every one of their students, from creating inclusive curriculum in core subjects like reading, writing, and math, to enabling every student to have a voice. We’re honoring their work, and highlighting some tools to help, in this month’s episode of What’s New in EDU.

At Microsoft Education, we work to support teachers in their mission to create an inclusive classroom for all students.  Here are 10 ways our tools support learning across unique needs and abilities.

  1. Understand word meanings more easily and improve vocabulary

Seeing a word and attaching meaning to it involves a number of cognitive processes. We’re trying to support students learning to make those connections with Picture Dictionary and Read Aloud in Immersive Reader. Select a word and Picture Dictionary will show you a descriptive image, even providing multiple images for words with more than one meaning. Read Aloud connects the text to students with visual impairments and helps with pronunciation practice. Providing visual and audio inputs gives all students, and especially students with dyslexia, the multi-sensory experiences they need to ingrain that word into their vocabulary.

Try this: Next time you give a vocabulary quiz, try providing the list of vocabulary words in OneNote. Show students that they can click Immersive Reader, then click the vocabulary word to see a picture of what the word means and have it read aloud.

  1. Make it easier to focus on reading

With the media multitudes that surround students, it’s not always easy to prevent distractions online and across devices. Immersive Reader’s flexible text sizing, line focus, and background color options make any document, notebook or web page focus friendly. This is particularly helpful for students with ADD and ADHD as well as for students with dyslexia.

Try this: Next time you assign reading to be done from a device, show students how to select Immersive Reader in OneNote, make the font bigger, and select line focus mode. Learn more about Learning Tools like Immersive Reader!

  1. Improve pronunciation of longer words

We know a time-tested tactic is breaking up words into syllables and sounding them out. Now, students have a tool that will do so automatically, helping them to nail the pronunciation. Students can even check their pronunciation by selecting Read Aloud and seeing how close they were. This is particularly helpful for students with dyslexia who often have trouble matching letters to sounds.

Try this: Next time you assign reading to be done at home, instruct students to break the words into syllables in Immersive Reader or, if they can’t remember how to pronounce them, to use Read Aloud.  

  1. Understand grammar and sentence structure more quickly

Understanding parts of speech is critical for developing reading fluency. Immersive Reader can help by labeling or highlighting nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This supports all students, especially those with dyslexia, as they develop their ability to find patterns in words.

Try this: Next time you assign grammar practice, let students know they can check their work by selecting the Parts of Speech toggles in Immersive Reader.

  1. Empower students to improve the quality of their writing

When you spend a long time writing, you want to make sure the final work is polished. Read Aloud in Immersive Reader allows you to have the document you’ve written read out loud, so you can more easily catch mistakes. Editor in Word helps students identify misspellings, provides synonyms for those misspelled words, and offers the option to have the suggested spelling correction and synonyms read aloud. This all helps students with dysgraphia who have a hard time reviewing their own written work.

Try this: During the editing and revising process, encourage students to use Read Aloud to listen to their work read back to them. This will help them identify revisions and improve their writing!

  1. Make it easier to start writing, and kick writer’s block

We’ve all stared down an empty page in fear wondering how we’re going to fill it with beautiful writing. With Dictate, in OneNote and Word, students can have their speech turned to on-screen text. This is especially helpful for students with dysgraphia who struggle with writing.

Try this: When students are having trouble getting started, encourage them to turn on Dictate, then brainstorm out loud. Just getting some ideas and words on the page will build momentum and help them conquer the blank page! Check out more ideas for utilizing Dictate in the classroom!

  1. Break down the language barrier

Students can use all the same tools above when they learn their first language—and then when they learn a second language! With document and word translation in Immersive Reader, you could start with a text in Spanish and translate either individual words or the entire document into English. This is helpful for students with dyslexia, who are learning new languages, and ESL learners, who can match the words they know in their first language with their second language more easily than ever before using sounds, pictures and text.

Try this: When you assign passages for reading, put a copy in OneNote and show students they can translate either by word or document in Immersive Reader.

  1. Help students read, understand steps, and show their work in math

Math is all about showing your thought process and the steps you took to get to the answer. Math Solver shows students the steps to solve a math problem, giving a clear model for how to show your work. The Immersive Reader can also read the math equation notation, as well as the step-by-step instructions in Math Solver, aloud for students. This helps students with dyscalculia break down math problems and learn what to do with similar problems next time.

Try this: If a student is having trouble with a particular type of problem, encourage them to use the Math Solver to insert the steps into their OneNote page. They can reference the steps as they work on similar problems, helping them follow the same solution process but applying it to new equations.

  1. Present to students, parents, and your colleagues inclusively

When you give a presentation to students, parents, or other teachers (or when teaching students to present), make sure to turn on live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint. Live captions help students with hearing impairments, or those who speak other languages outside the classroom, to follow along with the presentation.

Meeting remotely? Connect with parents or colleagues online in a Teams meeting, and turn on live captions to make sure no one misses a moment, whether it’s a global PLC meeting or an online parent conference.

Try this: Use PowerPoint live captions and subtitles during your next parent-teacher conference. Those rooms get packed, and parents will appreciate being able to see captions. They can even download the Microsoft Translator app and translate it into the language they use most often.

  1. Build student empathy with Minecraft: Education Edition

Minecraft: Education Edition offers several features that support inclusive learning, from classroom multiplayer for better collaboration, to customizable game settings including a text-to-speech user interface. As New York City special educator and STEM coach Sean Arnold writes in this EdSurge article, “chat features are enabled with speech-to-text functionality, which lets struggling readers and writers participate with the community at their own pace.” Minecraft: Education Edition gives students with physical and intellectual disabilities the opportunity to be creative, explore without fear of failure, and feel a sense of autonomy in the classroom. Arnold explains, “my students were no longer confined to wheelchairs or leg braces; they could walk, create and even fly. It’s a world where they are free from ridicule, free from their real-world struggles and free to create a world that they desire.”

We know that better student outcomes, teacher time, school budgets, and IT staff workloads are top of mind for every school district and school leader. That’s why we partnered with Forrester Consulting to do a total economic impact analysis around Microsoft assistive technologies for education. Informed by interviews across four Microsoft 365 (M365) districts using our accessibility tools, the findings pointed to three key benefits: improved student learning, reduced cost and effort, and saved time and increased effectiveness.

This report is available to download and share in your district. We also have a deeper dive into the data available on our Tech Community blog. With the tools built into the M365 accessible platform, you can help improve learning outcomes for every student while also saving real dollars in your school budget.

Eager to explore Microsoft accessibility tools in your own classroom? Get started with Office 365 Education for free!

And don’t miss next Tuesday’s #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet, where we’ll be discussing inclusive classrooms and accessibility with a global community of educators.