Ease of Access in Windows 10

In this episode, Ricky Enger chats with Microsoft's Jeremy Curry, a Senior Program Manager with the Windows Accessibility team. New vision accessibility features are now available in Windows 10 for low vision and screen reader users.

May 24, 2019

Download Audio


Don't miss the next episode

Audio Transcript


Hadley Presents: Windows 10 Accessibility

Presented by Jeremy Curry

May 24, 2019

Ricky Enger: Welcome to Hadley Presents, I'm your host Ricky Enger, inviting to you to sit back, relax, and enjoy a conversation with the experts. In this episode, we discuss features from Windows 10 that make the computer easier to use for those with low vision, and our expert is Jeremy Curry from Microsoft.

Welcome, Jeremy. My goodness, so good to have you on the show.

Jeremy Curry: Hey, thanks for having me, Ricky. It's a pleasure to be here.

Ricky Enger: It is wonderful. And I mean you and I have been behind microphones previous to this, so it's so good to actually have you on this show. It feels good to reconnect in this way.

Jeremy Curry: Yeah, exactly. When Hadley reached out to Microsoft, they're like, "Hey, you're going to be working with Ricky." And I'm like, "Oh, good. Ricky and I go back forever."

Ricky Enger: I know who you are, but for those of... in the audience who don't, tell us a little bit about yourself, and what your background is, and how you made it over to Microsoft.

Jeremy Curry: Yeah, you bet. I've been in assistive technology for about 15 years now. And I've worked on screen readers, and screen magnifiers. For those of you who are familiar with some of the brand names, Window-Eyes, JAWS, ZoomText. Some of those assistive technology products in the past, as well as some digital magnifiers, and braille note takers.

Eventually made the transition as the industry started to change, Microsoft reached out to me, and I said, "That sounds really interesting because I've really seen Microsoft really push things forward, and wanting to raise the bar for accessibility." And I wanted to be a part of that, so I've been in product management, and development, and training for years, and years with assistive technology, and it's just a great place to be right now. We've got a really passionate team. It's just phenomenal some of this stuff that Microsoft is doing.

And so I basically took the step from third party assistive technology and headed over to Microsoft, and relatively new in Microsoft land, only been here since January, but now I'm working on primarily the low vision side of the Windows operating system, and it's just awesome to be part of this team.

Ricky Enger: Yeah, it sounds incredible, and I agree, I think Microsoft is doing some amazing things, and making things possible right out of the box that used to kind of require the purchase of third party software.

Jeremy Curry: Absolutely, yeah. It's great first party experience. When you're using Windows, you've got all sorts of different options. I was installing Windows 10 prior to working at Microsoft, and I thought this is the best experience I've ever had as kind of a low user/blind user kind of depending on what my environment is, and we're just continuing to make that experience even better, not just installing Windows 10, but the whole experience while making it easier for everyone to access their computer.

Ricky Enger: When we talk about what Microsoft is doing, in general I think we could say that the settings that we're looking at that kind of encompass this, making things more usable and more accessible, that's called Ease of Access, right? Can you kind of define what that is?

Jeremy Curry: Right, so Ease of Access, it's found in the settings, and it's basically the place in Windows for all of the accessibility settings. If you're a person with a visual, hearing, or mobility impairment, Windows provides you with these great options to help access your device, and make it easier not only for people with disabilities, but everyone.

For example, closed captioning is obviously great for people with hearing impairments, but suppose you're sitting in a loud airport, right? And you want to be able to understand what's on the audio track, and you just can't quite hear it, well turn on closed captioning. Or you're in a library, and you don't want to have everything up very loud. So, we're trying to capture the spectrum of not only for people with disabilities, but again just making it easier for everyone to use.

Ricky Enger: Yeah, and I think it's a great way to look at in that accessibility can make things better for everyone. So, just as the example of having a wheelchair ramp is also useful for mothers with strollers, and the like, we can take that concept and move it to technology, and have these things that benefit everyone.

Jeremy Curry: Absolutely. Yep.

Ricky Enger: What are the major categories that Microsoft has looked at when it's designing these settings to make the computer easier to use?

Jeremy Curry: Currently in Ease of Access you'll find three different sections. There's a vision section, which has things for people who are both low vision and blind. There's hearing, and there's also interaction. If you've got a visual, hearing, or mobility impairment, it's the place to customize Windows, right? So, you can go and make it easy to use.

The different sections that we have there will just help with those people with different varying types of abilities. So, if you are looking at vision, we've got that covered. If you are looking at hearing, we've got that covered. If you are looking at kind of mobility, and your interaction, we have that covered too.

And there are some things as I mentioned before that just help everybody. So, one of the things I tend to focus on are the low vision features. We just started rolling out the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, which has some great new features in it. And one of those is being able to make sure that you don't lose track of your mouse pointer anymore. For those people who are somewhat sighted, often times they'll end up shaking their mouse pointer to be able to see it on the screen. But for people with low vision, they need to be able to make it larger. And so now you can make it much, much bigger, and you don't even have to shake it to find it.

So, some of those are inside of Ease of Access, and under the actual vision category. But those are the main categories that we've focused on are the vision, the hearing, and the interaction.

Ricky Enger: What other settings are there available right now? Even for those who have not yet gotten the spring update, what kinds of things are available to customize specifically for low vision?

Jeremy Curry: Sure, so you can change some various colors, and have various color filters. You can change the mouse pointer, as I mentioned before, but now we're adding larger sizes, and we're adding color, so you can personalize it. But you could have it just bigger if you wanted to.

So, Windows Magnifier is another feature that's built into Windows, so if you have difficulty seeing the screen, you can magnify the screen, be able to see things that you wouldn't be able to see at just 1X. And it's something that I use to be able to function because I'm low vision/blind, kind of depending on the environment that I'm in. I can't... I literally cannot function without Windows Magnifier. I have to be able to have things magnified to be able to see it. Or I could use something like Narrator, which is our built-in screen reader.

And for me I've actually started to use both of them together. As my vision decreases, I have found that having more speech actually helps, and so I'll use speech along with magnification to help me be able to read documents faster as my eyes get more, and more tired throughout the day.

Ricky Enger: So that is a thing that people can do then, use both speech and magnification, or say magnification and high contrast? Or maybe they just need the pointer to be larger and have some of these color filters. So these features can work together?

Jeremy Curry: Absolutely. Absolutely, they can. Yeah, you can change all of these different settings. I shouldn't say all of these different settings. We've tried to make it very, very simple. But you can change these things independently of one another, and customize it to your own best preference. Because one thing I've found about with people of low vision, is I've worked with thousands of them over the years, is everybody is different, nobody is the same. And so having the ability to customize the color, and the size, and magnification, and the mouse pointer, and the color of the mouse pointer, all of these things, plus the speech really help to make it a good experience for anybody on the low vision spectrum.

Ricky Enger: Yeah, I think it's amazing that Microsoft has really taken all of this into account, and for some people their vision may be different from day-to-day, so what they need one day may be different the next day, or as you said depending on what environment they're in at any given time. And so having this stuff available always, and really nicely configurable is great.

Jeremy Curry: Yeah, I personally end up changing from the beginning of the day to the end of the day. And I've got users that we talk to all the time that have the same issue, where it depends on what application they're in, they're using something different. And so having this ability just all built-in makes it just an excellent user experience.

Ricky Enger: Let's say I have just gotten a shiny new Windows 10 computer, or maybe I'm over at someone's house, and I want to be able to kind of check out these settings. I've just turned the computer on, and I'm at the login screen. How do I get access to these settings that we've been talking about?

Jeremy Curry: Again it depends on your ability, right? Or I should your different types of acuity to be able to see, because we've got this low vision to blind spectrum. If you're totally blind, you could do Control, Windows Key, and Enter, and that will turn on Narrator for you. So, that's our screen reader, and you'll be able to access everything on the login screen. You can just tab using the keyboard.

If you've got some sight, some usable sight, we've got a lot of low vision users who maybe need only 25, or 50% more magnification. And so there are little icons that you can click on if you want to have the magnification turn on. And there is also hotkeys for that too. If you are very low vision, kind of like myself, I use Windows Key, and the +, and that will turn on magnification. And you can even have both of those on at the same time. You can have speech and magnification turned on in order to access those things. So, you've got that ability all at the login screen before you ever even log in to Windows to be able to access just the password field, or if you want to shut your computer down at the login screen, you can do that too if you want to.

So, we've got all of these, and a variety of other keystrokes to turn on other accessibility features while on the login screen too.

Ricky Enger: And what about after you log in? I'm assuming you can access these things in the same way once you've logged in. But if you turn on a setting at login, does that stay on once you have logged in? Or how does that work?

Jeremy Curry: It can. If you are a Narrator user. So, I mentioned I have speech a lot, right? And my wife and I use the same PC, and so perhaps she logs in, and doesn't want speech after she logs in, she can actually turn Narrator off, so after she logs in it's not speaking. But for me when I log in, it does speak. So, you have the ability to do that, and at any time if you want to turn speech on or off, again that Control, Windows Key, Enter, will toggle speech on and off.

So, if you log in and for some reason it's not on, maybe somebody has messed with your settings, I know as a person with a visual impairment, that's happened to me all the time. You just hit Control, Windows Key, Enter, and it's there, right? If you want to shut it off, it's off. So, the same hotkeys that you used inside of the login screen can also be used after you log in.

Or if you want to explore what's in Ease of Access, and there are a couple different ways to do it. One of the easiest ways to access that is Windows Key and the letter U will bring up the Ease of Access settings. Or if you have a difficult time remembering hotkeys, you can just open up the Start Menu, and type in, "Ease of Access," and the search results will pop up, and you can open it from there. And then you can go through and change your different settings as far as what happens after log in, or before log in, or at sign in, and all those different settings.

Ricky Enger: And what about for people who are kind of strictly mouse users, and they're looking for these icons? Are those generally located in a specific place on the login screen? Or once you do log in?

Jeremy Curry: Yeah, so on the bottom right of the screen, if you're sighted and you have some ability to see the screen, and you're a mouse user, all those are typically down at the bottom right of the screen, so you know the location of them, rather than trying to look to the upper left, or the upper right, you can just focus on one part of the screen. Yeah.

Ricky Enger: That is fantastic. We've talked about a few really awesome features, and there are lots more we didn't cover here. But you know I'm always a curious person, and I have to wonder what's coming next? I know that Microsoft has just released an update, and you talked about the ability to kind of change the pointer size, and make that easier to see. Is there anything else that you're allowed to talk about that you guys are working on that we might see in the future?

Jeremy Curry: Oh, there is a whole lot of stuff that we're working on.

Ricky Enger: I'll bet. What won't get you in trouble to talk about?

Jeremy Curry: What won't get me in trouble to talk about? Let me think about that for a second. There are some improvements in Narrator that are coming out. And it's been very interesting to see some of our user comments about what's included in Narrator now. And we have worked very hard to make it a really great experience out of the box, and so I think you'll find that some of the things that are in the Windows 10 May 2019 Update will be very helpful with that.

From a low vision perspective, I mentioned the mouse pointer, if you're downloading the latest update, you'll be able to change colors, and have more sizes available. I'll give you a sneak peek into some of the things from the low vision side. If you are someone who uses Windows Magnifier, one of the issues that we found for our customers is that in order to use Magnifier, it's a great tool, but they're having to while they were typing, move their heads around to find the cursor all of the time.

Ricky Enger: Oh, yeah.

Jeremy Curry: So, I experienced this problem myself, and by the end of the day my neck is tired, right? You're looking to the left, or right because it just tracks all over the screen, which is great because it tries to give you the most information on the screen, but we actually just changed the... Or well we changed the default, and actually added in a feature called Center Text Cursor. And so now as you're typing the text cursor will stay in the center of the screen, so you don't have to be moving your head left, right, up, or down anymore in order to find where it's at. It stays in one spot, so you can focus on that spot, which is also nice if... You know, some people have to look out of the side, of their peripheral vision to be able to see something.

So, there's a constant method to be able to see where that particular text cursor is because it just stays in the center as much as possible. And so that's a feature that, if you're a Windows Insider, which is where you can get preview builds of the next version of Windows, you can actually download that and use that today. And anytime we have a new Windows Preview version out, we publicly put out on a blog that talks about what's new inside of accessibility, whether it's Narrator, or whether it's Magnifier, or any other accessibility features that we have.

I can't divulge too much, but I will say that we're always working on things, and if you're really interested to see what's out there, check out those Windows Insider builds, and our latest blogs when those Insider builds ship. And for those of you who aren't familiar with... You know, "What's Windows Insider? Do I have to like buy something or do something special?" It's all free, and you can essentially just go to your Start menu, type in, "Windows Insider," and you can become part of the Windows Insider program. And you can select if you want things like, we call the Fast ring, which is the most recent preview builds, or the Slow ring, where maybe those things are little bit more tested, if you're maybe a little bit squeamish on being on the more leading edge. But all those are available to anyone who wants to try it.

Ricky Enger: And even if you are a little bit hesitant to jump right in and try it, you can still check out the blog, where these release notes happen, and that way you kind of have an idea of what's coming next, and that's super cool as well. We will have links to this kind of thing in the show notes, so I invite you to check those out.

What about other resources in terms of if somebody has a question about a Microsoft product, or somebody wants to read a little more about what's going on in Windows, are there different places that people can go to get that information?

Jeremy Curry: Yeah, absolutely. Microsoft has a great accessibility site. So, www.Microsoft.com/Accessibility. There's all sorts of great information there about our accessibility features. Additionally, you can follow us on Twitter. MSFTEnable. So, at Microsoft Enable, and we tweet about things there.

One of the great things that I personally love about Microsoft is they have something called the Disability Answer Desk, or DAD. D-A-D for short. And you can find resources on the accessibility website about how to access the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk, which is in multiple languages, if you're not just English speaking, not just in the U.S., but around the world, you can call in, and you can get support on your Windows OS. And you can get support regarding our built-in assistive technology that we have. So, that's a fantastic resource for people with disabilities.

We also have a YouTube channel with lots of great content. You can find that on the accessibility website as well. And so there's links to all these things on that site, and that's where I would really point someone who wants to go find out all this information. We're doing so much. Microsoft.com/Accessibility is really the place to go.

Ricky Enger: We've covered a lot today. Anything else that you want to say before we head out of here?

Jeremy Curry: You know, I am thankful for all the feedback that we get. If any of you want to even tweet at me personally, you're welcome to do that. I'm Jeremy_Curry. I'm one of those with the underscore in between.

Ricky Enger: You're the best.

Jeremy Curry: But love to hear the feedback. I absolutely love what I do here. It's just... This space is the passion of mine. To help make the lives of people with disabilities better. My focus is on low vision, and that's where I'm really trying to push Windows personally. And it's just awesome the things we're doing. I'd say stay tuned because we're going to keep coming out, and keep making things even better for not just people with disabilities, but for everyone.

I love being part of the Microsoft family, and Ricky, thanks for having me. It's been awesome.

Ricky Enger: It has absolutely been a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

Jeremy Curry: Yeah, just wait and see.

Ricky Enger: Thanks, Jeremy. And thanks for listening everyone.

Got something to say? Share your thoughts about this episode of Hadley Presents, or make suggestions for future episodes. We'd love to hear from you. Send us an email at Podcast@Hadley.edu. That's P-O-D-C-A-S-T @ Hadley.edu. Or leave us a message at 847-784-2870. Thanks for listening.