Microsoft wants to make Office 365 more accessible to everyone

Every month, Microsoft is busy pushing out fresh updates for Office 365, and December is no exception, with the company adding a number of perks on the accessibility front.

One of the biggest changes is moving the Accessibility Checker to make it more prominent and easily found across all the main Office apps (including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and also OneNote along with Visio). And of course this means the feature should see more use.

What does the checker do? It analyses your document (or presentation, or whatever) and determines exactly how accessible it is to those who might have visual, hearing or mobility impairments, making suggestions on how to improve any problems – like adding alternate text description for images (so these will be read out aloud by a screen reader).

You’ll find the Check Accessibility option available in the Review tab – it’s in the Windows desktop applications mentioned, and also in some of the Office for Mac and Office Online apps.

Automated text descriptions

Speaking of alternate text descriptions, Microsoft is automating these for both Word and PowerPoint on Windows desktop. In other words, these programs will analyse embedded images and suggest a text description automatically, a nifty touch – although this isn’t live yet, but rather it’s ‘coming soon’.

For Outlook on the web, Microsoft is also adding a MailTip which allows a user to let people know that they prefer to receive accessible content. This means that folks writing a message to that user will be reminded to use the aforementioned Accessibility Checker before sending the email.

This MailTip is available now on the web version of Outlook for commercial Office 365 users, and will be coming to the Outlook app for Windows desktop soon.

Finally, Microsoft is improving hyperlinks on the accessibility front, so that when you insert a hyperlink in a cloud-based file or website, you’ll get a Recent Items list highlighting recently used files – and when the link is placed, the file or web page name (which you can edit) will be used as the display text rather than the long URL.

Again, that’s going to be helpful for people using screen readers, and this capability should arrive in the ‘next few months’ for the Windows desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. It’ll also be coming to the Office Mobile apps for both Windows and Android.