Microsoft is one of the largest and most innovative tech companies in the world so it was a real treat to get Chris to talk about some of the features, both currently and in the near future, that are making the lives of people with disabilities easier. Let's have a look at ways that these features are addressing all different kinds of disabilities.
Some of these functions are things that we may take for granted if we don’t use or need them. However, something as simple as magnification on a screen can help a visually impaired person. And as it is so simple, it is incredibly easy to operate.
Something less well known is the fact that 1 in 8 men are colour blind, so adding a colour filter on a screen could be beneficial to 12% of the male population, and these filters can be adjusted to help particular types of colour blindness.
As AI technology improves, as do the things that you can do with it. SeeingAI is a great example of this, it is an application on your phone that will scan whatever you point at it and it will tell you what it sees.
Finally, text to speech is something we’ve probably all come across at some point, but what people may be less aware of is alternative text for images. When a computer is reading aloud some text and it comes across an image, we can write a small description of that image so that a visually impaired person can be aware of the full document.
One of the most powerful functions in Microsoft teams is the ability to get automatically generated subtitles in video meetings. Not only is that good for people suffering from hearing loss, it also means that meetings can be searched through using keywords. Making this a powerful tool for anyone, not just people with disabilities.
This transcript can also be translated into one of over 70 languages, meaning that meetings suddenly become accessible for people of all different nationalities and backgrounds. Once we get back to a stage where we can all travel again and meet people, there is also a translation app that can read text from images and translate, or someone can talk into and it will live translate.
If you struggle with words on a page then Microsoft has a read aloud function, meaning that any text can be read in different voices and speeds to suit your needs. Again, this is a tool that is very much rooted in accessibility but can also have other functions, such as the potential to help children who are just learning to read. It can also give people the option to hear text when they may not have time to sit down and read it.
A little known tool is task view, giving users the ability to search back through everything they have been working on for the last 31 days, so nothing gets forgotten about or lost.
Dictation is a great function available on all of the Microsoft Office products, allowing users who may struggle to type to simply speak to a document and see their words appear on the page. As this is so simple to use it is also great for people who may have a temporary disability such as a broken arm as it requires very little training. Also, as it uses machine learning, it starts to recognise your accent and will become more accurate with time.
Virtual Assistants have come a long way in recent years, to the point that we are all fairly used to them through our phones and smart devices. The advantage to them is that the more you use them, the better they become. They also use machine learning, so they learn your schedule and your habits and can warn you in advance of things like bad traffic that might disrupt your day.
It will be no shock to discover that the current pandemic has had a fairly major impact on all of our mental wellbeing. 40% of people report feeling poorer mental health, whilst 70% of people report feeling more stressed from working from home. However, there are tools and techniques we can harness to deal with this.
I think we all know that the internet can be a fairly distracting place, add onto that constant emails and messages and it can all start to feel a tad overwhelming at times. This is where Microsoft focus assist comes in, helping you to cut out all the distractions, whilst still allowing the really important stuff to be heard.
One of the issues that the pandemic is causing is the constant overlapping of working time and personal time. When we work and live in the same space, we tend to have less of a distinction between the two. One thing Microsoft can now do is track your analytics. This isn’t meant to be in an overbearing, data tracking way; instead this is meant to remind you when you are working outside of your working hours, or when you haven’t had a substantial break. Basically, this is about trying to replicate the classic working day as much as we can in the new normal.
Another thing that most of us are missing out on is the daily commute. Now at first thought, this might seem like a great thing, not being stuck in long traffic jams or on heaving public transport. However, what is actually happening is that we are starting work earlier, and finishing later, because we feel that we’ve cut out that commute time. The issue is that we now have no set time to unwind between work and personal time, we go straight from one to the other. Microsoft are rolling out The Virtual Commute next year, a program that will basically replicate the commute. It will tell you when you should start winding down the working day, and will remind you to do some form of wind down activity; this could be anything from listening to the radio to reading to meditation. It is really just about giving all of the ability to redefine work time and play time and regain a positive work/life balance.