MS: Vista Most Accessible Windows Ever

Windows Vista will be one of the most accessible operating systems that Microsoft has ever released, the company said Monday. New features for those with disabilities take into account three years of research by Microsoft, and is being led by Rob Sinclair.

Sinclair is the new director of Microsoft's Accessible Technology Group. "Developing new ways to make technology easier for people to use has always been one of my passions," he says. "I've really been pursuing the same goals throughout my career."

There is good reason for Microsoft to focus heavily on accessibility. A commissioned study by Forrester found that 57 percent of working-age computer users benefit from such technology. These features are especially helpful for those with vision, hearing and mobility problems.

Thus, Microsoft has focused its efforts to improve accessibility into three different areas: an Ease of Access center to assist users in finding ways to make using their computer easier; new technologies, such as better speech recognition and magnification; and Microsoft UI Automation.

First, the Ease of Access Center is a redesigned version of the Accessibility control panel option. Microsoft is moving away from the "disability" or "accessibility" terms, as it found that users ignored the features since they didn't identify as disabled.

A wizard would walk users through the new features and help to select which ones would be the most appropriate. "The task-based questions in the Ease of Access center allow us to gather information about our customers' requirements and preferences based on their daily experiences," Sinclair explained.

Second, new technologies within Vista will enhance accessibility options that were also available in previous versions of Windows. Speech recognition has been improved to allow for PC control by voice. The feature is designed to adapt over time, meaning the software will learn a user's style and vocabulary.

Additionally, a new magnification layer has been added to the user interface that would dramatically improve the quality of magnified imagery and text for those with vision problems.

"Instead of stretching an image to enlarge it, which often creates jagged edges and other distortions, magnifying an image in Windows Vista is more like changing a font size," Sinclair said. "It is rendered at a larger size from the start."

Finally, a new testing model called Microsoft UI Automation would make it easier for third parties to incorporate accessibility features into their software. Integrated into the model are 18 different core behaviors that assist in making an application more accessible.

Sinclair believes that the vision of a computer system that can adapt to the needs of any user is no longer just a concept, but something that users will benefit from upon the release of Vista.

"The field of accessibility is one of the most exciting places to work in the industry," he said. "At Microsoft, we have a huge opportunity to improve the way everyone interacts with technology, and we have the vision, motivation and engineering power to make it a reality."

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