By Carolina Hernandez, Windows Accessibility Manager
Earlier this year, we announced four amazing Windows 11 features designed for and with People with Disabilities: system-wide live captions, Focus sessions, voice access, and more natural voices for the narrator. These resources will be available starting today, and we want to pull back the curtain and share a bit more about how the culture of inclusion within the Windows engineering team has helped build more experiences. inclusive and enjoyable for all. This culture is based on three main ingredients: people, processes and ambition.
The composition of our team: as diverse as the communities we aim to empower
On the Windows Accessibility team, we embrace the motto of disability, “nothing about us without us”, to create products that empower all of us, and ideally creators are as diverse as their audiences. . When we created the team responsible for developing accessibility experiences for Windows 11, we intentionally hired people with disabilities to drive these investments so that their experiences could help inform and guide the design of the solutions. Let’s meet some of the product developers behind the new Narrator and Focus enhancements in Windows 11: Jeff Bishop and Alexis Kane.
Jeff Bishop is the product manager responsible for Narrator, the Windows built-in screen reader. Jeff has been blind since birth and has dedicated his career to creating experiences that empower people who are blind. And over the past few years, Jeff has been leading the way in making Narrator easier and more enjoyable to use. He explains:
As a screen reader user, I really understood the need to modify the narrator’s voice. Hearing that voice all day long while you’re working, reading an article or a book, or just surfing the internet on the couch – it must be a pleasant experience. Develop new natural-sounding voices for the Narrator – “Aria”, “Guy” and “Jenny” – we needed to figure out what made a “great” voice for a screen reader user. I spent a lot of time with our engineering team to improve the responsiveness and other characteristics of the voices. We tested and gathered lots of feedback to make sure it met my needs as a user and the needs of all screen reader users. In all the world.
Based on his own lived experience and community feedback, Jeff helped bring new, natural-sounding voices to Narrator. These new voices use state-of-the-art voice synthesis which reflect natural speech much more, making everything from browsing the Internet to reading and creating documents more enjoyable for users who listen to their screens rather than watching them.
Alexis Kane is the product manager behind Focus Sessions, a new experience in Windows 11 that uses proven techniques to build healthy digital habits and get more done. Alexis has ADHD and felt how the distraction of notifications was affecting her productivity. Alexis describes his experience as follows:
How my computer behaves over the course of a day influences my mood, productivity, and energy level. This became more and more evident with virtual work, when I didn’t have a break from my computer. The number of notifications received increased dramatically, as did my level of anxiety. When I see a notification, I immediately start thinking about what the message is about, how I’m going to respond, how others are going to react, and what I should respond to. immediately. I also didn’t think I could turn off notifications because then I would be distracted all day thinking about what I was missing.
I’m not alone in this feeling, which is why we knew we had to do something to silence the PC and reduce distractions for users. We started thinking very broadly about how we could create a quieter environment on PC, and through many design iterations and customer feedback, we created the Focus and Do Not Disturb sessions.
With Focus and Do Not Disturb sessions, users have an easy way to silence Windows and focus on the work they need to do. When you start a new tune-up session, Windows turns on Do Not Disturb, which disables notifications, disables taskbar notifications, and apps stop flashing on the taskbar. Focus is also integrated into the Clock app, which triggers a timer to help you stay focused and remember to take breaks, which has proven to be effective in improving productivity.
The team process: based on partnerships with the communities we aim to serve
Obviously, with a limited number of people on the team, the ideal of fully representing the diversity of our user base will always remain out of reach – which is why partnerships and engagement are also such a big part of it. important part of our team process. In fact, partnerships are key to understanding, developing and validating the capabilities we build: through conversations with our customers, we create a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities we have to create more inclusive experiences.
One such partnership, with our Mobility Advisory Council, was instrumental in developing the new Windows 11 voice access experience, now in preview. The mobility advisory council is made up of people with reduced mobility and their support network: for example, occupational therapists or parents of children with reduced mobility. In conversations with members of the Mobility Advisory Board, we found that our existing voice control solutions were not as efficient as our users needed them to be. So we started a series of conversations with the board, which helped us envision and co-create a new experience – one that puts people with reduced mobility (and anyone else) in control of their PC and create content in any application using their voice.
One of the features of the new voice access experience directly resulting from this collaboration was the interactive voice access guide and the help experience. Board members, especially occupational therapists, stressed the importance of helping users learn to use new technology as soon as it becomes available. Based on this feedback, we’ve made sure that the first time you start Voice Access, you’re presented with an interactive guide to help you learn how to perform common tasks using your voice. And when using it is also always possible to get a full list of commands, asking the question “what can I say?” Voice Access even gives you real-time feedback on what you heard so you know which word was misrecognized when it’s wrong. We are very grateful for the time and feedback the Mobility Council has given us on voice access, and it will be a pleasure to continue our journey together.
The team’s ambition: to create pleasant experiences for each of us
Our team’s personal interest in the quality of the experiences we create, combined with the depth of our connection to the communities we serve, has always driven us to have high ambitions. We want to imagine and create experiences that go beyond “access” to create enjoyable experiences that inspire and empower each of us to do our best on Windows. And sometimes achieving that ambition requires rethinking established solutions, as we did when developing the new system-wide live captioning experience.
Live captions have been around in many apps on Windows for some time – and, working with deaf and hard of hearing employees and consultants, we’ve found that in-app captions can lead to inefficiencies when collaboration and multitasking: when you close or minimize the application, the subtitles disappear. So, working with deaf and hard of hearing people, the team reimagined live captioning as a system-wide experience.
Now, dynamic captions in Windows 11 go beyond the app. Captions are displayed at the top of the screen by default, just below the camera on most systems, making it easy to follow online meetings while looking like you’re engaged. But the location is in your control: live captions can be moved to the bottom of the screen or to a floating window, so you can multitask, not lose captions and, Above all, do not block any important content.
And while this solution solved one of the main problems we wanted to solve, our ambition to provide enjoyable experiences led us to look even further – and we saw an opportunity to solve a real-world problem: making conversations face to face accessible. With microphone audio capture, Windows 11 Live Captions can also transcribe face-to-face conversations. And since the captions are produced locally on the machine itself, those conversations – along with all of their captioned content – stay inside the room. This is a revolutionary feature for a variety of scenarios – meetings where everyone is wearing masks that block lip reading, impromptu conversations between deaf and hearing people where there is no sign interpreter readily available, and something that relates to me personally, helps non-native speakers of the language follow audio content and conversations online and offline.
Join us in the adventure: send us your comments
Accessibility and inclusion in Windows 11, as elsewhere, is an ongoing journey – and we are committed to continuing it through our products, our culture, and our partnerships with you, the community. Your feedback and feedback has been instrumental in helping our teams and products continue to evolve in the right direction. And we know we still have a lot to do, and we will need your help. So keep posting your opinion. You can start by getting Windows 11 today, then let us know what you think, to help us create better experiences for all of us. Just press Windows logo key + F to launch the feedback hub and share your opinion.
Finally, if you are a customer with a disability and need technical assistance for Windows or any other Microsoft product, please contact Answering machine accessibility by phone, chat or ASL (via videophone). Contact! We are always happy to help.