Microsoft Makes It Easier to Create Software For Individuals With Disabilities

REDMOND, Wash., March 18, 1997 — Microsoft Corp. today announced Microsoft® Active Accessibility
. Active Accessibility is a Microsoft Windows® operating system-based technology that makes it easier for software developers to write applications that can be used by people with disabilities, thus helping them use personal computers.

“Personal computers have enabled individuals with disabilities to perform everyday tasks, such as reading the newspaper or looking up a telephone number, that most people take for granted,” said Gregg Vanderheiden, professor and director, Trace Research and Development Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison. “Microsoft Active Accessibility sets new standards for operating system support of access technologies.”

Active Accessibility will make it easier to build specialized utilities, called accessibility aids, that allow people with disabilities to use computers. Accessibility aids can, for example, “read” the contents of a computer screen to the blind using a voice synthesizer; recognize and execute spoken commands, take spoken dictation and provide word definitions; provide input through means other than the traditional keyboard and mouse, such as onscreen keyboards or Morse code; and interpret multimedia sounds with closed captions for users who are deaf or hard of hearing. Such accessibility aids allow more people to use computers at work and at home.

Active Accessibility will also make it easier for vendors of mainstream software to make their own products accessible. Active Accessibility allows software developers to incorporate contextual information about user interfaces into their applications. For instance, accessibility aids for the blind provide much of the textual information displayed on the computer screen. But they can’t currently provide information about many icons, buttons and other graphical elements. With Active Accessibility, a mainstream developer can now add a description to those elements, allowing an accessibility aid to vocalize their functions.

Evolving technology, such as the shift from the character-based user interface of the MS-DOS® operating system to the graphical user interface of Windows, rarely accommodates the needs of individuals with disabilities and sometimes makes existing accessibility aids obsolete. Active Accessibility allows users to continue to use these utilities as applications and operating systems evolve.

“Active Accessibility will lead to more robust accessibility aids, greater access to information, and a larger market of applications that are usable by individuals with disabilities,” said Jim Allchin, senior vice president of the personal and business systems group at Microsoft.

Active Accessibility also works with Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 and Office 97, and is supported by Syntha-Voice Computers Inc.’s Slimware Window Bridge, Don Johnston Inc.’s DiscoverSwitch, GW Micro Inc.’s Vocal-Eyes and Kurzweil Applied Intelligence Inc.’s VOICE. In addition, numerous other vendors of accessibility aids have committed to supporting Active Accessibility, including Ai Squared, Arctic Technologies International Inc., BAUM Products GmbH, F.H. Papenmeier GmbH, Henter-Joyce and MicroTalk.

“Using Active Accessibility, we will be able to make our products accessible to everyone,” said Enrique Salem, chief technology officer at Symantec Corp. “That’s great news for individuals with disabilities and good business for Symantec.”

Active Accessibility development toolkits and runtime components are scheduled to be available from Microsoft in May 1997 at no charge. Beta software is available now from Initially, Active Accessibility will be offered for use with Windows 95. After that, it will be incorporated into future Windows operating systems, including “Memphis” and Windows NT® 5.0.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (NASDAQ
) is the worldwide leader in software for personal computers. The company offers a wide range of products and services for business and personal use, each designed with the mission of making it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing every day.

Microsoft, Active Accessibility, Windows, MS-DOS and Windows NT are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

Other product and company names herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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