MINNEAPOLIS, Oct. 22, 1998 — During the annual Closing the Gap conference on computer technology in special education and rehabilitation, Microsoft Corp. announced accessibility features and interoperability improvements in its new Office 2000 productivity software, due for release in the first quarter of 1999. In addition, the company demonstrated extensive accessibility features in its Microsoft® Cordless Phone System, which is expected to be on store shelves later this month.
The company also announced several cash and software grants to expand technology access and opportunities for people with disabilities.
Office 2000 Accessibility
Among the most significant accessibility enhancements in Microsoft Office 2000 is internal support for the Microsoft Active Accessibility
(MSAA) specification, which makes the product easier to use with accessibility aids such as screen readers used by blind people. Office 97 was the first major product to adopt the Microsoft Active Accessibility programming interface; Office 2000 builds on this commitment and makes it even easier for developers of accessibility aids to create products that work with most on-screen features, including menus, toolbars, dialog boxes and forms. Active Accessibility support also has been added to the Microsoft Access database program.
The Office 2000 development team has worked directly with users who have disabilities to identify features and capabilities that will make the software more accessible. As a result, new features include expanded keyboard access to Access relations and graphics, more natural high-contrast support within the PowerPoint® presentation graphics program, customizable views available within Help (HTML Help uses the same accessibility settings as Internet Explorer), improved Active Accessibility support to the Bullets and Numbering dialog box, and better interaction between Microsoft Excel and third-party accessibility aids.
The Microsoft Office 2000 development team has also worked closely with independent software vendors (ISVs) to solicit and integrate feedback on Office 2000 prior to release. By working with Microsoft earlier in the Office 2000 product cycle, these ISVs are in a better position to reduce the delay between the time Office 2000 is released to the public and when needed accessibility aids are available.
“We’ve been working with Microsoft’s development team on Office 2000 and feel that our constructive relationship will help ensure that our products will work well together,”
said Randy Marsden, president and CEO of Madenta Inc., a maker of accessibility aids.
“It has been refreshing to have the Office 2000 development team be proactive in ensuring that Office is accessible to users with disabilities.”
The Microsoft Cordless Phone System
In combination with Microsoft Call Manager software, the Microsoft Cordless Phone System includes, among other accessible features, simple TTY capabilities that allow callers to communicate with deaf people using a text telephone, compatibility with Windows® operating system-based screen readers for blind people, tactile and audio feedback on handset buttons, a handset earpiece that is hearing aid-compatible, voice commands that help to reduce keypad use, and variously shaped buttons on the handset for easier orientation for blind and visually impaired users.
“PC and Internet technology can help level the playing field for people with disabilities, as long as technology companies make sure the products they build are accessible,”
said Greg Lowney, Microsoft director of accessibility.
“At Microsoft, we’re working to make accessibility a measure of success at all phases of the product development process. As part of this process, it is critical to work early and often with the companies that build accessibility aids, to make sure the products are compatible.”
Microsoft Technology and Disabilities Grants
As part of Microsoft’s Connected Learning Community (CLC) grant program, three Microsoft regional offices have awarded cash, software and technical assistance grants to organizations that promote technology use for people with disabilities. CLCs support the innovative efforts of regional nonprofit organizations to connect neighborhoods and communities. Microsoft awarded these accessibility grants in October:
Microsoft’s PacWest district office will support the Easter Seals computer loan program initiative in Spokane, Wash. The grant will fund the purchase of additional computers, which are loaned on a short- or long-term basis to people with disabilities in the state of Washington. Individuals use the computers to support their educational and employment pursuits. In addition, Microsoft will provide an on-site technology specialist to lead this program and assist in training mentors who work with the recipients of computers.
Microsoft’s district office in Las Colinas, Texas, is awarding a CLC grant to support a pilot project from the Center for Computer Assistance to the Disabled (C-CAD). The project will provide Web-based instruction and technical training for people with disabilities, offering a structured curriculum and skills testing, certification in computer software applications, and computer links between students, tutors, mentors, educators and other service providers.
Microsoft’s Greater Pennsylvania district office has awarded a grant to The MBF Center in Norristown, Pa. The grant will allow MBF to purchase network-ready computers and provide Internet access and classroom training to disabled individuals. Through two programs, Computer and Business Training and Clerical Skills Training,
students with serious disabilities are taught basic and advanced computer skills as well as clerical skills that prepare them for a variety of jobs.
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.
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