The importance of Ease of Access
In previous Windows 10 reviews, never would I have imagined that I would be required to construct a separate section of content on the basis of accessibility alone. Although it is true that there was plenty of changes to list and explore just from the perspective of every day usability of this new release, there are enough changes in the innovation of access that it’s easy to break it out into a smaller section along with my final conclusions.
In the past, the commitment in Windows to create genuine improvement to tools and functions which assist those with a variety of needs had less focus. It was always there, somewhere in the background of everyone’s minds and with slow progression, but the pace did not truly pick up until we had the Creators update in hand. Here, we saw massive changes.
For the first time, anyone could pop in a Windows 10 DVD (or USB drive, as the former are becoming old now) and begin a seamless installation of Windows with the aid of a screen reader, Narrator. True, this still leaves out those who simply require color adjustments or larger text in the cold, but I see this expanding to allow even Braille support in the future. There was a heavier push to making this technology work. This is nowhere near perfect in Narrator now with 1709, as some areas are still lacking in consistency, such as scan mode behaviors. There is no find dialog or element-navigation listing commands in this screen reader, and it’s probably true that more improvements can be made with how Narrator is in scan versus item navigation mode. Try using Narrator in Office and Word online and you will notice how scan mode falls apart when you edit in web apps. Before you close this review and window entirely though, please do not forget where we came from and what it took to get here. Please think of other users who may have different needs than yourself, and may be OK with using Narrator with standard Office and programs, where it behaves way more beautifully than it ever has before. This improvement in support comes from a greater integration of new user interface automation programming patterns, a new accessibility framework Microsoft pioneered with Windows 7.
UIA is more in use within Windows 10 than ever. Narrator and Edge work very fast and with far less lag than many other screen readers, as there is no more pulling and sorting of the entire website when it loads by the reader. Edge exposes all this natively to Narrator. Issues with websites like BBC are gone, but others, such as Google News, will still require that you switch from scan to item navigation mode as the headings will not read in scan. This still does not compare to what Narrator was in say, version 1511 of Windows 10, or the first update we had. Back then, even switching to a different program could cause Narrator to lose focus entirely and stop reading, and arrowing through lists and combo-boxes was painfully slow. To see where it has come now, there has been a large undertaking in modernizing this entire platform. By doing so, Microsoft can finally bring the Accessibility of Windows to some of the heights which already exist elsewhere, such as in Apple’s iOS. Is this update the ultimate accessibility fixer? No, but it sure moves the car down the road a few hundred miles.
New color filter options will allow those with various color blindness needs to adjust Windows to how they desire. Narrator supports the inputting of chorded Windows functions for full-display based navigation, something only available in a $1095 product before. You can press Alt+Tab with Dots 2-4-5-6 after switching to keyboard mode with dots 1-3 and space. We will discuss this further in the Braille section, but the way this was designed is very intuitive. With the addition of eye tracking. The magnifier interface has been completely redesigned, allowing it to also work alongside Narrator in a smooth way. These are all big strides for something we are calling a “companion” update to the creators version, no?
So let’s dive in, and take a look at all we can unwrap here.
The new magnifier
This is a great one to start with, there is a lot to say on what Microsoft has done here. Let’s head over to the settings app, Go into ease of access, and peak within the magnifier. Wait a minute! That’s how you would have done it before. Now, you can magically press control + Windows M to open the magnifier settings page. The same goes for Narrator settings, now accessible with the same combination keys and the letter N. Here, you won’t see a larger view of your world unless you turn it on, but you will see a larger amount of options and commands to use.
Image credit: Pure-info-tech.
Some, such as following keyboard focus, are familiar. However, many options are new.
- Change the zoom level magnifier uses.
- Magnifier can now follow the Narrator cursor, if this option is checked. Useful if you use both in combination.
- You can choose among three different modes for the type of magnification you require. These were available before in the magnifier interface, but now carry over to settings. Full screen, docked, and Lens modes are your familiar classic ones.
- Hold down the Control and Windows keys, then move the mouse wheel to zoom the screen magnification in and out.
- The page now lists magnifier commands conveniently.
|Windows logo key + Plus (+)||Turn Magnifier on.|
|Windows key + ESC||Turn magnifier off.|
|Windows key + CTRL + M||Open Magnifier settings|
|Windows key and Plus Sign (+) or Minus Sign (-)||Zoom in or out|
|Ctrl + Alt + Mouse Scroll Wheel||Zoom with Mouse Scroll Wheel|
|Ctrl+Alt+Spacebar||Preview the desktop in full-screen mode|
|Ctrl+Alt+F||Switch to full-screen mode|
|Ctrl+Alt+L||Switch to lens mode|
|Ctrl+Alt+D||Switch to docked mode|
|Ctrl+Alt+arrow keys||Pan in the direction of the arrow keys|
|ALT + Shift + Left and right arrows||Decrease and increase lens width|
|Alt + Shift + Down and up arrows||Decrease and increase lens height|
|Alt + CTRL + M||Change magnifier view|
|Ctrl+Alt+R||Resize the lens with the mouse.|
Note: You will have to press the “Show all commands” link to expand all of them.
With this update, all platforms support the use of their screen readers in conjunction with the magnifier. Thanks for adding it, Microsoft.
Better options for color filters in contrast settings
For those who would benefit from easier screen visibility, this is an expanded category in settings, allowing the further adjustment of one important option relating to six filter types. These are grayscale, invert, grayscale inverted, Deuteranopia, Protanopia, tritanopia. The latter three may sound like latin medical terms to you, but these are the two primary forms of color blindness people could experience: Protanopia, deuteranopia can impact the distinction of red and green colors, whereas tritanopia results in blue and yellow color blindness. The vast nature of this inclusive option shows that even in this one area, there are a wide range of differences in what people may need from their operating system to help them be more productive and adjust colors to their proper equals.
Dictate anywhere, even in Notepad.
If you are familiar with dictation on Windows phone at all, you will feel familiar with this feature. Most probably won’t be, but Microsoft’s ability to insert punctuation in dictation is one area I have not seen mirrored elsewhere. To dictate, press the Windows key and H together in any editable field. You should hear a rising tone, after which you can speak. Dictation will end automatically once you stop speaking, and you can review the inserted content after. Just like the Emoji panel, this is available anywhere, making it truly a powerful feature.
Additional international voices are available
Microsoft has quietly been expanding the supported voices for each display language of Windows by creating their own voices. A massive amount of languages was added in the creators update, including my own Hungarian, which was quite exciting. In this release, we get Vietnamese, Croatian, Hebrew, Malay, and Slovenian. Quite a good pace for just 6 months, and as pointed out by some readers, only google has offered Vietnamese before this. More languages to hear text in can only be a good thing. During initial Windows installation, these may not be available, so here’s hoping that regional support comes to Narrator during setup also in terms of voice availability.
Eye tracking is here to stay, if you have the hardware
This is very exciting for those with limited mobility or difficulties using traditional input devices, such as a mouse. For around $150, you can Snag an eye-tracking device in the US Amazon store and set it up. You will need to download the software for the tracker and install it first. Ensure that your tracker is setup to mirror your primary display.
if all is set up right, you will now have a new “eye tracking” choice within the Ease of Access settings > Other options panel.
What’s new with Narrator?
This could be the best section I make yet, so I saved it for last. Narrator is the one effort receiving constant sunlight, with the greatest number of changes happening to it over the years of Windows development. You will be glad to know that the annoying “got it!” prompt on scan mode is now gone, and you will hear verbose announcements on whether scan mode is on or off in more places such as while reading edge content. Have a video from Microsoft detailing the console, an area which Narrator now supports out of the box. This makes command-line prompts accessible, which could be an impact for business users who utilize tools for managing servers. In places such as Windows Setup, this could save lives, at least of those who need it.
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Well, our experiment in typing Braille using Narrator failed once again. I tried this on two displays, connected via USB: A Refreshabraille 18 by APH, and a Baum VarioUltra 40. Both displays work over the Baum driver, however it appears as though typing was slightly better with the smaller display.
I mentioned this keyboard input issue in the creators update review, and hopefully seeing this in action will help solidify the need for a fix. Truth is, Braille support is adding more functionality with each release, yet somehow it relying on the current driver and input model is just not feasible. The issues I mentioned in that review regarding compatibility are still there, so if you wish to use a beta Braille product, consider the fact that you will still have to switch for your 3rd-party screen readers. Unfortunately for Narrator, this is more than just a once a month procedure for me.
What is Braille good for? Definitely browsing the web quickly, and now, the newfound ability of entering system commands. I am able to navigate my device mostly off the display, but will reach for the keyboard when the need for typing comes in. Let’s see those keyboard commands. Here’s a list of both new and current ones, to be used on all displays.
|Braille Chord combination||Action|
|1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3-4-7||Go to the next or previous paragraph|
|1-2-5 or 1-2-5-7||Go to the next or previous heading|
|2-3-4-5 or 2-3-4-5-7||Go to the next or previous table|
|1-3 or 1-3-7||Go to the next or previous link|
|2-4 or 2-4-7||Go to the next or previous item|
|1-4-5 or 1-4-5-7||Go to the next or previous landmark|
|1-2-4 or 1-2-4-7||Go to the next or previous form field|
|1-2 or 1-2-7||Go to the next or previous button|
|1-4 or 1-4-7||Go to the next or previous combo box|
|1-5 or 1-5-7||Go to the next or previous edit field|
|1-2-3-5 or 1-2-3-5-7||Go to the next or previous radio button|
|1-3-4-6 or 1-3-4-6-7||Go to the next or previous check box|
|1-6 or 1-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 1|
|1-2-6 or 1-2-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 2|
|1-4-6 or 1-4-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 3|
|1-4-5-6 or 1-4-5-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 4|
|1-5-6 or 1-5-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 5|
|1-2-4-6 or 1-2-4-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 6|
|1-2-4-5-6 or 1-2-4-5-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 7|
|1-2-5-6 or 1-2-5-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 8|
|2-4-6 or 2-4-6-7||Go to the next or previous heading level 9|
|Space + 1-2-3||Turn on input learning, press twice to turn off.|
For keyboard input, use these commands.
|Braille chord combination||Action|
|Space + 4-5||Tab key|
|Space + 1-2||Shift + Tab key|
|Space + 2-3-4-5||Alt + Tab key|
|Space + 2-4-5-6||Windows logo key|
|Space + 1-2-3-5||Windows logo key + Tab key|
|Space + Routing Key 1 through 12||F1 through F12 keys|
|Space + 2-6||Escape key|
|Space + 3||Cursor left key|
|Space + 6||Cursor right key|
|Space + 1||Cursor up key|
|Space + 4||Cursor down key|
|Space + 2-3||Page up key|
|Space + 5-6||Page down key|
|Space + 2||Home key|
|Space + 5||End key|
|Space + 3-5||Insert key|
|Space + 2-5-6||Delete key|
The new Braille settings
You can now adjust both the code and type used as input and output for your display. Previously, this was only one-choice, and grade 2 input is now supported, though I do warn you on mileage with your display model. You can also control the shape of the cursor between a standard options of dots 7 and 8, all dots raised, cursor between cells, and a “do not show cursor” option if you are comfortable with knowing where your position is. With a toggle, you can also disable the blinking of the cursor.
A new message time-out option allows you to change how long various verbosity messages stay on display. For example, if a new notification comes in for an app, you could have it stay on your display for up to 20 seconds.
A few other thoughts on the Braille experience
What confused me the most on my Vario model was the re-assignment of the left space-bar as a backspace key, causing me to actively focus on using the right space key to enter in a space. Since the Refreshabraille does not have this key mapping, it was less of a challenge there. I also noticed that typing feedback during Braille input is currently not happening at all, regardless of code used. This does not mirror keyboard typing, and would help with catching errors. When backspacing on the display, you will hear speech tell you first what you backspaced, then the display will be updated with the active line. Again, this caused a serious issue when backspacing quickly, and forced me to slow down my hammering of backspace.
Braille in Narrator is improving in a solid way, but I sure am glad it has the “Beta” label still.
Narrator Scan mode changes
As mentioned, Scan mode is changing a bit with Narrator. If you use Edge, this is the default mode enabled, however you may find that some combobox controls may not open as reliably with scan mode on. Form fields should disable it automatically as they are reached. If you have a custom auto-complete control on a website, you may also have to disable scan mode to see suggested results. The advantage of scan mode over item navigation, in experience, is that there is less repeated items. Still, some page elements will not read exactly well. Tab control items are a great example of this, and all the headings on Google News. 90% of times, though, using scan mode to read information even in Windows store apps has proven to be the quickest way to navigate with Narrator.
Image descriptions and other minor changes
as demonstrated back in June, Narrator can now caption images automatically through the web and the Microsoft Azure cognative API. This is huge, and can provide some context to various images, if sometimes a little generic. The benefit here is that no other screen reader (as of yet) has this feature, and even if one did, you would be required to pay for the API which generates the descriptions. Microsoft has a huge advantage of processing this with their resources, and it shows with them being first to have the feature.
Finally, it’s worth noting that you can press a new command, Caps + 1, to enable a keyboard learning mode. Press it twice to disable, but this provides a great new way for any computer user to get to know their keyboard and Narrator in an interactive way.
Wait! Wait! We haven’t even gotten to any changes in Windows apps! How One Note from the store is now very usable with Narrator when compared to its desktop app. Do you want to stick around for an even greater rundown? Yes? No?
Alas, the time has come to wrap up another giant Windows review, and one more further chapter in the history of this never-ending version we call Windows 10. I aim to provide constructive feedback, and while I know some of this may be seen as negative by some towards the progress being made, we must recognize both challenges and improvements together to build an accurate idea of where we are. The vision for Windows 10 is that of Windows everywhere, and this has not yet changed. What has is the approach to the vision, the way in which pieces of Windows fit together to create a more wholesome experience and features which benefit people no matter where they may use Windows.
This update will most likely complete Microsoft’s mantra of “for creators” at least for a bit, as many unpromised features such as “My People” are now part of this release. It was required that the original creators update plans be split into two, as it no doubt made engineering more manageable to build. Much effort went into understanding where people need Windows to have less gaps and which ones should be filled in first to create this new Windows era.
Already after the update, the complaints are far less than they were in the summer of 2016. This either means people aren’t having problems, or are just avoiding the update completely. From looking at my own group of followers and friends, I would say a far greater majority are running this 1709 version than those who ran the update in March by this time. This can only be good. As Windows evolves, I hope your experience with it becomes less jarring and more intuitive for your needs. These reviews will always serve a non-bias experience perspective as much as possible. As we begin to understand the importance of security and privacy in our world today, updating will become ever more important for many, and thus it is only fair that changes and required transitions be made smoother than ever before. If Windows does want to be in more places, it will need to go through far greater optimizations, and if the past 2 years are an indication, the Windows of the future will again look different than the one I am writing about today.