REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 21, 2010 — David McKee, 21, is studying recording arts and information technology at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, working toward a career that will combine his interests in music and computers. For the past two summers, he has landed competitive internships with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, where he networked computers, streamed video and designed user interfaces. But McKee is not a typical student or government worker.
"I'm legally blind," McKee says. "I can't read normal-sized text or see most of the details on my computer screen."
Microsoft Word has an Accessibility Checker to help make content more easily accessible to all users.
McKee credits his success in such a visual field in part to the accessibility options that Microsoft builds into software products such as Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010 — features like Magnifier, which magnifies all or part of your computer screen so it is easier to see text, images and icons.
"If I'm on my computer, I'm using Magnifier," McKee says. "Magnifier is really useful, because it helps me use all the features of Windows and my applications. Without it, I wouldn't be able to see the buttons or menus or most of the text on my screen."
McKee's ambitions include creating musical scores for films and sound effects for video games, so he works with a lot of game engines, 3-D graphics and music programs. Even there, Magnifier works extremely well. McKee particularly likes the full-screen option for Magnifier, which is new as a standard feature in Windows 7. When he has to read a long document, McKee sometimes uses an add-on screen reader device, which translates text to speech, but he prefers Magnifier for most of his work.
"Screen readers may have trouble navigating some Web sites or reading certain types of content," he says. "With Magnifier, I don't have that problem. It works seamlessly. I can zoom all the way in and look at exactly what I want to see, and then zoom out again. When I'm working on my computer, Magnifier virtually eliminates my visual impairment."
Accessibility in Windows 7 and Office 2010
Windows 7 and Office 2010 were designed with people of all abilities in mind, including computer users with low vision or limited dexterity due to arthritis, temporary impairments caused by injuries such as a broken arm, or environmental conditions such as extreme glare on a sunny day. Built-in accessibility options and programs include improved speech recognition, an enhanced on-screen keyboard, a mini-translator, and new multitouch functionality that allows people to control their computers using simple hand gestures.
Many of us spend hours a day on our PCs, working, learning and communicating with friends and family. The accessibility settings in Windows 7 and Office 2010 — and features such as zoom buttons on keyboards and mice and in Internet Explorer — are designed to make it easier and more comfortable for people to personalize their PCs and achieve greater convenience and productivity. While some of these features are not well known, people who use them find them very valuable. Better yet, these built-in accessibility features and options are available at no extra charge.
"Microsoft started developing accessible technology more than 20 years ago to make sure our products would work well for people with severe disabilities such as blindness and quadriplegia," says Rob Sinclair, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft. "We soon discovered that by addressing the needs of people across a wider range of abilities and making our products more accessible, we were creating operating systems and applications that were more flexible and functional for everyone.
"The accessibility options in Windows 7 and Office 2010 are also very beneficial for an aging work force — people in their 50s, 60s and beyond," he says. "As people age, they often experience functional limitations that can undermine their productivity or interfere with job performance. Windows 7 and Office 2010 help to remove those limitations."
According to Andrea Taylor, director of North America community affairs at Microsoft, the accessibility features in Windows 7 and Office 2010 also play a vital role in work-force development by giving employers access to a larger talent pool of skilled knowledge workers, enabling older workers and people with disabilities to compete successfully for the jobs they want, and potentially increasing ease of use and productivity for all workers. A study conducted by Forrester Research and commissioned by Microsoft found that accessible technology would likely benefit 57 percent of all computer users between the ages of 18 and 64. The number of older workers who could benefit from using accessible technology would be even greater.
"As the importance of technology in business grows, and employers increasingly place a high value on worker knowledge and experience, accessible technology is becoming a cornerstone of work-force development," Taylor says. "Accessible technologies such as Windows 7 and Office 2010 can help to expand employment opportunities for millions of people by mitigating their disabilities and showcasing their capabilities."
Work and the Work Force Are Rapidly Changing
Today, as information and communications technology (ICT) continues to revolutionize where and how we work, employers need more workers skilled in knowledge creation, collaboration and analysis. Increasingly, jobs in all industries and at all levels — from delivery driver and factory foreman to corporate executive — require at least basic proficiency with computers and other digital technologies.
The Magnifier feature in Windows 7 enlarges all or part of your computer screen for easier viewing of text, icons and images.
In a 2009 survey by industry analyst firm IDC, European employers predicted that in five years fewer than 10 percent of jobs would be available to people without ICT skills. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that by 2014 more than 77 percent of all U.S. jobs will require some ICT ability.
Meanwhile, the work force is aging at an unprecedented rate, making older workers increasingly important to the global economy. According to the United Nations Programme on Ageing, one of every 10 people in the world is now 60 years old or older; by 2050, that figure will be one in five. In some developed countries, the number of people over 60 is already one in four; by 2050, people in that age group will account for nearly half the population in some countries. In the United States, the BLS estimates that by 2018 workers over 55 will represent close to a quarter of the work force, nearly double the number in 1998.
In addition, a growing number of older workers are choosing work over retirement. According to the BLS, the percentage of Americans 55 and older who are actively employed will rise from 31.3 percent in 1998 to 43.5 percent in 2018. For retirement-age workers, those 65 and older, the increase in work-force participation is expected to be even more dramatic — nearly doubling between 1998 and 2018. Other countries, from Europe to Asia, are seeing similar trends.
The global economic recession that started in December 2007 may increase those numbers dramatically as millions of older workers are forced to revise their retirement plans and start looking for ways to restore their lost savings and investments. According to the 2009 Retirement Confidence Survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, more than a quarter of workers reported that their expected retirement age had changed during the previous year, mostly due to the economy. The survey also found that 72 percent of workers in 2009 planned to work for pay after they retire, up from 63 percent in 2008.
Yet Forrester Research reports that by the time people reach their fifties, two-thirds will have vision, hearing or dexterity impairments that will affect their ability to use a computer. Accessible technology, such as the built-in accessibility options in Windows 7 and Office 2010, can give many older workers the power to choose how long they want to work and when they want to retire.
Windows 7 and Office 2010 Make Accessibility More Affordable
Jamie Mayo, a senior rehabilitation engineer in the University of Michigan Rehabilitation Engineering Program, sees the value of Windows and Office accessibility every day in her work with people who experience many different types of disabilities and impairments.
Mayo often works with people who have been suddenly disabled as the result of an accident or traumatic injury. They need help coping with their new situation and understanding what solutions can enable them to keep working and live independently. Mayo and her colleagues often use Windows 7 as a diagnostic tool, letting patients test-drive the built-in Windows accessibility options to help determine what kind of technology assistance they need.
"When patients with serious vision impairments try out Narrator [the text-to-speech program in Windows] or people with severe dexterity issues use Speech Recognition in Windows 7 for the first time, the results are often dramatic," Mayo says. "It not only gives them the chance to find out whether they need a screen reader or to test their comfort level using voice commands to control a computer, it also shows them a new world of possibilities."
Many of Mayo's patients are surprised to discover the array of sophisticated accessibility tools that come as an integral part of Windows 7 and Office 2010. A fair number of patients find that those two software products provide all of the accessibility tools they need to mitigate the effects of their impairments, saving them the trouble and expense of additional software or devices. When that happens, Mayo says, it can be a godsend.
"Most medical insurance plans don't cover the cost of assistive technology devices and programs," Mayo says. "The built-in accessibility features in Windows 7 and Office 2010 sometimes make the difference between people getting the help they need or getting no help at all."
Accessibility Is Trustworthy Computing
At Microsoft, making technology and online information more accessible started as a way to help people with disabilities enhance their quality of life. That is still an integral part of the mission, but it has grown beyond that. Along with striving to make its own products more accessible with every new release, Microsoft also provides an exceptional platform that other companies can use to develop specialty assistive technology products that run on Windows.
"We know from long experience that accessible technology can change lives by offering people more options and helping them realize their full potential," Sinclair says. "As the work force continues to age and people decide to work longer — whether as a matter of choice or necessity — Microsoft is committed to giving workers the tools they need to be competitive and productive at every stage of their careers. We see our work on accessibility as both a responsibility and an opportunity to make the world better every day."