45 Technology Centers Poised to Increase Awareness of Accessibility Features in Windows
Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard collaborate in support for centers' efforts
Forty-five centers across the United States—in 39 states and Washington DC—have joined a nationwide network of Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers (MARC). These centers provide much-needed accessibility consultation to businesses, schools, and individuals looking for empowering technology solutions. Hewlett-Packard (HP), a long-time collaborator on accessibility projects with Microsoft, has added its support in the program's second year. Each center will receive a Hewlett-Packard desktop computer running Microsoft Windows Vista—the next version of the Windows operating system.
"HP is committed to connecting people to the power of technology. By supporting these centers with HP desktops running Windows Vista, they are enabled to help us deliver on that commitment to individuals with disabilities or age-related limitations," says Michael Takemura, director of the accessibility program at Hewlett-Packard.
Each center in the MARC network provides training and consultation on computer accessibility solutions—including accessibility settings built right into Microsoft Windows, and guidance on selecting additional assistive technology products as needed. With support from Microsoft and HP, each center will soon be equipped with a new HP desktop computer running Windows Vista, Microsoft Office 2007, and training materials. In addition, centers are supported with Microsoft accessibility video demonstration and tutorial CD sets they can distribute to clients.
Whether an individual experiences reduced eyesight, wrist or arm discomfort, or hearing loss, the MARC centers help identify accessibility options and assistive technology products that can help individuals tailor the computer according to their individual needs, thus increasing the proficiency of most computer users.
In 2006, centers will continue their focus on training and providing consultation for Windows XP and existing assistive technology products while ramping up for the wave of new technology coming later in the year. By early 2007, centers will start providing training and consultation for Windows Vista and new assistive technology products that run on Windows Vista.
Centers Connect Individuals with Impairments to Technology Solutions
A recent study found 57 percent of adult computer users in the U.S. are likely to benefit from accessible technology due to mild difficulties and impairments. Yet many individuals do not know about the accessibility options already available on their computers, and are confused by the wide variety of assistive technology products that are available. These local centers connect individuals with technology solutions that are most helpful for individual needs.
With the support of Hewlett-Packard, as well as the software and training materials provided by Microsoft, it will be easier for centers to come up to speed and provide accessibility consultation to their clients. In the past, these technology centers had the challenge of learning the new products at the same time as their clients. Now, these centers will have a head start prior to the new products reaching store shelves.
Windows Vista Offers State-of-the-Art Accessibility
Windows Vista, the next generation Windows operating system from Microsoft, will introduce a new Ease of Access Center, state-of-the-art speech recognition, magnification technology, and an innovative cross-platform accessibility model for developers. Ease of Access Center (accessed through the Control Panel), provides a central location for managing accessibility settings and tools, and guides individuals in making their computers more comfortable and easier to see, hear, and use.
With the release of Windows Vista, many assistive technology vendors will also be releasing updated versions of their products. In addition to Windows Vista, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard will share information about assistive technology products that run on the Windows operating system to help MARCs stay up-to-date on the latest technology. Both Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard work closely with assistive technology manufacturers to ensure compatibility with their software and hardware prior to releasing new products.
The MARC program began as a pilot program, in spring 2005, with 26 centers. In the first six months of the program, more than 20,000 individuals and 750 trainers were educated about accessibility solutions in Windows Vista.
Local Businesses and Schools Connecting with Local Technology Experts
Pilot center directors report that, in its first year, the program significantly supported their missions and created new opportunities. Businesses and schools contacted centers looking for accessibility guidance and training after hearing about their local centers for the first time through the Microsoft Accessibility Web site. For example, according to the Assistive Technology Resource Centers of Hawaii (ATRC), the MARC program enriched the training that was already underway and helped ATRC expand its reach into a project with the Hawaii Department of Education, where ATRC has provided accessibility presentations in Hawaii's public school special education departments.
After the success of the pilot, Microsoft decided to expand the program, recently adding additional centers for a total of 45 that are participating in 2006 and 2007.