Skip to main content
Skip to main content
Microsoft 365

New accessibility enhancements for Office Online

When we first built Office Online, we worked hard to make the suite accessible to blind and low vision users by using a new web accessibility standard called WAI-ARIA. While this web standard has allowed Office Online to be usable with a screen reader, we’ve made some further improvements over the past year to provide an even better experience. We are excited to talk about these improvements and have you try them out.

Location and formatting information

Moving around in a document with just text has been straightforward. Now with Narrator enabled, you will hear formatting information read out loud when you use the arrow keys to navigate in a document. Narrator will announce information about lists, tables, headings, and more.

The following video demonstrates the accessibility enhancement for document formatting:

To enable Narrator, press the Windows Key + Enter.

Reading without moving the cursor through the document

Over the next month, we will roll out support for virtual reading for documents of up to three pages in Word Online and OneNote Online. If you’re not familiar with virtual reading, it’s a concept that most screen readers have that allows you to have text read out loud, without having to move your cursor. Narrator has a shortcut called “Start Reading” (Caps Lock + M), which reads the rest of the document based on your current location.

The following video demonstrates the accessibility enhancement for virtual reading:

This shortcut works when using Word Online and OneNote Online. If you’re using JAWS, be sure to turn on Virtual Cursor (Insert + Z) to start using these capabilities. Virtual navigation features that attempt to move your cursor will not work with this feature.

Tell Me

Tell Me is a capability in Office Online designed to help you save time.  In the Tell Me text box, located on the ribbon, you can type what you want the app to do for you—rather than having to navigate through the ribbon.

Arrow pointing to the Tell Me text box. To navigate to it via keyboard, use Ctrl+F6 until you hear Home tab. Then tab until you hear Tell me what you want to do.

For example, if you are in Word Online and want to change the orientation of your document to from portrait to landscape, in the Tell Me box type, “landscape.” An autocomplete dropdown displays all commands related to the text entered in the Tell Me box. Simply press enter to make the change. To make the experience even easier, you can use Ctrl + ‘ (apostrophe) to move your cursor to the Tell Me text box. Many of the editing and formatting functions can be performed via Tell Me using natural language, so you don’t even need to know the specific name of the function you are trying to perform.

Additional help

We know just how important it is to have clear documentation. We now have library of articles for each app covering how to do common tasks using a keyboard and screen reader. In Word Online and OneNote Online, you can press Alt + Shift + A to quickly get to accessibility-specific help articles. You can also find this documentation at Office Online accessibility support.

We are excited for you to try out these improvements!


You may also like these articles

Image for: Office Online Server April 2017 release
• 1 min read

Office Online Server April 2017 release

We are excited to announce our second major update to Office Online Server (OOS), which includes support for Windows Server 2016 as well as several improvements.

• 1 min read

Office Online Server November release

In May, we announced the release of Office Online Server. Today, we are releasing the first significant update to Office Online Server.

• 1 min read

Office Online—chat with your co-editors in real-time

We recently announced the ability for co-editors to chat with one another directly in a OneDrive document when working in Office Online. Today, we’re pleased to extend this capability to Office 365 Business and Education customers for documents stored in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online. Built on the same technology as Skype for Business, the new chat feature is available in all Office Online applications—Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote.