Accessibility of accessibility – Windows 11

At TechAbility we spend lots of time training people in how to use the in-built accessibility settings on devices. In Windows 10 there are some great settings which really make a difference, but sometimes they can be tricky to find. Often a setting is ‘buried’ and requires knowledge of how to get to the setting, before it can even be changed. If people can’t find a setting quickly, or have to learn a process to find it, there’s already a barrier to it being used.

I was really encouraged to see the publicity for Windows 11 talking about the end of the Ease of Access Centre and the move to an Accessibility menu under Settings. My hope is that this will centralise all the accessiblity tools and lead to a more straightforward approach. I downloaded a preview build to try it for myself and for this post I’m just focussing on how the tools are accessed rather than any changes to the tools themselves (hence the title: Accessibility of accessiblity).Windwos 11 Settings menu showing Accessibility options

The settings menu has changed and as promised, Accessiblity has its own section containing links to tools such as Text size, Mouse, pointer and touch, Magnifier and Keyboard. This is really encouraging and will mean people can go to a single point by using the Win + U shortcut.

Importantly all the accessiblity settings are listed here. The icons have been carried over from Windows 7 and give an additional cue to each element. One negative throughout the whole settings is the light grey text (beloved of so many web designers) which makes the descriptions hard to read. Also the scrollbar on the right is also very thin. Hopefully, these will be changed in the final release.

Looking through various accessiblity settings I was very pleased to see everything appeared to be integrated, toggle buttons to turn features on and off and settings changes e.g. timings adjusted in situ.

Filter keys settings showing toggle buttons and timing changes

This is really encouraging to see and gives an experience much more akin to iOS, where the accessiblity settings have been consolidated for some time.

I did manage to find a buried, pop-up window in the mouse settings. The settings for mouse accessiblity are integrated – pointer speed, size and colour – but I always show people how to adjust Double-click speed and activate Click-lock and Snap-to. Getting to these settings involves a pop-up window (shown in the image below) which I really hope is just part of the preview and will be fixed in the final build.

Windows settings showing pop-up window for additional mouse settings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Settings search feature is good, though does not seem to be different from Windows 7. Importantly after you use the keyboard shortcut Win + U to get to Accessiblity the focus is in the search box. This ties in well with the accessiblity of accessibility as the process to get to a setting can now be as straightforward as: Press Win + U, then type what you are looking for.

This new integrated menu will hopefully make a difference for both the users of accessiblity tools and the people who support them.

 

Note: Any negatives here have been fed back to Microsoft using the Feedback Hub you can Up Vote the mouse issue to help bring to Microsoft’s attention.  If you want to feedback to Microsoft press Win + F when on a Windows machine.

Window 11 will be released in late 2021.

 

Fil McIntyre, TechAbility Manager and Assistive Technology Lead

4 Questions to ask IT support teams

Icon of human surrounded by circle

IT teams help to keep organisations running, but they don’t always understand the access requirements of the people that organisations support[1]. Many of the access issues we come across at TechAbility require solutions at an organisational, not an individual level.

Implementing these changes will increase access for all learners and many staff.

Here are 4 questions to ask your IT support teams. Ask nicely (and take biscuits!) but if you aren’t getting positive responses you might want to point out the advantages and legalities below to a member of your leadership team.

1. Can learners change accessibility settings?

All operating systems have some accessiblity settings built in. This includes Windows, MacOS, Android, Chrome and iOS (iPad). Getting to these settings means users can make changes which to increase their productivity for example text and icon size, high contrast display, mouse or touch sensitivity, colour blindness filters…

Often these settings are locked down along with other settings which we would not want users to adjust, but permissions can be granted for accessiblity settings and still leave the others locked. It is also not acceptable for administrators to make changes for users and then lock again; a user might need to adjust settings dependent on their access needs throughout a day or week, or dependent on their environment.

It is important that teaching and support staff also know how to adjust the accessibility settings so they can assist users.

2. Do the accessibility settings follow the user?

This does depend on the operating system being used but, wherever possible, once set the accessiblity features should not have to be reset every time a user logs into a different machine.

In a Windows system this can be achieved through User Experience Virtualisation (UE-V) or Roaming User Profiles. These also have functionality outside of accessiblity settings. Even if UE-V or Roaming Profiles are already being used, the question needs to be asked whether accessiblity settings are included.

On Chromebook/Google Classroom accessiblity settings should follow the user, but check that any Chrome accessiblity extensions are not blocked.

3. Can log-ins be more accessible?

Many people with literacy difficulties can struggle to remember long or complex passwords. The standard requirement for letters, numbers and symbols can be overly complex and lead to frustration. Passwords can be just as secure using combinations of unrelated words instead and these are easier to visualise and therefore remember. The National Cyber Security Centre recommend this approach. Password policy: updating your approach – NCSC.GOV.UK

The learner independence benefits of this are clear. IT teams will also spend less less time resetting passwords or sorting out related issues.

Also consider username accessiblity. firstname.lastname is much more straightforward for users with learning disabilities than lastname.firstname  or lastname.initial.

4. Can USB devices be connected?

Many organisations block USB drives being plugged into machines to limit removal of confidential files. Occasionally this policy can be over-enthusiastic and totally block usage of USB sockets. This means alternative keyboards and mice cannot be used, blocking access for users who need to be able to plug these devices into any machine.

Do the right thing

Correcting the issues above is, of course, the right thing to do. It is hard to argue against changes which will improve learner access and independence.

In addition, it will ensure that organisations are not in breach of the law. The Equality Act 2010 states that Further Education organisations must not discriminate against a student “by not affording the student access to a benefit, facility or service” (Equality Act, 2010 Ch2). This statement is identical in the chapter applying to schools.

If you require support to explain or implement these changes or anything else around accessible technology please get in touch with TechAbility.

 

[1]There are, of course many exceptions to this, especially when AT and IT practitioners work closely together e.g. in many specialist colleges. [return to text]

Image is Accessibility by mikicon from the Noun Project.