In October of this year, CNIB, as well as other blindness organizations were invited to participate in a 1 day, round table event at Microsoft's offices in Redmond Washington. The topic was their new Windows Phone 7 operating system. First off, I would like to commend Microsoft's staff for making us feel very much at ease and for listening to our comments and concerns. As for the content of the discussions, here is what I deemed of greatest importance.
The morning consisted of presentations from various members of the accessibility team, touching upon Windows Phone 7.
-- Windows phone 7 is a complete reinvention of the phone operating system from the ground up.
-- The visual interface is multi-layered, incorporating a tile-like structure; push one tile out of the way and you uncover information from another program.
-- The screen utilizes the modern touch screen made popular by other cell phone manufactures.
-- As for Microsoft's commitment to accessibility. They have created an accessibility team for the Windows Phone 7 platform and, with our, and other organizations input, have a more distinct feeling for the accessibility needs for individuals with visual impairments.
Microsoft is committed to making their new software fully accessible. There are a few hurdles to overcome before this can be done however. The biggest issue is communications between processes. Presently, this particular function is not available, due to possible security problems which could occur if this capability be implemented. Current screen readers require access to process communication in order to relay the information to the user. Although, the designers at Microsoft did not share if there was a workaround, I'm sure it's in their best interest to provide a solution to this issue.
Presently, WP7 does include contrast features for general use, however zooming is not included.
Our discussions during the afternoon were mostly conducted in brain-storming fashion. For example, they asked the participants to come up with ideas, regardless of their perceived farfetched aspect, to be looked at later on as possible solutions. One of my suggestions was built-in Braille on touch screens. Sometimes, fate smiles upon us. See the following article.
Microsoft's Tactile Touch-Screen Could Bring Braille to Tablets: http://goo.gl/gjD7a
The last half hour of the meeting was taken up by Andy Lees, president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business section. Although quite apologetic of the current accessibility situation, he did promise a commitment from Microsoft to come up with a built-in accessibility solution within the next 2 years. Many organizations present at this meeting were visibly upset. They demanded a solution as quickly as possible. I prefer to take the "Wait and see" motive. Microsoft has laid down a solid foundation for accessibility with a highly skilled leader. I recommend giving the WP7 product a chance to mature. it is in Microsoft's best interest to make it a fully accessible platform. I'm sure they will deliver. As an individual who works within the IT industry, I find that it is better for companies to under promise and over deliver.
For more information on the current WP7 accessibility features, visit: