Microsoft releases tools to boost Web accessibility

The software giant is expected to formally donate the developer tools to the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance, an engineering working group.

Microsoft on Thursday is expected to release a new set of developer tools for products that improve the Internet's accessibility for people with disabilities. The tools, called UI Automation, can be used royalty-free, according to Microsoft's Windows Accessibility lead Norm Hodne, as long as the resulting applications are built to perform within all platforms, e.g. Windows or Linux.

Microsoft formally donated the UI (user interface) Automation developer tools to the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA), an engineering working group that the software giant helped form last November in partnership with tech companies like Oracle, Novell, Hewlett-Packard and Adobe Systems, as well as assistive-technology developers like GW Micro. The working group's mission is to pave the way for standards in the industry for text-to-speech software, screen readers and other assistive products.

Microsoft's UI Automation comes nearly 12 years after the company's last developer tools for accessibility user design, which were released with Windows 95. Hodne said that UI Automation updates its predecessor by offering developer shortcuts and improved user performance--and the two formats work together. Despite the fact that UI Automation encourages interoperability among platforms, they're not the only developer tools in the market. Linux and the Linux Foundation provide APIs for the industry, too.

"First we have to work on interoperability of current (developer tools) across multiple platforms and then we'll work on coming to a single set of (developer tools in the industry)," Hodne said.

 

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