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Windows 8 will be more accessible to those with disabilities

The new OS will see some improvements in its accessibility features, making it easier for people who are visually impaired or face other disabilities.

The Magnifier will now help you pinpoint your spot on the screen.
The Magnifier will now help you pinpoint your spot on the screen. Microsoft

Microsoft is enhancing some of the accessibility features in Windows 8 to make the new OS easier for people with disabilities.

Certain "assistive technologies" have long been a part of Windows. The built-in Narrator can read text aloud to people who are blind. The Magnifier can zoom in to display content for people who have trouble seeing. Speech recognition allows people who are unable to type to navigate via voice.

But as described in the latest Building Windows 8 blog by Jennifer Norberg, a senior program manager on Microsoft's Human Interaction Platform team, Windows 8 is taking those features a few steps further.

The Narrator will now help you upgrade to Windows 8, Norberg wrote in yesterday's blog post. On a Windows 7 PC, turn on Narrator, and it will talk you through the process of downloading and setting up Windows 8.

The voice assistant also sports some improvements in Windows 8 itself, letting you select a voice, change its speed, and create your own customizable commands. Microsoft is also promising that Narrator will be more adept at reading the Web pages that you visit.

In light of Microsoft's focus on touch-screen devices, Windows 8 users can tap into the new accessibility features by touch.

Tapping a certain part of the screen lets you zoom in, while dragging your finger around the edges helps you move around the screen. Using two fingers, you can also zoom in and out of the screen. Tapping on the left and right borders at the same time will quickly zoom out to full-screen. You can then drag and drop a small rectangle to find your place or zoom in to a specific area of the screen.

People using touch-screen tablets will more easily be able to control the narrator. Pressing the Windows and Volume Up buttons will enable the narrator. Tapping a certain part of the screen will tell the Narrator to read whatever text is under your finger. Tapping certain icons and tiles will also let it read the name of the application.

Finally, Microsoft is providing new tools for developers to help them build accessibility features into their own apps.

"If you are a user with accessibility needs, we think you will like what we have done," Norberg wrote in the blog. "If you are a developer, build an accessible app and reach a larger spectrum of users! If you are an AT (assistive technologies) vendor, come work with us and refresh your applications using our platform. This is an exciting and compelling release that will change how people of all abilities interact with PCs."

Microsoft is to be commended for trying to making Windows more accessible for people with disabilities. But as usual, the latest blog focused mostly on enhancements for touch-screen devices rather than those for standard PCs.

Norberg acknowledged that "there is still work to be done in Windows to meet all the accessibility needs."

Microsoft just needs to ensure that much of the work will benefit users of traditional desktops and laptops as well as those with Windows 8 tablets.

Here's a look at Windows 8's new accessibility features, via Microsoft: