Inaccessible content is everywhere in the digital world. Nearly 97 percent of home pages on the public web contain issues such as missing image descriptions, videos without captions, and hard-to-read text colors that reduce readability and usefulness for people with disabilities.1 The same issues pervade the emails, slide decks, documents, and spreadsheets we all work with every day. It creates barriers that prevent our colleagues and co-workers from doing their jobs effectively, prevents students from getting the most out of their studies, and prevents authors from reaching their fullest potential. audience. We all have a responsibility to break down these barriers by making our own content accessible—but that’s often easier said than done.
For the past few years, we’ve been working to bring accessibility to the content creation flow internally Microsoft 365—to make checking accessibility as natural and simple as checking spelling and grammar. I’ve shared some of our progress toward this goal elsewhere.2
Today, I’m excited to announce a major step toward that goal with the introduction of Accessibility Assistant in Microsoft 365a powerful set of tools to help creators produce more accessible content with minimal effort—and all in your natural workflow.
Powerful tools help you work, learn, organize, connect, and create.
Accessibility Assistant helps you create more accessible content with less effort
Our goal is to make diagnosing and fixing accessibility issues natural and simple, while keeping you in the workflow. Expanding on existing Accessibility Checker, Accessibility Assistant introduces three key innovations: better defaults to prevent issues before they happen, real-time and in-context remediation to correct issues as they arise, and clear and simple guide that appears in the workflow. Let’s take a closer look.
Make more accessible options by default
At Accessibility Assistant, we bring the same philosophy we follow in building our products to the art of content creation: the best way to solve an issue is to prevent it from happening in the first place. For example, we know it can be difficult to choose colors that make content beautiful and accessible. To help our customers navigate this challenge, we’re introducing something new color picker in Microsoft 365 Apps that takes into account both the creative license and the need for sufficient contrast between the text and its background.
The new color picker experience has two modes. One looks the same as before but adds a tooltip to help guide you toward colors with sufficient contrast. While toggling the high-contrast switch takes you to another experience, narrowing down the available color options that meet the contrast requirements (plus an additional row of accessible options tailored to the chosen theme and design).
Figure 1. New color picker experience in Microsoft Word.
Learn and adjust to the workflow
Our customers tell us they are passionate about making content accessible but our tools don’t make it as easy as it could be. Many have asked us to make our accessibility tools more like spellchecker—flagging issues as they happen and providing simple fixes in the moment. This type of workflow helps creators avoid finishing a project and finding a long list of issues that require time and energy to fix.
We’ve accepted this suggestion in Accessibility Assistant. To bring the same level of immediacy and simplicity to the accessibility space, we’ve implemented a new flag type at call attention to accessibility issues as you write.
Figure 2. Contextual flagging of text contrast issues in Microsoft Word.
The first class of issue these flags will address is low contrast between text and background—the most frequent accessibility issue we see in Microsoft Word documents. When you choose a text color that doesn’t meet standard contrast guidelines, a small accessibility icon appears in the margin. And like the spellchecker’s red squiggles, clicking the icon will bring up a contextual card to help you make a quick correction and move on.
Correct accessibility issues more easily
In keeping with our mission to make Microsoft 365 supportive of creators of all abilities and preferences, it’s important to recognize that some authors prefer to hold off on making changes until they’re done writing. In an internal study of content creators, we found an almost equal split among those who prefer to check spelling and grammar as they work (28 percent), at the end (19 percent), and both throughout and at end (31 percent) .3
Figure 3. When checking spelling and grammar based on internal research.
To support the combined 50 percent of creators who want to view end issues, we’re also launching a new Accessibility Assistant pane later in 2023. The pane provides a clean, efficient interface like Microsoft Editor, with plain-language explanations that will help you address a whole category of accessibility issues more easily. As you click through the list, you’ll be taken directly to the location of each issue as the pane recommends a solution—no specialist knowledge required.
Figure 4. Accessibility Assistant pane in Microsoft Word.
Start creating more accessible content today
As content creators and reviewers, we are all responsible for creating content that can be accessed equally by all. In the coming weeks, we’ll begin rolling out Accessibility Assistant. We will work with Microsoft 365 Insiders community to validate and improve the experience within Word on Windows, with more apps and experiences to follow.
Over time, Accessibility Assistant will completely replace Accessibility Checker in core Microsoft 365 Apps. As it does so, it will expand to cover a wider range of issues and include additional smart features to make creating content accessible to everyone simpler and more automated. Join the Microsoft 365 Insider Program now be one of the first to try Accessibility Assistant, and be sure to let us know what you think using the feedback tool in the app. And there’s no need to wait—you can visit our support site today to learn more about how to start making your content accessible in Microsoft 365, subscribe to my quarterly updates to follow the latest developments, or contact Microsoft’s Disability Answer Desk to provide feedback and access dedicated support.
Start with Microsoft 365 now.
1The 2022 accessibility report of the top 1,000,000 home pages, The WebAIM Million, WebAIM Projects, WebAIM. March 31, 2022.
2Making content accessible to everyone easier—what’s new in Microsoft 365 accessibility features for Winter 2022, Aleš Holeček, Microsoft Accessibility Blog. January 20, 2022.
3Accessible Content and Content Creators Research, Microsoft. January 2021.