Just a few years ago, only those who were brave, foolish, or provocative would dare mention Microsoft among a room full of computer users with visual impairments. Anger, fear, and dread would take over the discussion. now, you are more likely to hear about tips, techniques, and ideas for running Microsoft applications such as Word, Excel, or even PowerPoint. Users' frustration remains, but the shift from recitations of nightmare scenarios to real world uses of such application shows just how far things have come.
Microsoft and developers of assistive technology have made great strides to meet the needs of computer users who are blind or visually impaired. The skill level of users working in the Windows environment has also markedly improved, leading to a far more positive climate for computer discussions.
As you have no doubt figured out, the spotlight of this issue is on Microsoft. It may be possible to use a computer without using a Microsoft product, but it is rather unlikely. Its operating systems (various flavors of Windows), productivity applications such as Office, and the Internet Explorer Web browser completely dominate their markets.
Choosing to focus on Microsoft was a daunting task. Obviously, we can examine only a few programs here. Windows, especially built-in accessibility features such as Magnifier, was an obvious yes. Likewise, we thought it important to give you some basics about Microsoft's Active Accessibility, the program that is designed to assist access software such as screen readers. Office is used so widely that we certainly wanted to look at the newest version. Although tools for developers may seem a bit far afield, these tools are critical components in developing software, so we wanted to examine their accessibility and how easily they produced accessible programs. Finally, corporations are made up of people, and we decided to talk to some of those working for Microsoft who are blind or visually impaired.
For numerous reasons, we have not chosen to address the potential ramifications of the antitrust case brought against Microsoft. First, the scope of this issue is already quite broad. It also seems premature to spend much time in speculation about the eventual outcome, not to mention possible penalties, of a case when the ultimate disposition is a long, long way off. However, it is hard to imagine the circumstances under which a breakup or imposition of restrictions on Microsoft could foster accessibility efforts. Whatever your views on Microsoft's behavior in the marketplace, we can all probably agree that anything that hinders the ability of those responsible for accessibility to work cooperatively with developers of Microsoft's operating system and applications would likely harm accessibility.
As always, I welcome your comments on our coverage of Microsoft and your views on how the company is doing. (As a matter of full disclosure, I should mention that I serve on Microsoft's Accessibility Advisory Council, which was established in 1999.)
Editor in Chief
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