What you need to know
- Microsoft is bringing new accessibility features to Windows 11 soon.
- These new features include a new Live Captions tool, Voice Access control, Focus mode, and more.
- These features are available now in the Insider Dev and Beta Channel.
Microsoft has highlighted several new accessibility features that are coming soon to Windows 11 during its Ability Summit 2022 keynote. The company is pushing hard on building features that are designed to make Windows 11 easier to use for everybody, including people with disabilities.
Windows Insiders have already been testing most of these new accessibility features in the latest Dev and Beta Channel builds. These new features include a new "Focus" mode, system-wide Live Captions, a new Voice Access tool, and more natural voices for Windows Narrator.
"Focus" is an evolution of the "Focus Assist" and "Do Not Disturb" features from past versions of Windows. It's now built-in to the Notification Center, and can be enabled with the click of a single button. Once enabled, Windows will minimize distractions, hiding Notifications unless configured otherwise.
Additionally, Microsoft has also built a new Focus Sessions feature into the Notification Center, which makes it easy to set a "work" timer that will enable Focus mode for a certain amount of time. When enabled, Windows will turn on Do Not Disturb and also turn of taskbar badges to reduce distractions even further.
Microsoft's new Live Captions feature is a tool that's already available on Android. It's a system-wide subtitling feature, which will analyze audio playing from any source and display text when it recognizes words being spoken. It's a great feature, and it's good to see Microsoft building its own version for Windows PCs.
The feature is very customizable as well. It can be placed anywhere on the screen, whether that be at the top, side, or bottom of your display. You can also change the size, font, and transparency of text and captions panel. Plus, these Live Captions are locally analyzed and presented, meaning you don't need to be connected to the internet for it to work (once initial setup has been completed.)
Windows 11's new Voice Access feature is a more powerful version of the old Speech Recognition tool that allows you to control your PC with just your voice. Instead of using a mouse and keyboard, Voice Access allows you to interact with Windows with words and phrases.
When enabled, the user can tell Windows to do things like "Open Start," or "Switch to Edge" and then further interact with the app with common commands like "Scroll Down," or if the user is unsure what commands they can use, they can ask "what can I say?" and Windows will present all the available commands to them.
Lastly, Microsoft is highlighting more natural voices for the built-in Windows Narrator feature. Remember Microsoft Sam? Well, he's been fired. We now have Microsoft Aria, Microsoft Guy, and Microsoft Jenny, all of whom Microsoft touts as having "natural" voices that are easier to understand.
Alongside these highlights, Microsoft has announced a new Inclusive Tech Lab designed to help it build future products that are accessible for all people. Additionally, it has announced a line of new adaptive PC accessories, highlighted new accessibility features in Edge, and outlined how Xbox game developers can build more accessible games.
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These are momentous changes to the OS, and it is awesome to see how much Microsoft takes accessibility seriously. The only thing I wish is that we could get Cortana as one of the natural voices (or just have Microsoft Jenny voiced by Jen Taylor).
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