Accessibility Options on Windows Phone 7 on the way

Accessible Windows Phone 7 coming

Touch screen smartphones are not exactly the easiest phones for the blind to use. The previous versions of Windows Phone,  Windows Mobile 6.x had several accessibility options like Mobile Speak and Talks screen-reading programs. There are however no such option for Windows Phone 7, and it is highly unlikely a 3rd party solution will ever arrive. That takes Windows Phone from one of the most accessible, due to select 3rd party software, to one of the least.

On Oct-26, 2010, Mobile Accessibility Roundtable conference was attended  by a number of blindness advocacy organizations, including the National Federation of the Blind, the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (from the United Kingdom), Vision Australia, and ONCE . Along with them a number of Microsoft executives like Andy Lees, president of Microsoft’s Mobile Business, Rob Sinclair, Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer, Chuck Bilow, Microsoft’s senior program manager responsible for Windows Phone accessibility and Richard Suplee, a senior product planner in Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business wing were present at the conference to discuss accessibility options in WP7.

Regarding this  Microsoft officials explained:

It was not technically feasible to build the infrastructure needed to support screen-reading software–no multi-tasking capability, no inter-process communication, and no user interface focus.

Fortunately Microsoft did not however leave it there.

Andy Lees, president of Microsoft’s Mobile Business, said

“Microsoft’s goal is to deliver platforms, products, and services that are accessible. We recognize that there is more we can do in this respect, and our goal is to develop Windows Phone into a compelling option for people who are blind or visually impaired.”

It is a real pity Microsoft did not build the hooks for accessibility into the OS from the start, but like many things this remained on the cutting table in the rush to hit the market before the holidays.  However it is very encouraging to hear Microsoft commit to rectify this issue, which will likely benefit the fully able as well, providing for example better voice control features and allowing us to use screen readers while driving for example.

For more details on the roundtable visit the blindtechnology blog.

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