Accessibility Begets Usability
I saw the following post as a comment below a news article on Office 12: "with
its fancy skin, it appears Office has abandoned low-vision users forever."
Nothing could be further from the truth. We have accessibility experts
within every team in Office, including in the user experience team. As the
microsoft.com page on Section 508 says, "Section 508 reinforces the best
practices that our organization already performs." That's absolutely true.
However, our focus on accessibility goes beyond making the software available to
more people. It is my opinion that most work done to support accessibility
concerns results in better overall usability for everyone using the product.
The most obvious example is keyboard navigation. Because some people
cannot use a mouse, everything in Office must be accessible with the keyboard.
But a good design here also benefits expert users who choose not to use the
mouse for efficiency reasons. Accessibility begets usability.
Another example is our support for large fonts modes in Windows. Although
we did the work initially to support people with low vision, it turns out to be
most of the same work necessary to make the product work right on tomorrow's
slick, high-tech, ultra-high DPI displays. It's a win-win situation.
Addressing the comment I quoted directly, Office 12 continues to have great
support for people with low vision, including completely supporting the Windows
"High Contrast Black" and "High Contrast White" schemes.
When a user activates one of the high contrast schemes, we stop using bitmaps to
render the UI surfaces and switch to using colors from our "color table."
In the high contrast case, all of the colors in our internal color table need to
be mapped to Windows system colors--a hugely difficult and daunting task, given
how few discrete colors are available in these modes. Essentially, the
colors available map to the objects available in Windows 95; we're pretty much
left on our own to figure out how to map every color in Office to one of these
It's kind of like the world's biggest sliding tile puzzle, and it's driving the
people working on it slowly insane... but before we ship Office 12, we'll
get it in tip-top shape.
Accessibility is a way of life for Microsoft, and we'll continue to lead the way
in developing software that is accessible both because it makes the software
better for everyone and because it's the right thing to do.