Follow-up: Accessibility in Windows 7

We’ve seen some comments recently posted on a previous post on accessibility and a member of the User Interface Platform team wanted to offer some thoughts on the topic. Brett is a senior test lead who leads our efforts testing the Accessibility of Windows 7. --Steven


Hi, my name is Brett and I am the test lead for the Windows 7 Accessibility team. Back in November my colleague Michael wrote a blog post about the work our team is doing for Windows 7, I’m following up to that and some recent comments about our new screen Magnifier. On a personal note I would like to mention that I’m a person with low vision and depend on some of the technologies that my team produces to help me in my work.

I’ve been using Windows 7 for my day-to-day work for several months, this is something we call “dogfooding”, which is using our own pre-release products long before the public ever sees a beta. I’ve been using Windows 7 as my primary operating system and have found our new Magnifier to be very useful to me.

Now, about our Magnifier, as you can imagine, the appeal of the many features in Windows varies from person to person, we often say that it is like making pizza for a billion people. The same is true for the features my team owns. I’ve read many comments since we released our Windows 7 beta about magnifier, some are from people that have really benefited from our new work, some have suggestions, and others have concerns. I will say thanks for the feedback, we appreciate all types. Those of you that have benefited are mostly people that need basic magnification and appreciate the easy ability to zoom in and out as needed; I fall into this category myself. Those of you that need magnification in combination with custom colors, high-contrast or some screen readers probably haven’t been able to benefit from the new Magnifier, for you we’ve made sure that the Vista magnifier continues to work. Let me explain a little more about what we’ve done in Windows 7.

To go into more detail about our implementation I need to start with our graphics system in Windows. Over the last several years GPU technology has made huge advances and in Vista we finally made the leap to a modern hardware accelerated graphics system, what we call Aero, which takes advantage of the GPU. We often use the term Aero to refer to the specific elements of Windows visuals, such as transparency and gradients. In practice it is more than that, the modern graphics rendering (technically the desktop window manager along with the DirectX APIs) is not just for aesthetics but for all forms of rendering including text, 2D, and 3D all using modern hardware assisted graphics and a much richer API. It takes time, however, for the diverse ecosystem to adopt this technology, perhaps even over the course of several OS releases. It also takes time for Windows and time for software developers and hardware manufacturers to adopt new technologies; so for a time we will have (and fully support) a mix of both old and new. For example, some screen readers do the great things they do by capturing the data that goes through the original Windows graphics system (GDI) and building their off-screen UI models which is why they need to turn off the new rendering. On the other hand, our new Magnifier is integrated deeply into the desktop window manager (“Aero”) to leverage this graphics horsepower and deliver smooth full-screen multi-monitor magnification.

While, as this demonstrates, these advances aren’t seamless, in Windows 7 my team has worked to make sure that we maintain Vista functionality and compatibility while making new investments. Magnifier is an example of this, we utilize the power of the GPU where we can to bring new capabilities to a broad spectrum of customers, and when Aero needs to be off, whether for screen readers, high-contrast or other needs, we maintain the existing capabilities in the product. And by maintaining compatibility as much as possible, many of the tools you depend on today will continue to work with Windows 7.

So, is Magnifier better for everyone? Not everyone, but certainly for many people, but more than that I can honestly say that we have made advances to accessibility for everyone in Window 7. As Michael noted in his posting, we invested in several areas, there’s not only the Magnifier and on-screen keyboard work, there is also significant work to the underlying accessibility APIs. We also actively support the community and recently made a grant to NV Access to help them improve their open source screen reader support for Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comments,