Access Technology is often dominated by incremental changes; but every once in a while there are big jumps. The big change that was just announced is that, effective immediately, Window-Eyes is being packaged with Windows running Office 2010 or higher. The version of Window-Eyes available to Office users is a full version, available globally and in eighteen languages. It comes with Microsoft speech and eSpeak, and is available right now from http://www.windoweyesforoffice.com/ . This means that, if you are an Office 2010 or up user without screen access software, one of the leading products in the market just fell in your lap. If you already have a license of Window-Eyes, that will still work, and unlike the bundled version, it entitles you to unlimited tech support. Window-Eyes extended apps will continue to work. If you are using the bundled version, you will have to pay on a per incident basis for tech support, or per twelve incidents in twelve months. Installation CDs, GW Connect, better speech synthesizers, and hotkey lists will also be available for an additional charge.
This is a huge development on a couple of different levels. First of all, it is an unprecedented level of co-operation between an access tech company and a mainstream technology giant. Microsoft has made a long term commitment to this partnership. They will also continue development on Narrator, their own, more limited screen access software. Secondly, Microsoft’s decision to include full feature screen access software with Office sets a precedent and ups the pressure on an industry where now two of the biggest players are making non-visual access available to their users for free. It’s a game changer that is likely to affect other screen access software companies and maybe even the whole of access technology in ways that are hard to predict – certainly it may make a dent in JAWS dominant position in the market. Most of all, though, this change puts screen access software in the hands of tens of thousands of users who would otherwise not have a professional quality, business friendly product. That in turn makes it easier and cheaper for businesses to hire blind employees, and easier and cheaper for schools and universities to educate blind students on an equal footing with their sighted students.
The move also puts more eggs in the basket of mainstream accessibility, which makes me a little nervous, though here the involvement of GW Micro gives me some confidence.
This may well change everything for screen access software.