There was a time when it appeared that, despite some glitches here and there, Microsoft was really getting the accessibility message. However, there has been actual regression in the area of accessibility with the last several releases of Windows, and the release of the long-awaited Windows 10 is sadly no exception. Despite determined efforts by some access technology manufacturers to remediate some of the issues, the problems with the Windows 10 rollout are a matter of grave concern for all blind Windows users, as well as for enterprise users with blind employees who are considering company-wide upgrades to Windows 10. Indeed, Microsoft has publicly acknowledged that access technology users will encounter accessibility barriers on its own accessibility blog, although of course the company tries to put the best possible face on things. Nonetheless, Microsoft’s euphemistically branded upgrade considerations for those using access technology reveal that:
- The new Windows 10 internet browser, Internet Edge, is not accessible. Users are encouraged to continue using Internet Explorer.
- Users will still need to download a third-party PDF reader, such as Adobe Reader, because Windows 10 support for PDFs is not accessible.
- The new Mail application is also inaccessible; blind users are advised to stick with Outlook.
Problems not mentioned by Microsoft, but which any potential Windows 10 user who is blind will quickly discover, include the continued inaccessibility of the Windows app store, and the fact that a blind user can never be sure whether or not apps downloaded from said app store will be accessible. Finally, Windows 10 is the third successive iteration of the Windows operating system with no built-in Braille support whatsoever, a blow to Braille readers and a showstopper for the deaf-blind.
It’s worth reiterating that the above “considerations” pose several problems for Microsoft’s enterprise customers, who cannot simply deploy Windows 10 throughout their offices if they have blind employees. They will need to individually configure blind employees’ computers to retain access to Internet Explorer and Outlook, and they will need to install third-party PDF readers on each blind employee’s machine.
We continue to hope that recent developments at Microsoft, including progress in increasing the accessibility of the suite of Office applications for Apple computers and devices, hail better accessibility news ahead. The Windows 10 launch, however, can only be described as discouraging and disappointing. Enterprise administrators considering Windows 10 upgrades, beware of the accessibility issues in Windows 10 and the harmful consequences that they will have for your blind employees, as well as the risks they may pose to your organization. We suggest that all individuals and entities affected contact Microsoft and let the company know that its continued failure to maintain and improve access to Windows is unacceptable.
Director of Public Relations, National Federation of the Blind