Accessibility in Microsoft Teams

If you’ve heard anything from Microsoft recently, it’s probably been about Microsoft Teams. You often see statistics being bandied about like “Microsoft Teams is the fastest growing Microsoft app in its history” or “13+ million active daily users”. Teams certainly is a compelling offering for both business and education with its rich feature set, integration with the rest of Office 365 and licencing model. But, with millions already using it and, it being destined to be used by millions more, how good is it at advancing a more inclusive workplace? 

In a previous post, Accessibility in Technology, David called out some of the useful accessibility features baked into Windows 10. Here, I want to look at what accessibility looks like within Teams. 

Windows 10 Ease of Access 

The obvious place to start is Windows 10 Ease of Access, covered in more detail in David’s blog. Ease of Access has been set up to work not only on the base Windows OS but across its apps too, including Microsoft Teams. This includes, colour filters, narrator, sound alerts and more. This means all menus, settings options and content within Teams adjust with the Ease of Access settings you set. 

What about the features within Teams? 

General accessibility: 

Navigate Teams with a healthy list of keyboard shortcuts – Find out more by hitting Ctrl + E to open Search and type “/keys” to pull up the list of shortcuts. 

Chat in multiple languages – Teams Chat will instantly translate a message into your native language. Hover over a message, select More Options and click Translate. 

Teams – High Contrast/Dark Mode  Similar to high contrast mode with Windows 10 (Ease of Access), but if you want high contrast or dark mode specific to Teams, you can toggle these from the Teams Settings menu. 

Immersive Reader for your Office files within Teams – Open and edit an Office file within Teams to access the Immersive Reader. Features include: text being read out loud, adjusting font and background preferences, calling out grammar concepts such as verbs, and reading preferences such as picture dictionary, line focus and translations. 

Inclusive calls and conferencing 

Video calling with background blur – Increase clarity and focus on people whilst offering better privacy by blurring out your background in a video call. Later this year, customised backgrounds will also be introduced. What’s more interesting about this feature is that it was developed by a Microsoft employee who would lip-read during calls, but she struggled to focus on peoples lips due to background interference – so she developed background blur as a solution.  

Live captions and subtitles – Using AI (artificial intelligence), this captures in real-time presenters’ speech and provides captions and subtitles to give deaf and hard-of-hearing the option to read what is being spoken during the call. 

Automatic multilanguage captions – Live captions feature also extends to live translation, enabling multinational businesses to improve communications and engagement to reach every corner of its world. 

Sharing highly accessible content – Sharing content in meetings that is accessible, is as easy as ever. Microsoft Office has come a long way in making it simpler for people to create more accessible content – the Accessibility Checker being a great example. Strong integration with Teams ensures shared content is accurately reflected in virtual meetings. 

Fostering inclusion – Accessibility from the start 

So, Teams, Office 365 and, more generally, Windows 10 clearly have a robust suite of accessibility features, which Microsoft are working hard to continuously improve. However, these tools are only of benefit if used. So, how can businesses empower their employees to use these (and other) tools? 

  1. Understand the accessibility needs in your business – Over 1 billion people in the world have an accessibility requirement – 70% of which are invisible! Is your business ready to empower its staff? 
  2. Involve the right people – Work with people in the business that will benefit the most from accessibility. Understand from them how technology can enable rather than hinder their role. The ‘right people’ doesn’t stop with those with accessibility requirements, but also co-workers and line managers. 
  3. Increase accessibility awareness  Having accessibility technology is great, but it’s only useful if people know it’s there. Ensure you staff are aware of what’s available and empower them with the right education. This is about changing and improving your business culture, not just technology. 
  4. Everyone needs to be on board – The whole business benefits when individuals are empowered to work to their potential. Moreover, with features like accessibility checker and guidance available on creating accessible content from the start, it really is in all our interests to get involved.  

Useful links 

Hopefully you’ve found the information that I’ve shared useful. If you’re interested in finding out more, there is some useful information on accessibility direct from Microsoft:  

Inspirational customer stories from Microsoft 

The Office Accessibility Centre 

Using Screen Reader in Teams 

Windows 10 Narrator 

Learning tools for reading and writing in Office 365