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25 June 2021

Microsoft has announced the upcoming release of its new Windows 11 operating system which includes some new accessibility features such as voice typing and an improved on-screen keyboard. However it’s the ability to download Android apps from the Amazon app store that opens the door for significant accessibility benefits.

In its official launch presentation, Microsoft shared the news that the version of Windows will feature a large number of new features. These include a significantly improved user interface, a centered taskbar, updated start menu, improved experience switching between mobile and desktop productivity and customisable widgets along with improved gaming functionality. However for people with disability it’s the integration of voice typing which looks to be particularly important.

In the Microsoft briefing, the voice typing is demonstrated as being supported as an out-of-the-box experience whereby dictation can be used to type into a Word document with punctuation included. In addition, voice commands such as ‘delete’ are demonstrated in being able to remove words and sentences. While voice support has been integrated into Microsoft products in a limited capacity for some time, the demonstration suggests that Windows 11 will bring a real-world practical experience that can assist people with mobility impairments.

In addition, the new on-screen keyboard is showcased which provides a more consistent experience similar to on-screen keyboards available on mobile platforms. Improvements in customisation and the inclusion of features such as emojis will improve the experience for people that find it difficult to type for long periods of time or people with cognitive disabilities that find the emojis an easier way to communicate.

However the biggest unknown at this stage is the effectiveness of its Android integration. Another new feature in Windows 11 is the ability to download Android apps seamlessly from the Windows Store which now supports integration into the Amazon app store. This means that users can potentially download the wealth of Android accessibility features and tools hosted by the Amazon apps store straight into Windows 11. While compatibility issues are unknown at this point, it is likely to significantly expand the amount of software and assistive technologies available to people with disability on the Windows platform.

While there appears to be many benefits, some concerns about the new user interface are also being raised such as the ease in which the centered taskbar will be found by screen magnifier users and screen reader compatibility that relies on the location of the Start menu being in the bottom-left corner. Leaked versions of an early Windows 11 build suggest that it will still be possible to move the centered taskbar back to the left-hand side which could potentially address the issue.

Windows 11 will be available as a free optional update for Windows 10 users in the coming months.