Edging Forward: Online Accessibility

We all have our preferences when it comes to our internet browser of choice. Be it Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari, we tend to be drawn to favour one above all, usually based on a style, security or branding standpoint. However, in this article, it is the consideration of the accessibility of these platforms which I’d like to bring to the forefront. 

In my humble opinion, today’s contender is Microsoft Edge. For full transparency, this was not my browser of choice for a long time. That is, of course, until Microsoft threw some incredible accessibility features into their offering – Bravo Microsoft, Bravo! I’d like to highlight a few of the elements which really excited us at access: technology. 

These features all stem from Immersive Reader for Edge.

The Immersive Reader has been included on the Microsoft Office suite for a while now, and serves as an excellent way to customise the reading and writing process for users who benefit from line by line focus, alternative colour contrast and much more. This lovely feature is now accessible to websites on Edge, allowing the user to control the way that longer texts are presented to them, regardless of how the original website designers have chosen to display it – magic! 

By removing a lot of the visual clutter that some websites include, you’re able to focus on the content that you’re seeking, be it text or images. I’ve included a page from BBC Bitesize below, before and after viewing with Immersive Reader. You can instantly see how distraction free the second option is. Personally, I immediately see the text much more clearly, as a person who would always choose to read white text on a black background. 

To access the Immersive Reader, you should look out for it’s icon: a book with a small speaker beside it, which will appear on the website address bar at the right hand side when you’re on a suitable website. This is my one frustration about this feature; that it seems as though the Immersive Reader is only an option for website pages that have a ‘worthwhile’ amount of text. Some of the pages on BBC Bitesize which hosted videos with some supporting text were not viewable through Immersive Reader, which was a little disappointing. We can’t wait to see if this is something Microsoft is working to change in the future …

When you do spot the Immersive Reader Icon, you can give it a click/ press, or use keyboard shortcut F9 to enter. 

From here you’re able to access the following range of features via headings across the top right of your page:

Read Aloud

This function enables Microsoft to read the text to you. Customise the pace and style of voice to your preference by selecting ‘Voice Options’, and from there, you can listen back to text whilst following this on screen. Having the playback concurrent with a visual prompt of the word being spoken is a very powerful literacy tool for young readers especially, and allows them this feature independently without the support of a human reader(!)

Text Preferences

Here is where you can customise your display for the style that you can read most effectively. (As mentioned previously, for me that means a black background with white text, in a slightly larger font.) Once you’ve set these preferences, they remain when you access Immersive Reader for any website. 

It is certainly worth spending some time establishing the perfect combination of features; exploring text spacing, contrast options and even the specific fonts, to find the optimum combination for yourself or your learner.

Grammar Tools

This one might be new, even to those of us familiar with Immersive Reader thus far. This feature allows you to identify nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs amongst your body of text – colour coordinating each or all of these as per your preference. Again, this is an incredibly powerful literacy tool for exploration of different writing styles, and the types of language used in different contexts. 

Reading Preferences

The final heading on your toolbar is one which lets you focus the text even further. By highlighting lines of your text one, two or three at a time, the reader can isolate lines of information at an efficient pace which works for them. See the image below:

Picture Dictionary

The final gem in this treasure trove of accessible features is my personal favourite – Picture Dictionary! With this feature switched on via your ‘Reading Preferences’ heading, you are able to utilise the vast Boardmaker Symbol Catalogue to support the introduction of new vocabulary.

For those not familiar with the catalogue, when the mouse cursor hovers above a word which may be unfamiliar in content or spelling to the user, the word will highlight and a magic wand icon will appear (jazzy!). Give it a click, and the word’s associated symbol/ picture will appear on screen. This is an incredible opportunity for learners to explore new vocabulary and advance their reading skills. Given just how much information is available to us online, it is truly exciting that learners can independently expand their understanding of the topics that interest them the most. 

Given the popularity of the Microsoft Suite within educational institutions (we all got to know Teams quite well over the last year or so), it’s really great to see such powerful features within the Edge browser. I’d really recommend exploring the platform to see its potential – it certainly converted a former Microsoft Browser sceptic like me!

For further information on Immersive Reader, visit the Microsoft website here>>

Lucy Brunskill

Lucy Brunskill

Lucy is an Assistive Technology Consultant here at access: technology, with a passion for 3D design / printing and skiing. She can be contacted directly at lucy@accesstechnology.co.uk

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