Microsoft today announced a set of new accessories to help people with disabilities who cannot use a standard mouse and keyboard create a PC setup that allows them to be productive. The news comes out of the 2022 Microsoft Ability Summit.
The new adaptive accessories, which haven't yet been priced and are set to release in the fall, consist of several pieces: a mouse, a hub and some buttons. All of the products are wireless with rechargeable batteries.
Microsoft's Adaptive Mouse is two small buttons and a scroll wheel that can be modified with a traditional mouse tail. If you have one of the best 3D printers (or one of decent quality), you can also print tails of different lengths, shapes or sizes to fit your needs. The thumb support accessory works on either side of the mouse so that people with strengths in either their left or right hand can use the mouse.
Beyond the mouse, Microsoft has a set of adaptive buttons that can pair with a hub that connects to a PC. The Microsoft Adaptive Buttons are wireless, but the hub is also compatible with existing 3.5 mm assistive tech buttons. The hub also has three profiles so you can switch between devices.
Microsoft's Adaptive Buttons include a directional pad (much like the one on the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller) with eight inputs that can be programmed to different commands; an eight-way joystick; and a "dual button" that rocks in two directions. As with the mouse, you can 3D print accessories to fit on the button base if you need something that Microsoft won't provide at launch. Microsoft also says that people can 3D print button toppers to interact with the PC in a way that fits peoples bodies or comfort levels.
This work comes out of Microsoft's Inclusive Tech Lab, which came out of the Xbox team's efforts when it released the Xbox Adaptive Controller in 2018: a peripheral that made gaming easier for people who couldn't be served by traditional controllers. Last year, Microsoft announced the Surface Adaptive Kit with key labels, an easy hinge opener, and port indicators for cables and accessories.
In a blog post, Microsoft director of devices accessibility Dave Dame wrote that its new lab is "an embassy for people with disabilities, not a space about them," which will feature design sessions, talks, and demonstrations to build accessibility products with the people who will use them.
At the Ability Summit, Microsoft also touched on accessible design across gaming, Windows and Office.
Speaking about gaming, Microsoft touted its Xbox Twitch channel based in American Sign Language and an accessibility-themed world in Minecraft called BuildAbility that helps students understand and eliminate barriers to accessibility. Additionally the Xbox Accessibility Guidelines, which help developers validate that their games are accessible, will add best practices for mental health, text clarity and sizing, and motion sickness.
Microsoft re-emphasized Windows 11 features like Focus, which helps people block out distractions, and system-wide live captions to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some of these features are available in Windows Insider builds and will be in the next release of Windows. When speaking about Edge, the company highlighted automatic image description for images without alt text. The company is also adding a text predictor for writing in the Microsoft Editor.
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