These are the new accessibility features in the Windows 11 2022 Update
Microsoft today announced that the Windows 11 2022 Update – until now known only as Windows 11 version 22H2 – is now starting to roll out to eligible PCs, and with it come a ton of new features and capabilities. These cover a wide range of scenarios, but some of the most important updates have to do with accessibility. Microsoft has been committed to accessibility across its products for a few years now, and the Windows 11 2022 Update includes some big additions, like live captions and voice access, among others.
One of the big additions with the Windows 11 2022 Update is live captions, which you might already be familiar with if you have a modern Android phone. Similar to Google’s implementation, live captions work in real time while you use your PC, and they transcribe any audio coming from your speakers into text. Live captions work across different apps, and they’re displayed at the top of your screen so they’re always visible.
This gives users with hearing impairments an easy way to enjoy audio-based content that isn’t designed with accessibility in mind. It can also be useful if you’re in a loud room where you can’t hear properly, or a quiet room where playing loud sounds would bother the people around you. It’s an accessibility feature, but it can really be useful for anyone. Also, live captions work even when you’re not connected to the internet, so no data is sent to Microsoft.
Another new feature in the Windows 11 2022 Update is voice access, which gives users the ability to control most of the operating system using only their voice. This lets you open and close apps, navigate text, click items, press keyboard keys, and more, all without having to move your hands. In addition to basic commands, one of the things you can do with voice access is assign numbers to all the interactive elements on the screen, so you can specifically click the one you want. You can also choose to highlight only a portion of the screen to assign numbers to so you don’t have to deal with long lists of numbers.
Microsoft provides a list of commands you can use, and there’s quite a lot, and Windows 11 also comes with a training app to help you get to grips with the basic commands. You can also type this way, so you can quickly enter text in a text box or send a message. Of course, Windows 11 still supports the dictation feature, which is ideal if you want to write a lot of text uninterrupted. Voice access and dictation can be used in tandem, so you can make the most of your Windows 11 PC using just your voice.
Natural Narrator voices
The Windows 11 Narrator is also getting some improvements with this update. This is Microsoft’s screen reader, which turns text and other screen elements into audio cues for low-vision users, so they can still navigate the OS. With this update, Microsoft added more natural-sounding voices to Narrator, so it won’t sound as robotic or automated. The goal is for the experience to feel more like a person is talking to you.
You’ll need to install these voices in the Narrator settings, and there are three to choose from if your computer is set to US English – Aria, Jenny, and Guy. Once installed, the natural-sounding voices don’t require the internet to work.
Focus and Do not disturb
These features aren’t entirely new, but the last big highlight is Focus and the new Do not disturb mode. Focus sessions first showed up in Windows 11 last year as part of the Clock app, but now, they’re integrated more tightly with the operating system. You can start a focus session directly from the notification center, and Focus settings are available in the Settings app.
When you start a focus session, Windows automatically enables Do not disturb, which means notifications from apps will no longer pop up on your screen. Do not disturb is the new name for what Microsoft used to call Focus assist, though it does have some tweaks. In addition to blocking notifications pop-ups, focus sessions also disable taskbar flashing for apps that are pinned or open, to minimize distractions. And, just like before, you can link the Clock app to Spotify to automatically play music that helps you focus when you start a focus session.
If you’re wondering how this relates to accessibility, it’s mostly targeted at users with anxiety. As the number of notifications we get on our devices tends to increase, users feel the need to respond to all of them as quickly as possible, which can increase anxiety when there’s work they need to do. Focus sessions and Do not disturb let users concentrate on what they need to do first.
All of these accessibility features are rolling out with the Windows 11 2022 Update, which you can grab right now from Windows Update on your PC. It won’t install automatically anytime soon, but you should be able to find it if you check manually. Do keep in mind that some PCs may take a while longer to receive it, however, since Microsoft wants to monitor feedback before it makes the update available to everyone.