When the Windows 8 public beta launches later this month, Microsoft will be introducing improvements to two of the OS's key accessibility features, the Narrator and Magnifier. The Narrator — which reads on-screen content for the visually impaired — is said to be more responsive, support more languages and voices, and be able to read additional UI components. It has also been optimized for touch screens, with a feature called "exploring" that will read out what it is you're touching as you move a single finger across the screen. In order to active something, you simply tap it with a second finger.
The magnification tool has also been upgraded for touch screens in an attempt to make navigation easier. When the feature is turned on, a border will appear around the edges of the screen, and dragging your finger along the border will move the screen in that direction, while plus and minus signs in each corner let you zoom in and out. There's also a new preview feature that lets you zoom all the way out to see exactly where you are on the screen, as well as support for pinch zooming.
Microsoft says that these are just two examples of new assistive technologies that will be included in Windows 8. And in addition to being part of the OS, these new technologies are also being built into Windows 8 developer tools in order to provide a larger variety of accessible apps in the Windows Store. The so-called Consumer Preview of Windows 8 will begin on February 29, and we'll be on hand at the launch event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to check it out.