Earlier today, I received a question from a teacherabout Microsoft Whiteboard accessibility for visual impairment, and if Microsoft Whiteboard could be used by students with low vision or blindness. I was excited to share with them that the Microsoft Whiteboard app is a great tool for learners with visual impairment, and that I use the app fairly frequently for tasks related to my classwork, as well as other uses. Here is my review of Microsoft Whiteboard accessibility for visual impairment, and how I use the Microsoft Whiteboard app with assistive technology.
What is Microsoft Whiteboard?
Microsoft Whiteboard is a free app for iOS devices running iOS 9 or later and Windows 10 devices that allows users to create and collaborate on digital whiteboards that support a variety of different content types. While users will need a Microsoft account to access the Whiteboard app, they do not need to have an Office 365 account or otherwise pay to use the app.
Types of content that can be added
Types of content that can be added to a Microsoft Whiteboard include:
- Freeform drawings/ink
- Sticky notes with text
- Pictures from gallery
- Copy/paste from clipboard
- Note grid (which organizes sticky notes)
- Template for whiteboard
All of these features can be found on the toolbar, which is by default at the bottom of the screen. Some features are within the Insert menu, which looks like a plus sign and is between the Gallery button and the Undo button.
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After signing into their Microsoft account, users are taken to the home screen of the Microsoft Whiteboard app, where they can create a new Whiteboard or open an existing one. After opening a Whiteboard, users can customize the background color and pattern by clicking on the Settings menu (which is next to the user icon) and choose where they want their toolbar to be located, and then they can start using the different tools on the toolbar to create their own digital Whiteboard. Whiteboards are automatically saved, so users don’t need to worry about remembering to save before closing the app.
Adding alt text to Microsoft Whiteboard
Users can add alt text to all content that is created in Microsoft Whiteboard, including images, drawings, sticky notes, and others. Alt text can be inserted by clicking on the piece of content and selecting the Alt Text option, or the More option followed by the Alt Text option. Alt text is incredibly helpful for users with visual impairments, as it gives users a description of what is in an image or drawing so that the descriptions can be read in large print or with a screen reader.
When writing alt text, users should write out all text verbatim, and include descriptions of images, charts, and other important visual elements. If relevant, users may also want to include the color names for markers/drawings if color conveys an important message on the Whiteboard- otherwise, this information can be left out.
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Considerations for users with low vision
Outside of accessibility settings, some important things to remember when designing Microsoft Whiteboard digital whiteboards for users with low vision include:
- Using an ink color that provides contrast against the background and can easily be seen- avoid colors like gray and yellow when working on light colored backgrounds
- Choosing thick pens/markers over thin ones whenever possible
- Ensure that images that are inserted into the Whiteboard are in high resolution and provide adequate contrast
- Add alt text so that content is accessible for screen readers
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Microsoft Whiteboard accessibility for large print and screen magnification
Microsoft Whiteboard supports the pinch-to-zoom gesture so that users who don’t have other assistive technology settings enabled can easily magnify content on a Whiteboard, and can also explore the screen using the drag gesture. Users can also resize text boxes as needed to make them appear larger on screen. In addition, Microsoft Whiteboard app works great with Zoom and Windows Magnifier, though I recommend using the Lens view to explore each piece of content individually.
Luckily, the Microsoft Whiteboard app works well with Dynamic Type when inputting text on iOS, though for some reason the font on the sticky notes does not scale to the Dynamic Type size, so the user will need to copy/paste the content of their note in the alt text section if they want to read it in large print. Alt text is automatically created for sticky notes and text, though I still recommend including alt text for sticky notes as it displays in large print.
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Microsoft Whiteboard accessibility for screen readers
Microsoft Whiteboards can easily be read by screen readers, as long as the creator of the Whiteboard includes alt text for all of the content- creators can check to make sure they have included all of their alt text by running the Accessibility Checker within the settings menu. I had trouble creating drawings with VoiceOver turned on, however I had no problems with navigating the toolbar or adding sticky notes/text to the Whiteboard, though it was hard for me to figure out if I was writing on top of something based on VoiceOver cues alone.
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What I use it for
Some of the ways I have used Microsoft Whiteboard include:
- Taking notes for my programming homework
- Outlining papers or design projects for my classes
- Organizing my thoughts during my project management internship at a large tech company
- Quickly organizing information for a blog post
- Collaborating on notes for a group project
- Following along with my professor in class- they would take notes on Microsoft Whiteboard and students could pull up the whiteboard on their own devices
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Microsoft Whiteboard is a very useful app for people with visual impairments, as it is easy to magnify information or add alt text so everyone can follow along with what is being presented onscreen. In the future, I would love to explore the app further by using it with a stylus and checking out other Microsoft Whiteboard accessibility settings combinations for users with visual impairments, plus I would love to see an Android version of the app as well. Overall, I highly recommend the Microsoft Whiteboard app, as it is free and easy to use for everyone.