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Author: Scott Hollier

Windows 10 upgrade still free for assistive technology users

UPDATED 8 December 2017: The upgrade is ending on 31 December 2017. Read article below for instructions on how to upgrade before the offer closes.


Microsoft continues to support the free upgrade to Windows 10 for people that are using assistive technologies in Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.

While the upgrade was freely available to everyone in the first year of the Windows 10 release, Microsoft announced shortly before the end of the free upgrade period in mid-2016 that assistive technology users could continue to have access to free upgrades.

 Windows 10 upgrade page in high contrast

As there is no check by the upgrade tool to confirm if people are using assistive technologies, there has been concerned that the free tool would be scrapped due to people using it regardless of their assistive technology needs. However, as of January 2017, the tool remains available and has been tested to confirm it will still provide the free upgrade.

 Given the large number of accessibility features in Windows 10 including a full-screen magnifier, Narrator screen reader and touchscreen support, it’s great to see Microsoft continuing to help people with disabilities by providing a free upgrade path.  

 The upgrade tool can be downloaded from the Microsoft Windows 10 Assistive Technology Upgrade page.

CES 2017: it’s all about Alexa and the access potential of digital assistants

The world’s largest technology tradeshow, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2017 wrapped up in Las Vegas earlier in the month, and there was one word on the lips of just about everyone there wanting to engage with consumer devices – ‘Alexa’, the digital assistant contained in the Amazon Echo.

Who is Alexa and what’s an Amazon Echo?

The Amazon Echo is a digital assistant launched by Amazon in June 2015. Essentially the Echo takes the form of a box connected to the Internet which is always listening.  You can communicate with it by using the word ‘Alexa’ followed by a command.   Here’s a great YouTube video providing an overview of what the Echo does and how it does it:

Why is the Echo so popular at CES 2017?

In the United States it’s very popular, and a big part of that is due to its price point.  The smaller yet fully-featured Amazon Echo Dot retails for $USD49.99.  With its relative affordability, manufactures have been eagerly making use of the Echo as an easy interface in the home to drive products.   Examples include the LG Smart InstaView Refrigerator, and the C by GE Lamp with Alexa.  Alexa can even be asked to order food thanks to Amazon Restaurants.

How this relates to access

The reason why the integration of the digital assistant is so significant in regards to accessibity is because it adds one more interface choice for people with disabilities.  For example, if you are blind or vision impaired and can’t see the panel on a washing machine, the ability to provide instructions or ask questions to a digital assistant means that the appliance is now accessible.  Likewise if a person in a wheelchair can’t reach a light switch, being able to ask Alexa to turn on the lights in the kitchen becomes a valuable tool at a relatively low cost.  While it’s still important that traditional options are available such as flicking a light switch, having more ways to interact with devices will continue to support people with disabilities going forward, and the possible uses of digital assistants are only just beginning.  If you’d like to read more about how Alexa has been integrated into the devices there’s a great CNet article featuring all the CES 2017 devices that feature Alexa.

Amazon Echo V Google Home

In Australia the Amazon digital assistant is a little hard to come by, so one option that has recently received a lot of attention is Google’s offering into this space, the Google Home.  Like the Amazon Echo it’s a digital assistant that can be activated by saying ‘Hey Google’ or ‘OK Google’ and then giving a command.  There are both similarities and differences in what it can do with most reviews suggesting the Echo is slightly ahead due to being around longer and having more support, but for people located outside of the US it’s a great option.  Here’s Google’s official promotion video for the Google Home.

Other new products

In addition to Alexa, there were some other products definitely worth your attention.  One of the ones I thought was particularly interesting was the laptop with three screens by Razer.  As a screen magnifier user, real estate can get pretty tight when zooming in, especially on a small laptop screen.  The idea I can fold out two more screens would provide a lot more space for me to view my work and I really like that idea. 

Speaking of big screens, the other hit of the CES was LG’s ‘wallpaper’ TV which is just 2.67mm thick for the 65-inch model and is so light it can attach to your wall with a few magnets.  Again from a vision impaired perspective, any giant TV with a crisp OLED display that I can almost literally throw on a  wall works for me, but its estimated $AUD12,000 price tag means it’s unlikely I’ll be buying it anytime soon.

Generally products feature at CES appear in our stores around April so it’ll be interesting to see which products make it to Australia.  Fingers crossed as new technologies continue to get supported, accessibility continues to be included.  

Registrations open for 2017 Perth Web Accessibility Camp

This year my home city of Perth, Western Australia is featuring front-and-centre as the Web for All (W4A) 2017 conference comes to town in April, co-located with the International World Wide Web 2017 (WWW2017) conference.  However, before W4A arrives a fantastic event will be held on 8 February – the Perth Web Accessibity Camp.  The Camp is hosted and primarily sponsored by BankWest and registrations are open.

 Now in its fourth year, the Camp is a one day event featuring a variety of presentations and other things relating to disability and technology.  The keynote will be Dr Andrew Arch from the Federal government’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), the agency responsible for overseeing the implementation of web accessibility by government in Australia. 

I’ll also be giving a presentation at the event. My topic relates to some of the important developments taking place in W3C as part of my role with the Research Questions Task Force including information on WCAG 2.1 and Project Silver, also known as WCAG 3.0.

Other Speakers feature from organisations such as the University of Western Australia, Web Key IT, Media Access Australia, VisAbility and Simply Accessible.  In addition the entertaining Great Debate returns with the topic ‘Getting sued is great for accessibility’.

The event is fully catered including a BBQ lunch, a sundowner event and hot beverages throughout the day.   Tickets can be purchased for $39.95 and registrations are now open on the Eventbrite website.