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Microsoft’s education push may disadvantage assistive technology users

Last week Microsoft announced that it will be focusing its efforts on the Education market by releasing a number of new products and a new edition of Windows 10 called Windows 10S. However, the way in which it is being implemented has raised concerns that people with disabilities will be unable to install their preferred third-party assistive technology software.

The move to focus on the education market is in response to Google and Apple’s efforts to dominate the classroom, with Google most notably capturing some market share due to its Chromebooks pricing and locked-down operating system which has allowed teachers to distribute them in the classroom without concern of students installing their own software or overly personalising the device.

The main concern for assistive technology users in Microsoft’s announcement revolves around the Windows 10S operating system. With the popularity of Chromebooks and its Google Chrome OS providing teachers with a lot of control over what goes on the laptop, Microsoft have created Windows 10S to prevent users from installing software that does not come directly from the Windows Store.

While the model may have merit in the context of classroom lessons, the concern is that there is currently very little assistive technology software available in the Windows Store. As such, it’s likely that students requiring assistive technology that is not built into Windows 10 will be unable to install it on a Windows 10S-based system. This may explain in part why Braille Support has only just been added to Windows 10 as without that native support, Braille displays would not have worked under Windows 10S.

While Windows 10 contains a wealth of accessibility features and its likely that a majority of people with disabilities would still be able to use Windows 10S using the built-in accessibility features, the decision to restrict installation of software to the Windows Store reduces the choice of software available. As such, some students with disabilities that require assistive technology software that is not included in Windows, it may be the case that they cannot participate with the rest of the class.

Additional information on Windows 10S can be found from the Microsoft website.

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