Accessibility support in Lync

Technological support for partially sighted users is a core component of much software today and Lync is no exception.

In the US, companies that supply technology to the American Federal agencies need to conform to the accessibility standards under Section 508 of the American Rehabilitation Act. These are that employees with disabilities must have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use of employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.

Microsoft, like other companies, use a format known as the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template, or VPAT, to help organisations decide whether the software in consideration has the required accessibility features. Here is a link to the Microsoft VPATS and specifically there are a number of Lync VPATs for the various Lync features:

  • Microsoft Lync 2010 Attendee VPAT
  • Microsoft Lync 2010 Phone Edition VPAT
  • Microsoft Lync 2010 VPAT
  • Microsoft Lync Attendant 2010 VPAT
  • Microsoft Lync Group Chat 2010 VPAT
  • Microsoft Lync Server 2010 VPAT
  • Microsoft Lync Web App VPAT

The documents go through the finer details of support for keyboard, High DPI, High Contrast, TTY, MSAA Screen Readers. Three excerpts from the Microsoft VPATs for the support of partially sighted users for the main Lync Client include the following:

Excerpt One

At least one mode of operation and information retrieval that does not require user vision shall be provided, or support for Assistive Technology used by people who are blind or visually impaired shall be provided. Lync 2010 supports the use of screen readers that use MSAA or the object model to access user interface information. Several exceptions are outlined below:

- When reading out the status information, the graphic is also read out to the user.

Excerpt Two

Applications shall not override user selected contrast and color selections and other individual display attributes. Lync 2010 supports contrast selection in the following modes: Black White High Contrast Mode 1 High Contrast Mode 2 The following known exceptions apply:

- PowerPoint content does not follow the high contrast theme. Lync 2010 has a dependency on the PowerPoint Animation Engine to make high contrast completely accessible in this space. The workaround is to share the actual PowerPoint file with all participants.

Excerpt Three

Telecommunications products or systems which provide a function allowing voice communication and which do not themselves provide a TTY functionality shall provide a standard non-acoustic connection point for TTYs. Microphones shall be capable of being turned on and off to allow the user to intermix speech with TTY use.

The TTY option can be set on the Lync Options UI. A hearing impaired user can then attach a TTY device to interpret the incoming media. The far end will have to send TTY messages to the user. The user is given indication of an incoming call through the visual toast on systray (on the Lync icon) - but cannot discern if it is a TTY call coming in. The user can use IM (clicking on the notification) to answer the incoming call from another Lync end point.

Taking Exerpt Two, here's a brief description for setting the High Contrast modes. First, access the Control Panel and then the Personalization option to get to the screen shown below.

In the Basic and High Contrast window, you will see six options. Select the theme that works best for your organisation. For the purpose of showing you how the Lync screens are affected, I've selected High Contrast #2. Notice how the control panel screen instantly changes into High Contrast mode.

Once the contrast has been changed, you can see the impact on the various Lync features in the screenshots below. You may also be interested that the Lync phone edition (IP Handsets) also have a high contrast mode although I have not included any screenshots for it.

In this article, I've focussed on the support that Microsoft Lync 2010 has for partially sighted employees. However, Microsoft's level of support for employees with a wide range of physical conditions is a lot wider and deeper than we've had time to discuss. Should your company have a specific requirement for your employees, it would be worth having a close look at the Lync VPATs.