October 15, 2019

Free Built-in Accessibility Tools with Microsoft EDU

Daphne Williams
Students smiling and learning on computers

Why Teachers Need Accessibility Features

Modern classrooms are filled with a diverse demographic of students who each bring unique learning styles into the collective learning environment. Classroom diversity requires differentiation and planning from the teacher in order to support students at multiple levels. By taking its mission statement “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more” into the classroom, Microsoft can take a huge weight off teacher’s shoulders with its unique digital tools and built-in AI that’s focused on fostering inclusive classrooms. All students are given access to these built-in tools, removing the stigma attached with asking for help that may isolate some students.

Favorite Accessibility Tool: Immersive Reader

Immersive Reader is one of the best free tools for students focusing on fluency and reading comprehension. Teachers assign text to their students in Office 365, and then students apply Immersive Reader to receive additional reading support that’s individualized to support their needs.

Need the content read aloud to your students? This app will read aloud in a variety of speeds to help younger students build confidence with fluency and comprehension. Have English Language Learners in your classroom? Students can use its translation features to toggle back and forth between their native language and the assigned text or their own written answers, instantly bridging language barriers. Giving students access to writing in their own native language helps them connect their prior knowledge to new words and build confidence with the language in the classroom. Not sure what a word means? Students can use picture dictionary to see picture representations of the definition of certain words. Immersive Reader even has built-in text-decoding features to help support the estimated 1 in 5 dyslexic students that populate our classrooms.

This robust tool has too many features to name, and it can help bring access and equity to the most diverse classrooms. Immersive reader is currently built into Word, OneNote, Teams, and Flipgrid.

Runner Up: Math Tools in OneNote

Another Note-able tool (see what I did there?) is OneNote’s Math Tools. Math tools is a great way to give your students additional individualized support with math at any time. All students need to do is write in a math problem and lasso it, and Math Tools will solve the problem and offer step-by-step guided instructions. This tool will create graphs and solve anywhere between elementary and high school level problems.

Students love using OneNote as a digital notebook for their math and using Math Tools to double-check practice questions. The app version of OneNote will create a digital form so students can test themselves on similar problems, giving the students more practice. The step-by-step instructions in Math Tools can be translated using the Immersive Reader, ensuring ELLs will have translated math vocabulary support. Teachers have the ability to turn this tool on and off, only allowing students to use it when appropriate.

Too Many Accessibility Tools for Just One Article

While Immersive Reader and Math Tools are our personal favorites, Microsoft has built-in accessibility in every one of their products. With the dictate tool, students with physical disabilities or dyslexia can dictate their answers instead of typing. Teachers can add Alt-Text to pictures in PowerPoint presentations to better support students using screen readers. Teachers can also use the Accessibility Checker built into PowerPoint and Word to ensure they’ve created the most accessible content for their classrooms. This feature will flag any issues that may be created with lack of headings, alt-text, or content ensuring all students to read.

How to Get Office 365

If your district doesn’t have Office 365 (ask them first, you may be surprised), teachers and students can sign up for free here. These tools are available in the browser, so it doesn’t matter what type of device you use, and no downloads needed! Want to learn more about how to use Microsoft EDU in the classroom? Check out the Microsoft Educator’s Community page for free professional development.