Since last September, if you visited any of the offices nationwide for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), you would likely spot someone sporting a #TeamHable t-shirt. Hable were involved in the Better Ways of Working initiative – part of an IT Modernisation Programme -helping over 3000 staff get familiar with their new technology environment.

“Part of this change management support involved working with people with a range of needs and disabilities – either temporary, situational or ongoing. We thought we’d ask Alan, who is visually impaired, a few questions about his experience of working with Office 365 and Windows 10.

Please tell us a bit about yourself


“I have been a civil servant for 33 years, working in a number of departments. In my current role at MHCLG, I provide admin support in the Information Management division. As a visually impaired person, I use a screen reader software package called JAWS, which is an acronym for “Job access with speech”. This makes it possible for me to access the department’s IT systems, but it can be challenging at times.”


What would you say overall about your experience of using Office 365 with a screen reader? 


“Moving over to O365 has been a steep learning curve. As I become more familiar with the layout, knowing where things are and learning the shortcut keys to perform different functions, it gets easier.”


What are the best bits of Office 365 – and the most challenging?


“Teams is my favourite feature of O365. It is an excellent communication tool. I use the video and audio call functions and screen sharing regularly.   Navigating through the folders can be challenging however. There seems to be no limit to the number of levels that can be opened. Having the option to open in SharePoint and then bookmark and/or shortcut those pages, made a huge difference though.”


What would you ask people to be aware of when creating documents aware that they may well be read by someone who is visually impaired ?


“Don’t forget to use heading styles to give the document structure, this makes it so much easier for a screen- reader to interpret. Also, make use of the accessibility checker in the review tab on the ribbon for a quick way of inspecting your document and ensuring it’s accessible to everyone.”


What would be your advice to someone new to using Office 365 and Windows 10 with a screen reader?


“Most important of all, familiarise yourself with the shortcut keys first.  Many of these are similar across Microsoft but there are also some new ones specific to Teams – for example Ctrl+ full stop in Teams will give you access to a list of useful short keys.”

“Apart from that, lots of information is out there in the public domain so if you get stuck, just Google it. And finally, be patient!!”

When chatting with Alan, as I have done on a few occasions now as we have got to grips with some of the complexities and work arounds of using Office 365, I asked him how I should correctly refer to him. Just  V.I. was his reply. If you have ever watched someone who is visually impaired navigate software or a website using a screen-reader you will see the challenges they encounter  but the alacrity with which Alan can follow the voice over as it reads every word is seriously impressive.  Thank you Alan. 

Here are a few sites we found useful:


More Information about JAWS


An overview of basic tasks when using a screen reader with OneDrive for Business 


Microsoft’s help desk for any issues with accessibility


Any questions or comments, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you. 

Coming soon – What does an ex-languages teacher make of the translation tools in Office 365 and Windows 10?