Unmatched commitment to accessibility is what sets Microsoft Office and their other educational programs and apps apart. Today’s obscure topic is how the Alt key unlocks accessibility features across the Microsoft Office apps. Day 96 of 365 Ideas for Office 365 is the Alt key.
Universal Design for Learning
Accessibility is an interesting thing. The idea of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is to provide helps for everybody (make them universally available), not just for individuals with more apparent disabilities. Sometimes our needs are related to a permanent or temporary disability, but some idea that are created for a specific group of people helps the general population. For a commonly cited example from universal design in architecture, think of curb cuts that were designed for wheelchairs access. They’re also useful for people pushing strollers or shopping carts or riding a bicycle.
There are many accessibility features built into Office 365 like dictation and text to speech. One that you may not be familiar with is the way the Alt- key works. Within the Microsoft Office Suite, like Word, PowerPoint, OneNote 2016 and Excel, you can use the Alt- key instead of a mouse. This was designed for students with limited movement that can’t use a mouse, whether that is a life-long condition, or you just recently broke your wrist or had surgery, or some similar short-term disability. Like most keyboard shortcuts, it can also simply more slightly more efficient than using your mouse, like Ctrl- shortcuts. Often it is faster to press Ctrl-B or Ctrl-I than it is to move your mouse up to the ribbon to click on the bold print or italics icons, especially if both hands are currently on the keyboard typing.
The Alt key
Just open one of those programs and press the Alt- key.
Here’s what happens in a Word document.
Now if I press any of those letters, that menu opens. Press G and the Design menu opens. Press N and the Insert menu opens. Let’s see what happens when I press F and open the File menu.
Alt Key for the File Menu in Word
Now that I am in the File menu, I have a new set of letters for new commands. N on the Home screen would have opened the Insert menu, but N in the File menu will open a New document. That means these are not shortcuts to memorize that always do the same thing no matter where I am. Like Ctrl-C to copy and Ctrl-V to paste. Instead, they are contextual, and the key is always displayed onscreen! Also, if 2 keys are required, they don’t have to be pressed simultaneously. (That wouldn’t help much with accessibility, would it?) So if I need to press “Y8” to make something open, I press “Y”, and then the image on screen changes- any command that doesn’t start with “Y” disappears, and any command that started with “Y”, like Y2, Y3, Y4… now reads 2, 3, or 4, because the Y was already pressed.
That’s what happens in the video below. Once I clicked on “C” to insert a chart, I then just used the Tab and up/down arrows to select which chart without using the mouse.
You can do the exact same thing in other Microsoft Office programs like PowerPoint, OneNote 2016, Excel and even Outlook.
If you like this style of directions and screenshots, walking you through ideas for using Microsoft tools in your classroom, check out my book,
All the Microsoft Tools You Need to Transform Your Classroom: 50 Ideas for using Microsoft Office 365 for Education available on amazon in both Kindle and paperback.