Let’s make Visual Studio even more accessible together.

Dante Gagne

When I started leading the drive for accessibility in Visual Studio five years ago, I really didn’t understand the magnitude of what that meant. In all honesty, I hadn’t really thought about accessibility as more than keyboard and screen reader, but we’ve come to learn that it’s a lot more than that. From temporary disabilities, like an injury that will heal to neurodiversity, the idea of inclusive design is a great deal more than I had any idea of.

The magnitude of the work it would mean for us as well as the impact of what that would mean has really helped many of us realize how important our mission of empowering everybody on the planet really is. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done, but I also know that there’s more we can do. Inclusive design makes Visual Studio an amazing product for all users.

Today, my day-to-day is less about compliance issues and more about wanting to move beyond “good enough”. We want to find the features and innovations that help our users do the most amazing things they can. Visual Studio shouldn’t merely “work” with a screen reader, but it should deliver an experience that feels fluid and natural.

The only way we’re going to find the next round of features is through engagement with our community. We want to spend more time talking with folks who have disabilities. We’re not prioritizing folks with any particular type of disability, so if you identify as neurodiverse, we’d love to hear from you. If you found something harder while recovering from a broken arm, we’d love to hear from you too. Whatever feedback that folks want to share, we want to know what you think.

And this is only the start. We want the suggestions and we want the pain points. We want to know the behavior of Visual Studio that really stops you from being as productive as you can be. Whether your feedback falls into the category of “Accessibility” or not, please don’t hesitate to head up to Developer Community.

For now, though, I’d like to list a few features we’re thinking about. If you have opinions on these, please follow the links and upvote the ones you feel would be helpful. Feel free to jump into the conversations on Developer Community. We want to know what our community has to say!

Whitespace Rendering

The decision to use spaces or tabs for indentation is a battle that has waged since the typewriter. A year-old thread on reddit provides a strong accessibility reason to always use tabs. But what if that wasn’t the case? What if a visually impaired user who uses particularly large fonts wants indenting whitespace to be rendered at the width of a single character? Visual Studio can identify when a series of spaces is being used as whitespace indentation… who says it needs to be rendered as four (or eight or two) character width?

This feature would allow users to specify the render width of indentation regardless of whether tabs or spaces are used in the file.


Option Collecting

Visual Studio has hundreds of options that allow the user to configure and customize the experience to better meet their needs. We recently added a feature to increase the line spacing between lines of code to make the code easier to read. Finding the specific option you want to change is one challenge, but just discovering what can or can’t be changed is a challenge all its own.

This feature would introduce a new feature in the Options dialog that would reduce the displayed options to only the ones that have to do with accessibility. The feature can also be extended to other areas like privacy or security. The feature would make it easier to find groups of similar options to help you find and customize your experience.


Focus Mode

Windows introduced a feature in Windows 10 called “Focus Assist”. In this mode, the number of notifications is dramatically reduced, but there are still some dials to help the user customize the kinds of things they want to be notified about. Our cell phones have “Do Not Disturb” modes to help us reduce distractions. We believe strongly that developers would want similar control over notifications and distractions in their IDE. But what kinds of things would users want filtered out? Knowing where we can have the most impact would be key for this feature.

This feature would provide an easy way for users to step into and out of a “Focus Mode”. It would also allow control over the notifications they want or don’t want to know about while in this mode.


Audio Cues

Recently the Test Explorer had great responses from the community, particularly the visually impaired and blind community that the audio cue feature has been a real delighter. We want to know if this is a feature we should expand on. Visual Studio used to have more support for this, but over the years, usage has waned. However, we’re discovering that there are some workflows that would really benefit from more audio cues.

This feature would provide more hooks and a richer environment for hooking up audio cues to events in Visual Studio.


Call to Action

Accessibility in software development is a place where applications can do an adequate job, or a great job. We have guidelines and laws that help us understand exactly what “adequate” means, but it takes feedback from real people to be able to do a great job.

For any of these items, if you feel they’d be useful… or maybe you think it’s a great first step but needs a bit more? We’d love to hear from you. Follow the links above with each item and give your feedback. Upvote the items and let us know how it would help you.

If you’ve got an idea we haven’t covered here, you can also head over to Developer Community to provide your own suggestion. We read every suggestion that gets filed and the idea you’re thinking about might provide huge impact to a wide range of Visual Studio developers. It all starts with that engagement and we’re eager to hear from you.