Blog Archive

Automatic alt-text in Pictures

Office 365 utilises Azure Intelligent Services for a number of features including dictation, designer and smart lookup.  One of the features we love is the automatic alt-text generation when you insert a picture into an Office document.

We are strong advocates that accessibility is not just important to users who need these features; everyone who creates content should be making it accessible.

A picture tells a thousand words but when a screen reader is parsing a document it will read out the alt-text for an image.  If there’s no alt-text then you’ll just hear something along the lines of ‘picture’.  Not very helpful.  It’s been possible to manually enter the alt-text of course and this is very helpful in online content for search engine optimisation.

Intelligent services can automatically generate the alt-text for you based on the image contents.  If you are dealing with sensitive images, this feature can be turned off in options as it does require information being sent to Microsoft.

Let’s insert an online image into a document to see how it performs.

Button to insert pictures in Office

 

For blatant blog-promotion SEO purposes I’m going to search for an online image of the royal wedding.  Megan Markle Prince Harry Royal Wedding Windsor Castle.  That should raise us at least one place in search results.

Search results for online pictures

 

When I insert the fourth image, intelligent services analyses it and generates an alt-text tag for me.  In this case, it’s accurate but not quite hitting the spot of wedding dress and it certainly doesn’t even try to achieve facial recognition; we know that’s a minefield.  This result is far better than leaving alt-text empty though.

alt text for an image

 

So you’ll get mixed results.  Insert the third image and you’ll get an amusing result of “A picture containing dancer, indoor, sport, red” when clearly the image is all about the military and boys in culottes.

Alt text in a picture

 

Now, we’ll try a business image and search for Donald Trump.  I can feel our SEO going up.

alt text in a picture

 

The alt-text is accurate but again, no face recognition.  Last example to see if there’s some Microsoft bias.  I inserted the Microsoft logo.

Microsoft logo

 

No alt-text was generated but there’s a button in the image option alt-text panel which you can click to generate some.  If you need to use this button, the image was typically not obvious enough for intelligent services to work out straight away so the confidence level will be lower.

Office generating alt-text for a picture

 

Our result?  A drawing of a face.  Perhaps Bill Gates’ face is in the logo subliminally.

 

Alt-text result for the Microsoft logo

 

 


We Try Out Dictation in Outlook

Dictation is being made available to Office 365 applications including Outlook, PowerPoint and Word.  Currently it’s a first release feature but will gradually make its way into the mainstream release.  This is different from the Windows speech recognition feature where you can control your PC using speech and it’s also distinct from the Windows 10 dictation added to Windows last autumn (and only available for US English).

We loved the Learning Tools add-on for OneNote which included dication and a host of accessibility features and were keen to give dictation a whirl in Outlook.

Enabling Dictation in Office 365

Luckily, there’s very little to set-up as this is a feature that’s enabled by default in an office upgrade.  It uses Microsoft’s intelligent services (just like the automatic Alt-Text feature for inserted images) so you’ll need an internet connection – dictation can’t be used offline.  If you can’t get dictate to work, check Intelligent Services is enabled in the File, Options, General tab.  Your Office account must also be up to date.

Office 365 intelligent services in options

 

Using Office 365 Dictate in Outlook

In a new email, click the Dictate button on the right hand of the Ribbon Home tab.  The dropdown menu shows the languages this is available in.  This should default to your Windows locale and having UK English gives me a good excuse to test for UK spelling.

Office 365 dictation languages

 

It’s unlikely many built-in pc microphones will provide good results in a noisy office so I grabbed a Sennheiser headset and recorded the following:

My favourite colour is purple to wear and green to see.  I also like black but it’s not really a colour.
I still can’t get dictation to type pounds.
My favourite neighbour is the one down the road with the aluminium blinds.
I drank too much at a party and made a bit of an arse of myself.
It’s my mum’s birthday soon.

You need to specifically add punctuation by saying ‘full stop’ or ‘period’, etc. and also formatting such as ‘new line’ to add a carriage return.  I was speaking in a normal cadence but did add a bit of a Windsor accent.  This is the result:

Dictation in Outlook

 

Quite an impressive outcome.  I like the way offensive words are automatically censored.  Spelling is UK English.  Why it shortened road I don’t know and the final ‘I’ would have been capitalised had I said ‘new line’ to move to a different paragraph.  And I still can’t figure out how to get it to type a £ symbol.

You can say the following to add punctuation:

Period
Comma
Question mark
Exclamation point
Exclamation mark
New line
New paragraph
Semicolon
Colon
Open quote
Close quote
Open quotes
Close quotes

This should be a real boon for users and because it uses Microsoft’s online intelligent services with machine learning, recognition and accuracy should improve over time.


How to Make OneNote use £

We often run accessibility training for staff.  Not just staff with accessibility needs; all staff should have an understanding of how to create inclusive content and work collaboratively.

A very useful add-on for OneNote is Learning Tools.  This is developed by Microsoft and there’s no charge so we hope it will make it’s way into the native product at some point rather than needing a separate download.

Learning tools includes a dictation feature to transform speech to text and it’s very effective, especially with a good quality microphone or headset.

However, try as we might we cannot get it to recognise £.  Here’s an example:

OneNote Learning Tools dictation feature

 

As you can see, I’m dictating “Host a fantastic Office 365 excitement day from £500” (which is a blatant sales plug for our Buzz Days of course).  OneNote recognises when I say dollars, euros and yen and probably many others that I could recall from my travels outside of Reading (does Swindon use Roubles?) but try as I might, I cannot get it to place a £ sign.

The dictation you see where OneNote has wisely replaced the letters with asterisks was me saying 500 nicker.  Nicker is a slang term for pounds which OneNote is clearly not familiar with and thus thought I was being offensive.

No, OneNote, I’m not rapping, I’m simply trying to get our pricing correct.