Whiteboard with red markers and eraser.

How I use Microsoft Whiteboard with low vision

Using Microsoft Whiteboard accessibility features with low vision at school, home and work.

I love using whiteboards for writing and working out ideas, as I find it more natural to write with a marker or stylus on a slanted/vertical surface compared to a pen and paper. While I still love my physical whiteboard, I started using digital whiteboard tools a few years ago for collaboration and taking digital notes, as well as creating visual organizers. One of my favorite digital whiteboard tools is the free Microsoft Whiteboard application, which supports multiple devices and assistive technology/accessibility settings. Here is more about Microsoft Whiteboard accessibility for visual impairment, and how I use Microsoft Whiteboard with low vision.

Overview of Microsoft Whiteboard

Microsoft Whiteboard is a free web and mobile digital whiteboard application available for all users with a Microsoft account- no 365/Office subscription required. Microsoft Whiteboard offers multiple input options for users, including stylus, drawing with a finger, drawing with a computer mouse, and keyboard access, as well as options for inserting multimedia content.

Microsoft Whiteboard can be accessed by downloading applications for Apple/iOS, Android, or Windows devices, or accessed with no download required via web application. Whiteboards and other contents are saved to the user’s Microsoft account and can be synced between devices, so I can create a whiteboard on my iPad and view it on my computer later.

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Creating a Microsoft Whiteboard

Types of content that can be added to a Microsoft Whiteboard include:

Content can be added to the whiteboard by selecting the Create icon, which looks like a plus sign on the left side of the screen. Once a user selects the type of content they want to add, they can click or tap anywhere on the whiteboard to add it, and rearrange/resize as needed.

To change the color and/or pattern of the whiteboard, select the Settings icon and select Format Background. I prefer to use a pastel or light gray color because it is less strain on my eyes than a sharp white.

Users can share a link to their whiteboard for collaboration by selecting the Share option and copy/pasting the link wherever they want to use it. For example, one of the assistive technology conferences I attended shared a link to a whiteboard for attendees to take notes or add questions during various presentations.

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Using Microsoft Whiteboard with assistive technology/Microsoft Whiteboard accessibility settings

Microsoft Whiteboard with large print and screen magnification

Font sizes for sticky notes and text boxes can be automatically resized by making the sticky note or text box larger, or using pinch-to-zoom on the whiteboard itself to zoom in on individual objects.

For users that prefer to use screen magnification tools such as Zoom or Windows Magnifier, I recommend using Lens view to examine individual whiteboard items, or the full screen view for exploring the entire board. Pinch-to-zoom or browser zoom supports up to 500% magnification.

Microsoft Whiteboard with adjustable display sizes

Microsoft Whiteboard can be viewed on a computer, tablet, or phone screen. Some users with low vision may prefer to use a larger monitor, while others may want to use a smaller device and position the screen within their field of vision – this may be easier with a smartphone or tablet compared to a computer.

Another option for making Microsoft Whiteboard easier to read is to mirror the web application or Android app to a wireless display, such as with the Google Chromecast – I use this technique when I have to share my screen with multiple people, casting the display to my TV or another monitor. This can be done by casting a tab in the web browser or using the screen sharing option in the status bar for Android phones. I have not tested screen mirroring with iOS devices like the iPad.

Microsoft Whiteboard with alt text

Microsoft Whiteboard supports adding alt text for all content, including ink drawings, text boxes/sticky notes, images, and shapes. Alt text is a short text-based description that describes visual information for people who use screen readers – without alt text, users would have no idea that an object or image exists. Alt text can be added by selecting an item on the whiteboard and selecting the Add Alt Text icon, which is located next to the more options icon with three dots for ink and images. For text and sticky notes, alt text is automatically added but can be edited by selecting Edit Alt Text, which is in more options.

Microsoft Whiteboard with screen readers

As long as the author adds alt text for all content, Microsoft Whiteboard files can be navigated with a screen reader or keyboard access – all areas can be navigated with Tab and Enter, and items can be rearranged with the arrow keys. If I am creating a whiteboard with screen reader users as my primary audience, I will use note grids to make it easier for people to read content in a logical order.

For the authoring process, sticky notes are not automatically aligned to a grid and are sometimes inserted on top of each other, so users will need to rearrange notes to make sure that items are not covered, though there are options to align notes when moving them, as well as resize notes using gestures.

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How I use Microsoft Whiteboard personally

As a project manager

When I first used Microsoft Whiteboard, I was a project management intern at Microsoft who needed a better way to organize notes from my physical whiteboard in my office – my previous strategy was taking a picture of the physical whiteboard with my laptop’s webcam that I could reference during meetings, which wasn’t very useful for collaborating or getting feedback from others since it was a static image.

I divided my whiteboard into sections by drawing thick black lines with the Inking tool and ruler, and would zoom in on each section so I could focus on writing one side at a time. I would group sticky notes in different colors for each group, and add visual content such as screenshots to each section so that it was easier for me to visualize, though another option would be to create separate whiteboard views for each category. If I wanted to, I could add members of my team for collaboration so they could add their own content to the board, though most of the time people wrote on my physical whiteboard instead – if I was at my internship now, I would have asked people to write on the digital one from the start so I didn’t have to guess what they were writing on the board.

As a student

I often found myself wishing I had learned about Microsoft Whiteboard earlier in my internship, but it was a great tool to introduce to students I worked with on a group project in college, as it made it easy for everyone to gather notes about a project on their own device and work in real time on different devices – we weren’t all gathered around one small screen or board.

One of my professors used Whiteboard for a design lesson after seeing my group use it, allowing students to follow along more easily and take screenshots of notes as needed. The professor also posted a link to the whiteboard on the class website for later review.

As a writer

Recently, my primary use for Microsoft Whiteboard has been for taking notes for my creative writing projects, and gathering notes about characters, page structures, plots, outlines, and inspirational images/mock-ups all in one place. One feature I used yesterday when trying to generate ideas was to use the Timer feature, which is next to the Share button, and set a timer for five minutes to do an info dump of all of my ideas on a given topic. It’s a great technique for writing!

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More tips for using Microsoft Whiteboard

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated September 2023

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