Bringing our accessibility awareness game today and every day

By:  Jenny Lay-Flurrie – Microsoft Chief Accessibility Officer

Today we celebrate the seventh annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day and announce new technology and resources for people with disabilities. The goal of GAAD is to get everyone talking, thinking and learning about accessibility. For us, it’s also about digging deep into how technology can empower the 1 billion people worldwide who have disabilities. Not only is it important that we do this for our customers and our employees, it’s also an exciting area for technology and innovation to drive incredible impact. In 2011, the World Health Organization changed the definition of disability to the result of a mismatch between what a person wants to achieve and the environment or society that he or she lives in. Technology can play a leading role in bridging the gap. It’s both exciting to think about the tremendous opportunity to empower and humbling to think about our responsibility to get it right.

Technology has human impact. It can empower people like Dan, a devoted gamer whose life was changed by an accident; Nori, who is passionate about Japanese culture and public speaking and has low vision; and Joseph, a first-year student who studies biology at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and is deaf.

While we live our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more every day, on GAAD we are pleased to be announcing the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a new technology to help more gamers game. We’re highlighting AI for Accessibility, which provides opportunities for

inventors and researchers to use AI to empower people with disabilities. We’re reimagining accessibility as an important issue we can tackle together through a short film. And we’re launching a new Microsoft Accessibility website to make it easy to find, discover and experience all that we are doing.

As our CEO Satya Nadella recently said, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” In the long term, we believe that designing with and for people with disabilities will lead to innovations in ubiquitous inclusive computing. In the short term, it’s about ensuring that accessibility is woven into the fabric of how we design and build. Accessibility isn’t optional.

The results are tangible. Last week at Microsoft’s Build conference, we showed a demo of a modern meeting. Microsoft employee Katie Sullivan arrived late but was able to catch up on what she missed by reading the transcript via Microsoft Translator and auto-generated meeting notes and actions made available when the meeting ended. She used this technology side-by-side with her ASL interpreter to ensure she brought her full self and her amazing engineering knowledge to the table. This technology is crucial to Katie and to me as deaf individuals, but the benefits accrued to everyone else at that table. It’s a beautiful example of how accessibility can be effortless, ubiquitous and empowering to everyone. We need to get these technologies into more people’s hands, and we’re excited to share new features that help people play, work and build human connections as we continue to drive awareness.

And it’s just one example of how we are working every day to create a more inclusive world. Here are a few of the other ways we’re ensuring inclusive innovations are infused in modern life, employment and human connection:

Game on!

As I learn daily from my kids, gaming is a huge part of modern life and having fun. I’m thrilled by the progress we are making to empower more people with awesome gaming experiences.

  • Today, we announced the Xbox Adaptive Controller, coming later this year. Designed primarily for gamers with limited mobility, the Xbox Adaptive Controller allows you to create a custom controller experience that can be adapted to meet the needs of people with various disabilities in an affordable way. We gained feedback from people with disabilities and collaborated with gamers to build an accessible controller from the ground up, and I think this will make a huge difference for gamers of all abilities — connecting more gamers than ever before.
  • From the Xbox Adaptive Controller to Copilot and Game Chat Transcription, advancements in technology are playing an important role to make gaming more inclusive. These initiatives have grown out of our Inclusive Tech Lab, a resource for employees across the company to come and test new ideas, receive feedback from people with disabilities and truly make gaming for everyone.

Accelerating innovation

This is a transformative time for technology and innovation. Learning from the past is crucial as we look forward to the possibilities with AI.

  • We want to inspire more innovation with AI, so we were thrilled to announce AI for Accessibility at last week’s Microsoft Build conference. AI for Accessibility is a new $25 million, five-year program to put AI tools in the hands of developers, makers, researchers and academics to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions. Get creating!
  • Just last week in Today in Technology, Microsoft President Brad Smith shared his thoughts on Louis Braille, who created Braille at the age of 12. Louis Braille and today’s Seeing AI inventors share the same spirit of innovation to enable people who are blind and with low vision connect with the world. Seeing AI is an iOS app that narrates the visual world around you. Seeing AI launches today in 21 new countries, bringing global availability to 56 countries— and we can’t wait to hear how you use it.

Accessibility in the modern workplace

We need to make accessibility a priority in the modern workplace to enable transformative change. To make that easier, we’ve included built-in assistive technologies and accessibility features in our mainstream technologies such as Microsoft 365:

  • Empowering people with disabilities to create, consume and share content in their preferred way is a key part of the Microsoft 365 vision for accessibility in the modern workplace.
  • We have enhanced many of our existing features over the past year and created new ones, including Ease of Access settings in Windows 10 and more built-in settings such as Read Aloud and Dictate in Office 365.
  • We are also unveiling new Office 365 features to help diverse teams collaborate inclusively and ensure equal access to information for people with disabilities.
  • Get a closer look at the latest accessible technologies and discover additional ways to foster digital inclusion in your workplace by watching the short film: Empower every person: reimagining accessibility.
  • To help create more inclusive digital environments, we are also showcasing how Windows 10 and Office 365 in Education focuses on creating inclusive classrooms.

Raising awareness every day

Technology has become a crucial component in our daily lives, and learning, sharing discussing how to be inclusive with our technology has never been more important. Look for these opportunities in the coming weeks, as well as ways you can get involved and informed:

  • Microsoft Store locations across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico are proud to host Ability Week from Tuesday, May 29, through Saturday, June 2. It’s a five-day series of events focused on accessibility.
  • Today we launched the new microsoft.com/accessibility website, which provides an overview of all the Microsoft technology available, as well as details of our dedicated Disability Answer Desk support team and more.
  • Coming up on July 1, Seattle will host 4,000 athletes and coaches from across the country to compete in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games for the state of Washington. Microsoft is proud to be the presenting sponsor of these games, and I can’t wait to cheer on the athletes alongside our employee volunteers supporting the event.

 We need your feedback!

We count on your feedback to keep us moving forward, and we will keep pushing to create a more inclusive world for every person on the planet to achieve more. You can share your ideas on the Accessibility UserVoice Forum, and don’t forget to bookmark the Disability Answer Desk and Accessibility Blog.

It is an incredibly exciting time to be at Microsoft. I am proud of our recent momentum, excited at the journey ahead and looking forward to continuing the conversation with @MSFTEnable on Twitter. See you there!

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