The Cloud Can Support a New Generation of Accessible Technologies

Picture of Rob Sinclair 

This blog post was written by Rob Sinclair, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer. Rob is responsible for the company's worldwide strategy to develop software and services that make it easier for people of all ages and abilities to see, hear, and use their computers.


What is the cloud’s role in accessible technology?
Today, the cloud can serve as a virtual glue that connects a user’s devices. It can hold preferences and settings, including accessibility tools, and allow those features to follow a user from device to device. A visually-impaired user, for example, can turn on Windows Magnifier and Speech Recognition on her desktop computer at home and those tools will be running on her laptop when she gets to work. When a user changes a setting on one device it can be changed on all connected devices.
The future holds even more changes. At Microsoft, we envision a world of accessible devices that can understand and interpret a user’s needs, preferences and immediate surroundings. In this adaptive world, the cloud will allow a wider range of preferences, and an expanding range of accessibility technologies, to follow users wherever they go and on whatever devices they use. Devices, though, will remain the home of technological advances that will continue to revolutionize accessibility.
The key characteristics of these next-generation accessible devices will be multi-modal interaction (including speech, touch, gestures, and eye gaze), contextual awareness (of factors such as ambient noise, whether the user is in car, and the user’s mood), and the ability to be personalized.

Cloud-based tools will be valuable in augmenting these devices…but the powerful assistive technology built into client devices will be critical to the overall accessibility experience—at least into the foreseeable future. -- “Accessibility and the Cloud.” 

The cloud is not a standalone accessibility tool. Instead, it works in conjunction with devices to deliver solutions. Today, for example, a vision-impaired user can scan a label to the cloud and someone can respond with a text that explains the label’s meaning. Tomorrow, the cloud will support an even larger universe of accessibility services that will create a more inclusive society.

Policymakers can help make this new world a reality by supporting existing standards, instead of creating new rules and regulations, and focusing on three key goals:

  • Globally harmonized standards: Since technological innovation can move faster than policymaking, harmonizing existing standards, not passing new laws that prescribe specific features or services, is the best way to encourage a broad array of interoperable products.
  • Market incentives: Policymakers should reduce the cost of developing assistive technologies by encouraging market incentives that promote an accessible technology ecosystem.
  • Public-private partnerships: Governments, industry and consumer advocacy organizations can deliver the greatest benefits to users of all abilities by collaboratively exploring new ways that devices and the cloud can help with accessibility.

 For more, please read "Accessibility and the Cloud" (pdf)


Comments (1)
  1. communotech, inc says:

    This is a well written article and inspires hope for those with disabilities. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that an industry giant like Microsoft has stepped up to the plate so to speak to integrate accessibility into their products. We are a Microsoft certification center for the blind and we really appreciate all that Microsoft is doing. Communotech, INC would like to sincerely thank all that is involved!

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