Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2016: The Power of Awareness

The following blog post was written by Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft Chief Accessibility Officer.

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), an international day of action to get people talking, thinking and learning about digital accessibility. For me, it’s a moment to pause and reflect on what I’ve learned since moving into the role of Chief Accessibility Officer earlier this year. It’s been a great and fast learning curve, aided by many of you! I’ve received so many emails from around the globe with ideas, questions and more. As we continue to work on making our products and services more accessible, usable and productive for people with and without disabilities, your feedback is invaluable so please keep it coming!

A lot of the emails were prompted by one particular blog where we shared plans for enhancing the accessibility of our products in 2016. First, I want to assure you we continue to work hard to deliver against those plans. Second, I wanted to share some key themes and programs that I so often highlight in my responses to your emails:

  • Inclusive Hiring: We are thrilled that more and more companies are getting involved and reaching out to get or share ideas on how to better their inclusive hiring practices. We recently created a Microsoft Inclusive Hiring site to provide potential candidates with one place to find information on job opportunities and read stories from employees like Kyle Schwaneke. Inclusive hiring isn’t optional or a “nice to do” – it’s vital to deliver on our strategy. We were thrilled to have 25 likeminded companies participate in our Ability Career Fair this year and will soon announce the 2016/2017 winners of the Disability Scholarships Award. To deliver products that live and breathe accessibility, we must hire great talent with disabilities and advocates that empathize, and look forward to continuing to share more about our journey on disability inclusion.
  • Inclusive Design: The ways in which people interact with our products and services is diverse. This means that to ensure we’re designing products that work for everyone, we must build experiences in a way that is intentionally inclusive of everyone from the beginning. Inclusive Design Sprints enable our designers and engineers to partner with individuals that have a range of disabilities across visual, hearing, speech, mobility and cognitive spectrums. All the resources are online and available for download. If we create a solution that works well for people with disabilities, we’ll help foster better designs for everyone.
  • Windows 10: As we near the one-year anniversary of the availability of Windows 10, we’re making progress toward our vision of more personal computing for everyone. We know there is more work ahead to deliver on this vision, but we’re excited about the progress we’re making. If you are on Windows 10, make sure you have the latest updates, which include improvements to Narrator, Microsoft Edge and the Mail app. Mail on Windows 10 has more intuitive navigation, predictable keyboard behavior and reliability with screen readers. Narrator has improved performance, speed, reliability and usability. We’re working to improve browsing and reading experiences on Microsoft Edge for both built-in assistive technologies and other commercial assistive technology by the end of 2016. Recent updates to Microsoft Edge’s native support for the modern UI Automation accessibility framework were also made. Don’t forget that for customers who use assistive technologies, the July 29 free upgrade deadline for Windows 10 does not apply to you. Stay tuned for details – they are coming! If you’re new to Windows 10, please check out this video to get you started!
  • Office 365: One of the most common questions is what version of Office do I recommend. The answer here is simple, download Office 365. The team is working hard on two simple goals – allow everyone to create more accessible content from a variety of devices and design experiences that allow people of all abilities to be productive on every device. Every month, we’re releasing new updates to Office 365. To be the first to get these, be sure to become an Office Insider. Features like ensuring that others are able to access content in documents by running the Accessibility Checker in Office apps for PCs (coming to Office apps for Mac and Office Online apps by the end of the year). Improvements to Word Online which allow authors to easily add alt-text in documents (coming to additional apps and platforms by the end of the year); screen reader and keyboard/touch navigations for Outlook Mail and Calendar, OneDrive for Business and Yammer (in addition to usability for speech input); as well as the introduction of Tell Me in Office Apps for PC. This team has also published more than 300 articles in the past few months to help you accomplish key tasks. For additional information on enhancements and availability, check out today’s post on the Office Blog. You can also follow our video series on Microsoft Mechanics and check back here for updates.
  • Disability Answer Desk: The top question often comes from a personal place. Ultimately, we all want to understand how technology can help a parent, friend, family member or yourself. It’s our job to make our products easy to use, but we know that sometimes you just need a human to bounce a question, idea or problem off of. The place to go is the Disability Answer Desk. It's a free service that's available in English, French and Spanish in 18 countries via email, chat, and direct ASL video in the U.S.. It provides technical assistance, general tips and tricks, and is a place to share feedback. We receive around 10,000 inquiries a month and the team is ready to help in any way they can. Bookmark it, use it!
  • The Next Big Thing: Many do not know that within Microsoft, there are several emerging projects dedicated to creating technologies that empower people with disabilities to do more through technology. For example, we introduced the Learning Tools for OneNote Preview, a toolbar add-in which improves the reading and writing experience, especially for those with dyslexia. There is also the Cities Unlocked project, which uses Microsoft 3D soundscape technology to help people with vision loss navigate around town. And, at Microsoft’s 2016 Build Conference, we debuted a new research project called Seeing AI, which is aimed at helping people who are visually impaired or blind understand more about who and what is around them. It’s only a matter of time before next-generation technologies, such as the Seeing AI research project, come to market.

To us, this is about delivering on our mission to empower people and organizations to achieve more. The possibilities are limitless and I can’t wait to share more in coming months. Please check back here to continue receiving the most current accessibility updates from across the company. Thank you again for your support, ideas, and thoughts. The feedback you are sending us on your experiences using our products is hugely important as we continue working to improve technology to better meet your needs – keep it coming! You can share your ideas on the Accessibility Forum, take the Accessibility feedback survey, and don’t forget to bookmark the Disability Answer Desk and Accessibility Blog!

Comments (1)
  1. Jordan says:

    I’m very glad that there’s a day dedicated to spreading awareness of this. Many people aren’t aware of how many areas out there are inaccessible to others because of disabilities, and how easy solutions could make them much easier to navigate.

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