Empowering all people in the workplace


By Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer, Microsoft

Group of people smiling around a computer. Caption: America’s Workforce: Empowering All. National Disability Employment Month

Every day, we have an opportunity to stand up for each other and work together to empower people to achieve more. For many people, including the 1+ billion people in the world with disabilities, employment is critical to a productive and purposeful life.

Today is the start of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and this year’s theme, Empowering All, is near and dear to our mission. I’m reminded of the progress made since 1945 when Congress declared the origins of this movement. Today, there is a clear call to action to do so much more to change the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, which is nearly double that of those without disabilities. We have the responsibility to come together – across industries, sectors and geographies – to create inclusive workplaces for all. Technology has an important role in empowering people at work, home and play. Similarly, organizations have a responsibility to support employees in an inclusive environment.

NDEAM is an opportunity to motivate the community, but we need to make progress every day. Here are three ways that you (or your organization) can get involved.

Hire talent.

  • Building an inclusive workplace starts with culture. Every person has a role to play in embracing inclusion. There are so many tools available for you as well as tools available you can use to empower others in the organization.
  • Lean into the resources available. Inclusion in the workplace leads to innovation. Employers that are actively seeking out people with different viewpoints and backgrounds will have a greater opportunity to meet the needs of all their customers.
    • We have put all of our learning and the technologies that can be impactful into our Disability Inclusion Sways. Do read and share your experiences with others.
    • HR professionals and recruiters can benefit from sharing best practices and connecting with other employees and companies are finding great talent by adjusting their thinking on how they recruit and interview as shared recently on CBS Evening News.
    • Check out Disability:In and the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable, as great resources for the business community to begin their journey towards disability inclusion.

Empower all employees in the workplace.

  • Creating Inclusion through conversation. We all have our preferred features and settings around the office that help us do our best work. From lighting and ergonomic keyboards, to accessible facilities and quiet work spaces. Everyone has preferences, including people with disabilities. We touched on a few of these in the Wired25 article, and encourage you to have conversations with existing and new employees to help managers and teams understand what employees need to be successful. Remember ~70% of disability is invisible.
  • Check out features built into Windows and Office. Did you know that there are now Color Blindness filters in Windows 10 Ease of Access Settings? We have been busy creating accessible features built-in to the core of Windows and Office 365, like Learning Tools, Dictate, Narrator, Translator, Color Blindness Filters, and more. Our goal is to make technology that works for each of us.
  • Send inclusive accessible content. Next email you send a mail, PowerPoint you create, or in fact any Office365 document you’re working on - remember to use accessibility checker to ensure that your content is inclusive. It’s easy to do, just click on Accessibility Checker right next to Spell Check.

Build innovative futures. Lean into the potential of AI.

  • With rapid advancements in technologies, like AI and machine learning, we are creating accessible technology that can enable all workers to be productive in the workplace. That’s why we announced the five year, $25M AI for Accessibility program in May this year.
  • We want to see more grant applications towards leveraging the power of AI to lower the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, that can impact modern life, and and the third challenge area: communication and connection. Please do check out the AI for Accessibility website and submit your grant application.

We are excited to talk more throughout the month of October about disability inclusion – starting with the first in a series of demos from our CEO, Satya Nadella and members of the disability community talking about accessibility features and products that empower people. On Wednesday, here in the Pacific Northwest, we will host the Microsoft DisAbility Employment Symposium on October 3, 2018 at the Microsoft Conference Center. The event will bring together Puget Sound employers and partners to discuss best practices for inclusive hiring. If you are in the area and interested in attending, learn more and register here.

Keep an eye out for more blogs, demos and news coming out this month as we celebrate NDEAM. It is only together that we can change the unemployment rate for people with disabilities.


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