Supporting Accessibility and Inclusion in a Modern Workplace
Would you tell every fifth person who visits your website or premises that you don’t want their business? Would you say to 19% of the working population that they can’t apply for a job with you?
The number of people with access needs is equivalent to the population of China. That’s over a billion of us. When your technology reflects the diversity of everyone, there are no limits to what your organisation can achieve.
Here, we share practical ways to make your workplace more inclusive and accessible and explore how Microsoft 365 technologies enable everyone to communicate, create and collaborate.
"Accessibility is cool"
70% of disabilities are invisible. In the UK and US, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice that of non-disabled job-seekers.
TD Bank is a multi-national corporation with 25 million customers and 85,000 employees. Its focus is on hiring talent with disabilities; 6% of its employees have a disability. “If you don’t make your workplace accessible you’re missing out on a huge amount of talent,” says Julie Branscombe, Inclusion and Diversity Lead.
Bert Floyd, the bank’s Team Lead of Assistive Technologies also highlights why accessibility and inclusion in the workplace is vital: “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s good for business.“
Sometimes, a technology invented for people with disabilities becomes mainstream. A great example is audio books, which were intended to provide reading materials for injured World War I veterans. Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, sums it up: “Accessibility is cool. If you design for every single person, you’ll create things that work brilliantly for someone with a disability but have massive implications for everyone else.”
One of the earliest examples of accessibility is the typewriter. In the early 1800s, Italian nobleman Pellegrino Turri invented the machine for his blind friend, Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano. Today, Microsoft - with over a billion customers with different perspectives, backgrounds and skills – leads the way in making the world a more accessible place.
Improving Accessibility In the Workplace - Where do You Begin?
“To address a diverse customer base, you need diverse perspectives. It’s clear from the research that diverse teams are better teams.”
- Jeff Teper, Corporate Vice President, Office 365 at Microsoft.
Teper and his team focus on making Microsoft 365 accessible by design. Accessibility needn’t be complicated or expensive. As Chris Schlechty, the accessibility champion in Teper’s team and Senior Software Engineer puts it: “I think of accessibility as a set of tools that allow individuals to do their work or daily life tasks as no different from somebody with glasses.”
Jill Houghton, President and CEO at Disability:IN reinforces this view: “Driving disability inclusion as an individual may seem daunting, but everybody’s got to start somewhere. You don’t have to recreate the wheel.”
Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Head of Accessibility at Microsoft, offers practical advice: “If you’re wondering where to start with the inclusion of people with disabilities, hire someone. Find an incredible individual who will empower your organisation with the expertise you may not have had before.”
Microsoft 365: Modern Approaches for Digital Inclusion in the Workplace
“If you’re not designing accessibility in, chances are you’re designing it out.”
- Minnie Baragwanath, CEO and Founder at Be. Accessible
You may be surprised to discover that accessibility functionality exists in tools you already use, such as Windows 10 and Office 365. Here’s a quick tour of some features Microsoft has been working on:
Think of the checker as the accessibility equivalent of spell-checking. It will catch an issue like low contrast text, where you’ve got a text colour on a background colour that isn’t readable to somebody. As well as spotting issues, the tool allows you to fix them as you go.
Ease of Access
On top of the accessibility work Microsoft's doing in Office applications, it’s making a big set of improvements in Windows 10.
Previously, accessibility settings were in different places in Windows. Microsoft has brought them together in an area called Ease of Access. This means you can go to one place in Windows and adjust the settings to meet your needs.
- Ease of Access: make your PC easier to use – applies to Windows 10
NarratorNarrator is a screen-reading app built into Windows 10.
Another area Microsoft has done more work around is colour filters. In response to different sensitivities to light and colours that people have, it has added more options. By popular demand, this includes greyscale inversion.
For people who use their eyes as a way of tracking the mouse in Windows and selecting items. Microsoft gives you more fine-grain control over this.
The faster people can select the right word, the easier it is for them. To improve this, Microsoft has done work in core Windows.
A big area of innovation for Microsoft is the application of AI. With Translator, Microsoft realises its vision to artificially understand content, speech and gestures.
Translate text, conversations and images in a browser or on your preferred mobile device. Use the Microsoft Translator text and speech translation API (application programming interface) to interact with your clients and partners across the globe.
This is an inspiring example of how the Rochester Institute of Technology uses Microsoft Translator to scale accessibility support in its classrooms.
Microsoft's Core Accessibility Resources
Vision – distinguish colours, do things quickly with Tell Me, experience maps in 3D sound with Soundscape, and more.
Hearing – present with real-time subtitles, auto-generate captions for videos, and other features.
Neurodiversity – get things done without distractions, improve reading comprehension, and extra tools to explore.
Mobility – type and navigate with your voice, click with your eyes, work with your keyboard only.
Mental Health – get in the zone, stay on top of your to-dos.
Learning – improve writing quality, type with confidence.
Windows accessibility – features to help you do more.
Summing it Up
To declare one has a disability is an individual, and sometimes deeply personal, decision. By supporting accessibility and inclusion in the workplace by default and providing tools so people can self-accommodate, you won't force anyone to put up their hand. And if they're a potential customer, you won't compel them to go elsewhere.
Microsoft technologies allow people to find ways to make their computing experience more comfortable, so they can embrace more of what the world - and the workplace - has to offer. Accessible tech enables you and your organisation to connect with a broader talent pool and bigger client base.
Fundamentally, no workplace is truly modern until it's accessible and inclusive to all.
You don't need to do everything at once, nor do you have to break the bank. Many of the tools mentioned here can be yours in minutes. Even a small change could make a noticeable difference to someone with an accessibility need. That same person may go on to make a huge contribution to your business.