Making Teams More Accessibility Focused
A big part of Microsoft’s success with making its products and marketing usable to everyone has been user feedback. Microsoft’s customer support includes a dedicated Disability Answer Desk (DAD), which is at the front line of users’ accessibility-related feedback. DAD has been paramount in shaping Microsoft’s accessibility strategy for products and marketing experiences.
“DAD regularly shares feedback from our customers, and that’s been hugely important for helping us know what’s working and where we can do better,” Petitpas said.
The key to building more accessible products and experiences, he said, is fostering more inclusive thinking across the organization. Beyond providing a universal definition, Petitpas’ team has created workshops to help Microsoft employees embrace accessibility and inclusive design. The program includes deep-dives into different user experiences and specific accessibility techniques, such as proper use of “alternative text” to teach skills, while also educating participants on the workings of assistive technologies such as screen readers.
Accessibility in Action
Microsoft is committed to continuously making its websites more accessible, and it’s helping others do the same with its Accessibility Insights tool. Microsoft is also helping others design inclusively with its Accessibility Insights tool. This started as an internal tool, which Microsoft then released as open source. The tool is now available as an extension in Microsoft Edge and Chrome, letting users perform a “fast pass scan” that finds many accessibility issues in seconds to help developers quickly determine what to fix.
Additionally, the Accessibility Checker functionality that’s built into Microsoft’s Office products helps users ensure they are accessibility-minded in their work. For example, in the context of Microsoft Outlook, the Accessibility Checker can assess whether an email about to be sent contains accessible content. Accessibility Checker looks at elements such as color contrast, text and image balance, and font sizes. The same type of “check” can be done for a Word document or PowerPoint file.
“And there are related tools so that if you’re doing a presentation, closed captioning can be delivered as you speak using Microsoft’s AI to convert your speech into text,” Petitpas said. “There’s an enormous amount of work that’s been done to make Microsoft Office part of more accessible workplaces.”
In the gaming side of the business, last year Microsoft made a big splash with the Xbox Adaptive Controller. With larger buttons and additional ports where users can plug in their own specialized controllers, the device supported game play by users with limited mobility. As Fast Company journalist Mark Wilson put it, “Most products are built to work the same for everyone. The Adaptive Controller is meant to work differently for everyone.”
The Inclusion Advantage
The importance of accessibility has grown in parallel with the shift to a more visual Web and more visual technology. At the same time, demand that all people can contribute to the workforce also has increased.
Research from Accenture, titled “The Disability Inclusion Advantage,” found that the 45 companies it identified as leaders in areas specific to disability employment and inclusion had, on average, 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins than their peers. The analysis also revealed that U.S. GDP could get a boost of up to $25 billion if more persons with disabilities joined the labor force.
“There are huge opportunities for making workforces more inclusive through accessibility , and technology plays an important role,” Petitpas said. “Companies that embrace best practices for employees, supporting people with disabilities, outperform their peers.”