Microsoft Unveils Accessibility Tech Five-Year Plan

Microsoft has announced their partnership with the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and SeeAbility to support people with disabilities as part of a five-year plan to help bridge the “disability divide.”

During their five-year plan, Microsoft says it will train 26,000 DWP work coaches in accessibility fundamentals and tools that will allow them to create accessible experiences for jobseekers. It said that trained coaches would be able to show jobseekers how they can use free tools at home, in the recruitment process and in digital workplaces. 

Microsoft said its commitment to accessibility would be focused on three different aspects. First, Microsoft said it wants to develop more accessible technology across the IT industry and the economy. Second, it said that these new technologies should aid in creating new opportunities for people with disabilities to enter the workforce. The third part of Microsoft’s plan is to help build a more inclusive workplace for people with disabilities. 

Microsoft president, Brad Smith, wrote in a blogpost, “We believe that accessible technology is a fundamental building block that can unlock opportunities in every part of society. Our work starts by ensuring that Microsoft’s own products are accessible by design, so that as we advance our features and functionality, we can help everyone across the spectrum of disability be more productive.” 

Smith continued, “We will then expand our reach with new tools and data resources to support software development across our industry and by other organizations that create software services for their customers or employees. Finally, we will support this with a broad technology initiative with new support for basic research and new data science capabilities to advance innovation on an ongoing basis.” 

SeeAbility, a charity that supports people with sight loss, is working alongside Microsoft to teach its workforce first, then educate the people it supports through their Creating Connections program. 

Clare Gray, the product developer for Ready, Willing and Able — a supported employment program at SeeAbility — is neurodiverse and uses assistive technology frequently. 

“Without tech, I don’t think I’d be functioning as I can today,” she said. “I use speech to text — it means that I can take part with all my colleagues and there’s really no difference in terms of what I can access. Being able to talk through things like Microsoft Teams reduces the amount of travel time and reduces the environments I have to be in — from a sensory processing prospective, this is a lot more comfortable.” 


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