Technology companies are rarely shy when it comes to talking about new products. But it is important to remember that when Microsoft talks about innovation, about the next steps in technology that will change our lives, the company does so in way that remains as inclusive as possible.
During the early days of personal computing, people with visual, hearing, mobility, cognitive or language-related disabilities could find it difficult to take advantage of the new technology, and were at risk of being marginalised both in the jobs market and in the basic matter of communication.
In the past, people with disabilities were fired from jobs because they could not use the technology fully.
Happily, the situation has improved, and Microsoft played its part in this evolution. We have just launched Windows 8, our latest operating system. It represents the next step in the development of software that is truly accessible for all.
We can now customise screen magnification and keyboard controls easily. In addition, screen readers, Braille output displays, speech recognition software and speech synthesizers all make it possible for people with disabilities to use the technology fully.
But most importantly, it embraces the philosophy of universal design, an accessible design model that benefits not just people with disabilities, but also allows people with temporary difficulties such as a broken wrist, or age-related vision impairments, to adapt their technology according to their changing needs.
We believe that accessible design is not only the right thing to do; it is good business practice, because it allows the widest variety of customers to use the products.
For people with hearing disabilities, it means that websites with streaming video or audio files can offer real-time captioning.
For people who can’t use their hands to navigate with a mouse, it means websites can be made compatible with devices such as joysticks or puff straws. And better design of text and graphics can make sites easier to navigate for people who have vision disabilities – and for those who don’t.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what may be possible in the future.
As we move to an increasingly interconnected future, where technology plays an ever more important role in our daily lives, it is vital that those at the forefront of our industry don’t let those with disabilities get left behind.
Chief Accessibility Officer