Gates Focuses Attention on Accessibility of Technology Products
REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 19, 1998 — In a speech to Microsoft Corp. employees and experts on disabilities and technology, Chairman and CEO Bill Gates today outlined Microsoft’s ongoing and new commitments to making its products accessible to people with disabilities. Gates also encouraged accessibility measures within the PC industry as a whole. His remarks were delivered during a daylong accessibility conference for Microsoft staff and technology accessibility experts representing government, industry and disability advocacy groups.
“This is about providing technology access to people who truly depend on their computers in their personal and professional lives,” Gates said. “We want to address accessibility issues at every stage of product development, resulting in products that are easier to use and, ultimately, more empowering for all customers.”
The exhibits, plenary sessions and workshops that took place throughout the day provided an opportunity for participants to learn about a range of accessible products and technologies, as well as to discuss priorities, concerns and the long-range outlook for accessibility both at Microsoft and across the industry. During his speech, Gates highlighted a new Microsoft plan to further advance accessibility of PC technology. The plan, developed in cooperation with key advocates for the disabled, was reviewed during the accessibility conference and is scheduled to be formally introduced to the public at the California State University Northridge (CSUN) Center on Disabilities’ annual technology accessibility conference in mid-March.
Components of Microsoft’s new accessibility plan include the following:
Strengthening promotion of accessibility through the Designed for Windows® logo program
A significant increase in the number of Microsoft employees focused on accessibility issues
Adding specific guidelines for the company in addressing accessibility in its products
Increasing communication between the disability-advocacy community and Microsoft product groups
Achieving measurable improvements in the accessibility of key Microsoft® products
“For people without disabilities, technology makes things convenient, whereas for people with disabilities, it makes things possible,” Judith Heumann, assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education, said in her keynote address. “That fact brings with it an enormous responsibility because the reverse is also true. Inaccessible technology can make things absolutely impossible for disabled people, a prospect we must avoid.” Heumann’s office coordinates and funds programs that affect citizens with disabilities and directly serves nearly 6 million disabled children and adults across the United States.
During the past year, Microsoft has introduced a number of technologies to enable the industry to more easily create accessible software. Microsoft Active Accessibility, introduced in 1997, lets developers innovate in their user interface without sacrificing compatibility with accessibility aids. Microsoft’s Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange (SAMI) format, which provides closed-captioned and audio description support for multimedia and Web presentations, is scheduled to be released to the public in May 1998.
These innovations complement the significant number of features Microsoft has added to its products over the past six years to benefit people with disabilities. For example, the Microsoft Windows 95 and Windows NT® 4.0 operating systems contain features for people with visual, hearing and motor impairments. New versions scheduled to be released in the next year add even more features for people with a wider range of disabilities.
At the conference, Microsoft Active Accessibility, SAMI and other Microsoft technologies were displayed, as were numerous products from independent software and hardware vendors that focus on expanding technology access for people with disabilities.
“The proactive approach to accessibility shown by Microsoft in hosting this day is unprecedented,” said Randy Marsden, president of Madenta Inc., an Edmonton, Alberta-based manufacturer of adaptive hardware for computer users with disabilities. “Developers and users of computer-assistive technology will directly benefit from the information being disseminated here.”
The advocates attending Gates’ presentation represented many segments of the disability community. Microsoft invited them to its Redmond campus to learn firsthand about the company’s efforts to make its products, programs and services accessible to individuals with disabilities and to review its new efforts for 1998.
Additional information about Microsoft’s accessibility efforts is available at http://www.microsoft.com/enable/ .
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