“Spirit of the ADA” Torch Relay

Remarks of Greg Lowney



Microsoft Accessibility Strategist




“Spirit of the ADA” Torch Relay




August 3, 2000

Delivered on August 3, 2000, by Greg Lowney at the Spirit of the ADA Torch Relay ceremony at the Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. Other speakers included Judy Brewer of the Web Accessibility Initiative, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, and Senator Edward Kennedy. Mr. Lowney was presented with the Ron Mace Designing for the 21st Century Award for his work in promoting accessible design inside and outside of Microsoft.

Introduction

Thank you.

On behalf of Microsoft and myself let me say that we’re very honored to be included on such an important occasion, with such a distinguished group of speakers, and in the state of Massachusetts, which has done so much to further the cause of universal access.

The Role of Technology

The passage of the ADA ten years ago was a landmark achievement that brought about many changes, including empowering individuals to call for the rights that were theirs ethically, and now theirs legally as well.

My field, accessible technology, is about another kind of empowerment. Most people don’t associate the ADA with computers, but information technology is becoming as critical to employment, education, and everyday living, as are our physical surroundings.

The computer industry builds tools for people. Our goal is to ensure that each of those tools is flexible enough to accommodate the broad range of people’s needs and preferences. Not providing separate solutions for some group we call
“other”
, but expanding our definition of
“us.”

And because computers and the Internet touch our lives in so many ways, and enable us to do so many things, I believe that nothing has greater potential to be an empowering and liberating force for people with disabilities.

Progress Is Being Made

When I started working on accessibility at Microsoft about twelve years ago, very few companies were involved, and it certainly was not a concerted effort. In recent years more companies are waking up to the issue…

  • Because the people, as individuals and as organizations, empowered by the ADA, have raised their voices, and thanks to the ADA those voices can no longer be ignored,

  • Because the government and consumers are providing a market for accessible products,

  • Because they need to hire and retain the widest pool of employees in order to stay competitive, and that includes people with disabilities,

  • And because accessibility design makes products better for everyone.

And although most of them don’t realize it yet, they are stronger when our economy and society are stronger, as they are when everyone can contribute to their fullest potential.

Overcoming Obstacles

All of these reasons, and more, show that it’s not charity, it’s not appeasement, it’s simply good business. So why would any company build products that force the user to adapt instead of the other way around, and frustrate and anger a huge number of potential customers?

  • It could be out of ignorance, and everyone here is working to change that.

  • It could be that they’re trading good design for a little temporary savings. That means they’re cutting corners, when they should be cutting curbs!

  • Or they may think it’s too hard or costly, but we’ve found that it’s not too hard, and it’s not too costly, if it’s done right, which means using the guidelines that we’ve published and planning it in from the beginning.

Call to Action

None of us have fully succeeded in this, but Microsoft has stated its commitment, and we are calling upon every company to join us, and adopt the four-fold strategy that we have developed. To those companies I say:

  • Make accessibility a standard part of how you design and build new products. Not as a rushed and costly effort at the end, but as a small part of every phase, from design to implementation to testing.

  • Involve the disability community so you understand their needs and learn from their experience.

  • Equip and motivate your customers to make things they create, whether documents or software, are themselves fully accessible.

  • And give all customers the information they need to make best use of your products.

You may be skeptical now, but it will make your products better, your customers more satisfied and more loyal, and turn your areas of weakness and risk into strength and opportunity.

Opportunity for you, and opportunity for millions more of
“us.”

Thank you.

Back to the feature story.

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Designing for Everyone

Microsoft accessibility strategist Greg Lowney today accepted on behalf of the company the Ron Mace Designing for the 21st Century International Award, which recognizes Microsoft’s visionary leadership in universal design.