Statement of Santiago Rodriguez, Microsoft Director of Diversity
U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
July 26, 2000
MR. ROGRIGUEZ: It is good to be here, and I appreciate the invitation. I did hear your comments with a little bit of apprehension when you said that we represented the “real world,” because I come from an environment, I suspect, like many of the others, where 60- and 70-hour weeks are the normal world, as I assume they are in the Senate, and where voice-mail and email are given to you at 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning. I am not sure if that is a curse or a blessing, but either way, these are some of the technological issues that we have to deal with.
We do want to thank you for this opportunity to testify, and as an aside, I would like to mention that I had a chance to meet with the Senator from my home State, Patty Murray, who was not able to join us here today, and that she assured us that she certainly is a 100 percent backer of the ADA, both in terms of the spirit of the law and its intent.
It is a pleasure to be here to discuss some of Microsoft’s significant achievements in employing people with disabilities, as well as our views on how employers could do more. In particular, Microsoft is pleased to reaffirm our commitment to the letter and the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And beyond the ADA, we applaud you, Chairman Jeffords, and this committee for your persistent leadership on other important initiatives such as the 1988 Tech Act.
Microsoft’s commitment to accessibility and an accessible workplace is long standing and I am proud to say even predates the ADA.
As a technology leader, we work hard to make our products accessible. We believe that mainstream technology should accommodate the widest spectrum of users and that our industry’s common goal should be for each new version of a product to be more accessible than the last.
I had a chance at the break to talk with Mr. Leaman, one of the earlier panelists, about how new permutations of technology often are not dovetailing with accessibility in the same way, and how to close that gap I think is one of the critical things we need to look at.
To that end, Microsoft has an Accessible Technology Group which includes over 40 people dedicated to fostering accessibility in our technology, with substantial focus to support implementation of Section 508 of the Rehab Act.
Microsoft sees the ADA as more of an opportunity than a regulatory burden. We believe that diversity — and all the areas of disability in my mind come under the umbrella of diversity — enriches our products, empowers us to provide excellent customer service, and enhances the lives of our employees.
I have staff dedicated entirely to disability issues and making sure that Microsoft recruits, hires, and accommodates employees with disabilities. Beginning with employee orientation, we educate all employees about the importance of accommodating people with disabilities and about how anyone can obtain an accommodation. As needed, we offer structural tools, such as ergonomic furniture and door-openers. For example, we have a Department of Ergonomics just to deal with anybody’s individual needs.
We provide adaptive technology such as TDYs, power wheelchairs, screen readers, and touch-sensitive white boards. Many of our employees benefit from our flexible working arrangements, because what many people need more than anything — even with my bad joke about 60- and 70-hour weeks — is flexibility in terms of how they do their work and where they do it, meaning in different locations.
In addition, Microsoft has a standing committee that meets weekly to review employee requests for accommodations. Mr. Pak, an earlier witness who I think has left, indicated that one of his problems in his internship was that it has taken well over a week for people to even look at his request for an accessible device. That is why I think a standing committee is critical so that people can get not only appropriate resolution but very speedy resolution, because if the resolution is not speedy, it could endanger somebody’s ability to be seen as a performer on the job.
We also encourage what we call employee diversity groups within our employee population, and we now have 20 of those groups. Many of those are the traditional ones, traditional in the sense of their racial or gender groups, but we also have four groups now that are focused on areas of disability, including some cognitive ones — and that is a new development. The most recent one, by the way, from which we are learning a lot, is people with attention deficit disorder. That is an issue that has come to our attention very, very strongly and one that we need to grapple with and hopefully assist our people with.
Our employees with disabilities are typical Microsoft stars, as we would like to say. For example, Peter, a blind software engineer, holds five patents for accessibility in software design. Greg, a quadriplegic software developer, spends much of his day writing code using voice recognition software and a mouth-stick.
Clearly, the availability of accessible technology and other accommodations have revolutionized not only Microsoft’s work force but also the Nation’s work force. More and more people with disabilities have the tools to perform jobs and pursue new careers. However, more can be done to inform people about accessible technologies that can make them shine in their jobs and open new employment opportunities. Some employees do not know that with a minimal investment, employee productivity can be increased, and that is obviously beneficial to the corporation overall.
We have the ability and the technology to accommodate people with disabilities in the workplace, yet many people remain uninformed about and perhaps even intimidated by what is possible. The ADA, in my mind, was the foot in the door. Constant education and greater awareness will push that door wide open.
Here is where the private sector and Government have partnered and should continue to do so. In 1999, for example, Microsoft and 20 other companies partnered with the National Business and Disability Council to create the Able to Work Consortium. Its ultimate goal is to change corporate culture. To this end, Able to Work consolidates advice on recruiting and accommodation. Its website is a virtual job fair. And just today, the First Lady announced that 10 of the companies, including Microsoft, are sponsoring a national internship program for college graduates with disabilities who are interested in high-tech jobs.
This is just the beginning of what we can do and what we believe all companies should strive to do. We recognize our responsibility to reach out, educate and equip the community with accommodations and technology. We believe in setting a good example. It is about leading the private sector by demonstrating what is achievable.
Much has been accomplished since the original enactment of the ADA. We recognize that much more remains to be done. Steve Ballmer, our president and CEO, has stated his belief that in 10 years, technology will eliminate most barriers in the workplace; I share that belief. By striving toward this goal and building awareness of what can be done, we as a Nation can achieve universal accessibility.
Thank you very much.