Reimagining Accessibility in Canada

Kevin Peesker is president of Microsoft Canada   

One in seven Canadians has a disability. This is a sobering statistic, and according to the federal government we can only expect this number to grow given our aging population. Given the importance of accessibility to so many Canadians, our government is expected to unveil the first national accessibility law later this year. 

This month as we mark Global Accessibility Awareness Day on May 17 and National AccessAbility Week from May 27-June 2, it is incumbent upon business leaders in Canada to broaden the conversation and talk about what we are doing to increase accessibility in the workplace. This is in my view a non-negotiable… Commercial and Public Sector leaders need to prioritize accessibility, if they haven’t already. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. The more opportunities that we provide Canadians to be their best, the stronger our economy will be.

Accessibility isn’t just a moment in time for Microsoft, it is a priority today and every day and one that we take very seriously. We believe that technology has a unique ability to break down barriers and create inclusive workplaces, and we are committed to empowering every person and organization globally to achieve more. As part of this commitment, Satya Nadella recently announced AI for Accessibility, a new $25 million, five-year program that Microsoft is championing aimed at harnessing the power of AI to amplify human capabilities for more than 1 billion people around the world with disabilities.  

This program aims to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions that build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services to help developers create intelligent apps that see, hear, speak, understand and better interpret people’s needs. Through this grant program, we are rallying developers, NGO’s, academics, researchers and inventors to bring their ideas to the next level.   

There are no limits to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of everyone who uses it. We are already seeing amazing advancements with apps like Seeing AI that is unlocking new capabilities for the low-vision community to help them navigate their day like never before. Microsoft Translator is using AI-powered speech and language technology, to automatically create real-time captions in PowerPoint, helping to support students who are deaf or hard of hearing follow along the lecture from the screen in the front of the room or their laptops or mobile devices. We also recently announced an effort to make Windows 10 more accessible by empowering people with disabilities to operate an onscreen mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech experience using only their eyes with a built in experience called Eye Control. These are just a few examples of how AI is revolutionizing accessibility. Experiences that are accessible by design benefit people of all abilities. Our suite of Office 365 applications offer several built-in capabilities that make it easier for everyone to create content that can be accessed without barriers by people with disabilities, share content on accessible channels, and make virtual meetings more inclusive.  

If we come together with the common goal of increasing accessibility in the workplace, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.   

But first, we need to lead by example. At Microsoft we are fully committed to inclusion – in who we are, who we serve and every product we create. Transparency, accountability, and inclusion are built into our culture and reflected in products and services designed for people of all abilities. When we talk about empowering people we simply mean that with the right tools, anyone can do anything.  

In recognition of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we are launching a short film, Empower every person: reimagining accessibility, about organizations reimagining accessibility for today’s world.

I encourage you to register and tune in on May 17th to hear from leaders at Microsoft and our partners, and learn practical ways to build a more inclusive environment. This film will touch on maximizing productivity for your diverse workforce, increasing your organization’s reach, and best practices in providing services to customers with disabilities.  With approximately 70 per cent of disabilities invisible to the eye, it is crucial that technology in the workplace is accessible by design and compliant with global accessibility standards. 

Please take a few moments to watch our short film. I do hope you join us in our mission to empower the Canadian workforce through inclusive technology. 

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