If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living and working in multiple countries around the world, it’s that, while national and local customs vary, there are certain common traits that make somewhere a great place to work. One of these traits is an inclusive culture.
Diversity and inclusion touches on many different topic areas, from gender to racial equality. But one area which is not always considered is disability. One in five Europeans has some form of disability, be it visible or invisible, cognitive or physical. Yet only 50 percent of Europeans with disabilities are employed. This is not just a huge discrepancy that disadvantages individuals, it’s also a missed opportunity for businesses.
Fostering a diverse, inclusive culture is vital for any company looking to boost innovation and productivity. Teams made up of people with different skills, life experiences and backgrounds approach challenges with varied perspectives and develop solutions that meet the needs of a wider range of customers as well as opening up new market opportunities. When it comes to accessibility, the cost of inaction is clear: it’s been estimated that disability exclusion costs OECD countries up to 7 percent of their GDP.
While many business leaders are keen to make their workplaces more accessible, they can be put off by the misconception that this demands the purchase of expensive specialist equipment, or the need to make big changes. But when accessibility is baked-in to standard digital solutions, workers with disabilities can often, with a few minor adjustments, use the exact same tools as their colleagues.
These same accessibility features can come in handy for boosting everyone’s productivity: from using the Speech-to-Text function to write an email on the go, or live captioning to follow a meeting in your second language, to turning on screen magnification or your screen reader to relieve eye strain at the end of a tiring working day. We can all benefit from a little extra support sometimes, and accessibility solutions can be useful to all of us.
At Microsoft, we strive every day to create an inclusive environment that brings the power of diversity to life. Our commitment to accessibility also extends to how we engage with the wider public during events, whether physical or – as has more often been the case in recent months – virtual. From prioritizing accessibility from the outset, to tailoring event content to meet the needs of a diverse audience, making sure that Microsoft experiences and tools are welcoming and inclusive to all is hugely important.
Part of that work is happening at our offices here in Prague. The engineering team here is focused on ensuring that Microsoft Teams, the collaboration platform now used by more than 75 million people every day, can be used by people who are blind or have low vision. One member of the Prague team, software developer Adam Samec, who is himself blind, encourages business leaders to think more deeply about accessibility:
“Employers too often think about what people with disabilities can’t do, rather than what we can do. The fact is, I can do almost the same work on a computer that a seeing person can.”
His feelings are echoed by Alina Kudriavtceva, one of my marketing communications colleagues from Microsoft Russia, who recently shared her thoughts about the importance of employers proactively creating an inclusive environment, alongside perspectives from other Microsoft EMEA colleagues with disabilities. While each colleague has had very different experiences, one thing that struck me was their shared call, not for special treatment, but simply for the opportunity to do their best work alongside everyone else.
Ultimately this is the real benefit of fostering accessibility by default in the workplace. All colleagues feel more welcome and able to speak up, teams are strengthened through new perspectives and ideas, and, with the obstacles removed and the playing field evened, everyone thrives