Making accessibility easy to learn, use, build and master

 |   Microsoft NZ News Centre

Jenny Lay-Flurrie is chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, leading the company’s efforts to drive great products, services, and websites that empower people and organisations to achieve more.

Today, we are celebrating the eighth annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). The day was founded by two individuals, Jennison Asuncion and Joe Devon, who wanted to raise the awareness and visibility of accessibility around the world. Recently, I chatted with Jennison, who leads the accessibility program at LinkedIn, about where GAAD started and how the progress over the last eight years has surpassed all expectations. He noted that, “the goal of GAAD was to start a conversation, to get people interested about a topic that they may not think about on a day-to-day basis and raise awareness of the need for accessibility at every level.”

Jennison Asuncion
Jennison Asuncion

Jennison’s and Joe’s thinking has inspired our approach to GAAD this year. We want to make accessibility easy to learn, use, build, and master. Ultimately, we are all developers, whether we’re writing an email or making a website. Making accessibility part of how we do business around the world is essential. Thinking about it as a cultural shift, and how we manage a business is core to achieving this goal. Here are some areas where we can make a difference together.

Accessibility training

One of the most common questions on accessibility is, “Where do I start?” Whether an expert in the field or new to this gig, accessibility training materials are available to progress your skills and understanding. Over the last couple of years, we have been writing and producing materials, tried and tested them within the company and are now sharing with you all. Three resources for you to check out:

Snackable Training Series.Accessibility at a Glance” is an animated series of short, snackable videos that includes a mix of technical and non-technical subjects, highlighting everything from how to present inclusively to how to leverage User Interface Automation to build accessible Windows applications. Each animated presenter is a real Microsoft employee sharing their expertise in creating accessible products and services. It is available as a playlist on the MSFTEnable YouTube Channel alongside materials from our internal employee training called, “Introduction to Disability and Accessibility.”

Webinars. The Disability Answer Desk team recently launched a monthly webinar series to fill up your buckets with accessibility knowledge on common use case scenarios. Coming up soon, a webinar on presenting with Live Captions and Subtitles in PowerPoint and 101 on Narrator.

To learn more or to register for this free webinar series visit us at

Inclusive Design. One of the most important constructs to accessibility is Inclusive Design. Our Inclusive Design Series has hit a huge milestone with 1 million downloads of the toolkit series on This content is ready for you to use right now to start the conversation and learn how to build inclusively. Additionally, today we are releasing a new video in Microsoft’s “Explanimators” series on Inclusive Design. By following a classroom of fun animals, take a minute to learn why it is important to build for each of us and all of us!

YouTube Video

What technology can empower you?

Technology is moving faster than ever before so our job is to make it easier to find what you need and empower you in that moment. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in the room with folks and shared some of the new accessibility features to look up and see looks of excited shock on people’s faces. Some easy resources to help you achieve that same look of awe:

Summer Sway. Today we launch the 2019 Microsoft Accessibility Feature Sway (summer edition) for a quick and easy view of all features broken out by disability type updated with the latest wizardry. Also bookmark, for the same easy-to-find and use information!

Technology in the Classroom. Our friends at Microsoft Education are dedicating all of today’s episode to helping make it easier for teachers to include all their students – Here are 10 ways Microsoft tools can help you build an inclusive classroom!

Windows Insiders. The Windows Insiders program is a great way to test new features and provide your feedback. Check out the blog, Inspired by Insiders – Accessibility, highlighting several great accessibility features over the past several releases of Windows for people with disabilities. This article looks at a few Vision settings, including the Narrator screen reader app and the low-vision tools within Ease of Access.

Product features that change perspectives

Website Accessibility. Recently, we launched Accessibility Insights, to help software developers and website designers build more accessible software and websites. Insights helps easily find and fix common accessibility issues early in the dev cycle. We open sourced it and put it on GitHub. It’s a quick, easy and free set of tools to help find and fix common accessibility issues early in the development cycle. Download here: Accessibility Insights for Windows and for Accessibility Insights for Web.

Captions in PowerPoint now ready to use. Captions empower those of us who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, helping us get value out of presentations, engage in team meetings, and stay connected to friends and colleagues over long distances. And the best part is everyone benefits from captions, too — whether it’s teams that speak multiple languages, colleagues calling in from noisy airports or living rooms, or someone who wants a visual aid to stay focused. Today we’re excited to announce that Live Captions and Subtitles in PowerPoint are now rolling out and are today embedded worldwide into Office365 PowerPoint for Windows, Mac, and PowerPoint Online. This is on top of existing live captions and subtitles already live in Skype and coming soon to meetings held in Microsoft Teams, the hub for teamwork. Read more about the Microsoft 365 inclusive workplace.

Creating great experiences here and around the world

I asked Jennison what his proudest moment was, and he shared an event in Copenhagen in Denmark just two years ago that inspired him to drive harder internationally in this space. Hector Minto, Microsoft technical evangelist for accessibility in Europe, has been at the same event this week, and the progress in two years is just incredible. Disability impacts over 1 billion people around the world, and accessibility crosses all borders. I’m thrilled to see how it is growing as part of the conversation, and the number of events happening internally at Microsoft today is indicative of that. Leading the way is the United Kingdom where Microsoft has been awarded Disability Confident Leader status by the government because of our commitment to diversity and inclusivity, as well as our work in encouraging suppliers and vendors to do the same. Today, the U.K. team is also hosting its first GAAD event along with partners, customers, and experts from across the industry to focus on the latest and greatest in accessible technology.

In Canada, we are seeing accessibility hit headlines. Last month the federal government of Canada chose Microsoft as a partner in their effort to create a more modern and accessible Public Service. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, said “Equipping our public servants with accessible, reliable and innovative technologies will unleash the potential of our world-class public service and result in better service delivery for all Canadians.” Rogers Telecom, one of the most respected companies in Canada, has also partnered with us to produce this new case study that speaks to the power of working together to achieve great things.

Driving accessible innovation

Last year at Microsoft Build, we launched our AI for Accessibility program, a $25 million commitment to put our technology in the hands of startups, developers, researchers and nonprofits, to drive innovation and amplify human capability for people with disabilities. Just last week, we celebrated our first anniversary and shared the stories of Zyrobotics and iTherapy, two grantees in our program that are using AI to empower children with learning differences.

New AI for Accessibility Grantees. Today we are adding seven new grantees to the program! With grantees from all over the world, including Australia, Israel, United States, and United Kingdom, I love that we are beginning to make an impact all around the globe. We are always taking applications (apply here), a great way for anyone – startups, developers, researchers and nonprofits – to get your idea off the ground.  Look forward to seeing how Our Ability, University of Sydney, Pison Technology, Voiceitt, Birmingham City University, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and University of California Berkeley, use AI technology to empower people with disabilities.

AI for Good Idea Challenge. The Microsoft’s AI for Good Idea Challenge is open for applications through June 26, 2019. The idea challenge is for developers, students and data scientists to use AI to tackle some of society’s greatest obstacles. Submit ideas that use AI for your chance to win $10,000 in Azure credits and a Surface Book 2.

Ability Week, May 16-31:

Ability Summit. What began with a small group of employees nine years ago, has grown into a companywide grassroots movement with thousands of colleagues from all over the world coming together. Last year, we opened the event to the public with our Ability Summit Community Day, with opportunities to learn about our work, interact with the latest products in our Inclusive Tech Lab, and participate in the Disability Talent Job Fair where people with disabilities can meet with recruiters from top companies, including Accenture, Alaska Airlines, Expedia, Facebook, HomeStreet Bank, Skills Inc., and Northwest Center. On May 30, Microsoft President Brad Smith and Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela will take the stage, along with the amazing Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin, twin brothers on the Seattle Seahawks. New this year, we are expanding with seven regional events around the world.

Autism @ Work Summit. Also, proud to host the Autism @ Work Summit on May 31. The event, which is organized by the 16 organizations of the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable, is where employers and HR professionals come together and share their learnings in hiring and retaining talent with autism. This year, with the help of University of Washington, we created the Autism @ Work Playbook, a resource for employers looking to create their own programs.

Ability Week at the Microsoft Store. Visit your local Microsoft Store May 16-23 for a week of workshops and community events all about accessibility. The free workshops will focus on accessibility in latest versions of Windows 10 and Office 365 that provide the best accessibility experiences, how to make your small business more accessible, autism-friendly coding workshops, and more.

At Microsoft, we are on a journey to be a learn-it-all company, not a know-it-all company. We don’t have all the answers, but we are constantly learning and working every day to improve our products, services and programs. We take pride in our approach and absolutely love your feedback! Please share your thoughts, feedback or questions with us through the Disability Answer Desk and Accessibility User Voice Forum. #LearningTogether

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