Kevin Turner: Vision Australia

Prepared remarks by Kevin Turner, chief operating officer for Microsoft, announcing a grant from Microsoft to support Vision Australia
Sydney, Australia
April 22, 2009

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with Professor McCallum and Mr. Menses to announce Microsoft’s plans to expand the already-strong relationship between our two organizations.

Today it’s my honor to announce that Microsoft will provide Vision Australia with a software grant worth close to $7 million Australian, or $4.5 million U.S. This is the largest software grant we have ever made in Australia.

I have incredible respect for the work that Vision Australia does, and for what Mr. Menses and Professor McCallum have accomplished. Dedicated to providing support for people who are blind or have low vision, Vision Australia has created an amazing community of people who have the expertise, experience, and commitment to make an important difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Australians.

Today, with more than 1,000 employees and some 4,000 volunteers, Vision Australia serves more than 40,000 children and adults. The services your organization provides, from accessible information solutions to audio description services, community education, employment assistance and much more have a truly transformative impact.

Your leadership in bringing information and technology to the people you serve is an inspiration. And the importance of the work you do will only grow as the average age of Australians rises and accessibility and disability issues become more pronounced.

Microsoft is proud to support Vision Australia. Through this grant, Vision Australia will be able to upgrade its IT infrastructure and improve the productivity of its employees and volunteers. The result will be improved services for Vision Australia clients. Microsoft technology will also help Vision Australia manage its fundraising efforts more effectively.

We also look forward to continuing our work with Vision Australia on your i-access library. This is an important effort to create an online platform that will provide digital audio books based on the DAISY standard. DAISY is an open source plug in for Microsoft Word that we helped develop. Working with Vision Australia and the DAISY consortium, we hope to encourage more and more people to save documents in a format that is more easily usable by people with blindness and low vision.

Microsoft’s support for Vision Australia reflects one of our company’s most important beliefs: that everyone should have the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits that information technology provides.

As part of this belief, we are committed to digital inclusion and accessibility.

Expanding digital inclusion includes a wide range of Microsoft initiatives designed to help bridge the digital divide that results from economic and social circumstances that limit access to technology. Through our Partners in Learning program, for example, we have touched the lives of more than 90 million students and teachers in more than 100 countries.

But there’s more to it than that. Bridging the digital divide means making information more accessible, too. In Australia, for example, only 5 percent of information is available in a form that is readily usable for people who are blind or have low vision. Because so much of world’s information and content is created using Microsoft technology, we recognize that we have an awesome responsibility to help make this information as accessible as possible.

Technology can be a powerful tool for enabling people with physical difficulties and impairments to achieve their potential. We are committed both to building products that provide features and capabilities that make software accessible to everyone, and to working with organizations like Vision Australia to develop a new generation of innovations that will make computing more useful to all people.

This is not a new commitment on our part. Microsoft has been focusing on accessibility issues for more than 20 years, first through the creation of a series of add-on utilities for Microsoft products, and then by building accessibility features directly into our software.

Just over a decade ago, we significantly strengthened our commitment to accessibility When Bill Gates announced that accessibility must be a fundamental part of all product design at Microsoft. In that speech he outlined the company’s plan to deepen its investments in accessibility research and development and encourage a stronger focus on accessibility across the industry.

Today, Microsoft products such as Windows Vista, Office 2007, and Internet Explorer include built-in accessibility settings and programs ranging from speech recognition and text-to-speech to magnifiers and more that make it easier to see, hear, and interact with computers. These accessibility settings and programs are particularly helpful for people with visual difficulties, hearing loss, discomfort in their hands or arms, or cognitive issues.

In addition, we continue to invest in leading-edge research in accessibility. At Microsoft Research, we are currently exploring new kinds of input devices and new speech recognition technologies. We’re also a leader in the development of natural user interfaces and natural language processing.

Our partnership with Vision Australia extends far beyond Microsoft’s commitment to provide support for the work that you do. Vision Australia is also a key research and development advisor to Microsoft. Your help and insights are vital to our efforts to make our products and services more user-friendly for people who are blind or have low-vision. We appreciate the expertise and knowledge you contribute to developing new innovations that will help people with a wide range of physical impairments.

I’m excited to be able to announce this new grant for Vision Australia. I look forward to seeing the results of the work you do in Australia to serve people with vision impairments. I also look forward to continuing our joint efforts to develop a new generation of innovations that will increase the benefits that technology delivers be expanding accessibility for everyone.

Thank you.