Microsoft outlines five-year plan for accessibility tech

Department for Work and Pensions staff to be trained on accessibility technologies to help people with disabilities return to work

As part of a five-year commitment to help bridge the “disability divide”, Microsoft has partnered with the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and SeeAbility to support people with disabilities.

Microsoft said it would train 26,000 DWP work coaches in accessibility fundamentals and tools that would enable them to create accessible experiences for jobseekers. It said trained coaches would be able to show jobseekers how they can use those free tools at home, in the recruitment process and in the increasingly digital workplace.

Microsoft said its commitment to accessibility was focused on three areas. First, it wants to spur the development of more accessible technology across the IT industry and the economy. Second, it said these new technologies should be used to create opportunities for more people with disabilities to enter the workforce. The third part of its commitment is to help build a workplace that is more inclusive for people with disabilities.

In a blog post discussing its commitment to building assistive technologies, Microsoft president Brad Smith wrote: “We believe that accessible technology is a fundamental building block that can unlock opportunities in every part of society. Our work starts by ensuring that Microsoft’s own products are accessible by design, so that as we advance our features and functionality, we can help everyone across the spectrum of disability be more productive.

“We will then expand our reach with new tools and data resources to support software development across our industry and by other organisations that create software services for their customers or employees. Finally, we will support this with a broad technology initiative with new support for basic research and new data science capabilities to advance innovation on an ongoing basis.”

“Our work starts by ensuring that Microsoft’s own products are accessible by design, so that as we advance our features and functionality, we can help everyone across the spectrum of disability be more productive”
Brad Smith, Microsoft

SeeAbility, a charity supporting people with sight loss, is working with Microsoft to upskill its own workforce first, then passing this knowledge on to the people it supports through the Creating Connections programme.

Clare Gray, product developer for the Ready, Willing and Able supported employment programme at SeeAbility, is neurodiverse herself, so she has lived experience in using assistive technology and sees its value for everyone the charity works with.

Without tech, I don’t think I’d be functioning as I can today,” she said. “I use speech to text – it means that I can take part with all my colleagues and there’s really no difference in terms of what I can access. Being able to talk through things like Microsoft Teams reduces the amount of travel time and reduces the environments I have to be in – from a sensory processing perspective, this is a lot more comfortable.”

Read more about assistive technology

  • Assistive technology ensures that all customers can access software easily. Don’t overlook this important element of software quality. Here’s how to test software accessibility.
  • Amazon Web Services has developed a machine learning model to translate sign languages into text in a showcase of assistive technology.

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