All posts by Microsoft Accessibility Blog

What’s new with Seeing AI

Saqib Shaikh holds his camera phone in front of his face with Seeing AI open on the screen

By Saqib Shaikh, Software Engineering Manager and Project Lead for Seeing AI

Seeing AI provides people who are blind or with low vision an easier way to understand the world around them through the cameras on their smartphones. Whether in a room, on a street, in a mall or an office – people are using the app to independently accomplish daily tasks like never before. Seeing AI helps users read printed text in books, restaurant menus, street signs and handwritten notes, as well as identify banknotes and products via their barcode. Leveraging on-device facial-recognition technology, the app can even describe the physical appearance of people and predict their mood.

Today, we are announcing new Seeing AI features for the enthusiastic community of users who share their experiences with the app, recommend new capabilities and suggest improvements for its functionalities. Inspired by this rich feedback, here are the updates rolling out to Seeing AI to enhance the user’s experience:

  • Explore photos by touch: Leveraging technology from Azure Cognitive Services, including Custom Vision Service in tandem with the Computer Vision API, this new feature enables users to tap their finger to an image on a touch-screen to hear a description of objects within an image and the spatial relationship between them. Users can explore photos of their surroundings taken on the Scene channel, family photos stored in their photo browser, and even images shared on social media by summoning the options menu while in other apps.
  • Native iPad support: For the first time we’re releasing iPad support, to provide a better Seeing AI experience that accounts for the larger display requirements. iPad support is particularly important to individuals using Seeing AI in academic or other professional settings where they are unable to use a cellular device.
  • Channel improvements: Users can now customize the order in which channels are shown, enabling easier access to favorite features. We’ve also made it easier to access the face recognition function while on the Person channel, by relocating the feature directly on the main screen. Additionally, when analyzing photos from other apps, the app will now provide audio cues that indicate Seeing AI is processing the image.

Since the app’s launch in 2017, Seeing AI has leveraged AI technology and inclusive design to help people with more than 10 million tasks. If you haven’t tried Seeing AI yet, download it for free on the App Store. If you have, please share your thoughts, feedback or questions with us at seeingai@microsoft.com, or through the Disability Answer Desk and Accessibility User Voice Forum.

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Author: Steve Clarke

What’s new with Seeing AI

Saqib Shaikh holds his camera phone in front of his face with Seeing AI open on the screen

By Saqib Shaikh, Software Engineering Manager and Project Lead for Seeing AI

Seeing AI provides people who are blind or with low vision an easier way to understand the world around them through the cameras on their smartphones. Whether in a room, on a street, in a mall or an office – people are using the app to independently accomplish daily tasks like never before. Seeing AI helps users read printed text in books, restaurant menus, street signs and handwritten notes, as well as identify banknotes and products via their barcode. Leveraging on-device facial-recognition technology, the app can even describe the physical appearance of people and predict their mood.

Today, we are announcing new Seeing AI features for the enthusiastic community of users who share their experiences with the app, recommend new capabilities and suggest improvements for its functionalities. Inspired by this rich feedback, here are the updates rolling out to Seeing AI to enhance the user’s experience:

  • Explore photos by touch: Leveraging technology from Azure Cognitive Services, including Custom Vision Service in tandem with the Computer Vision API, this new feature enables users to tap their finger to an image on a touch-screen to hear a description of objects within an image and the spatial relationship between them. Users can explore photos of their surroundings taken on the Scene channel, family photos stored in their photo browser, and even images shared on social media by summoning the options menu while in other apps.
  • Native iPad support: For the first time we’re releasing iPad support, to provide a better Seeing AI experience that accounts for the larger display requirements. iPad support is particularly important to individuals using Seeing AI in academic or other professional settings where they are unable to use a cellular device.
  • Channel improvements: Users can now customize the order in which channels are shown, enabling easier access to favorite features. We’ve also made it easier to access the face recognition function while on the Person channel, by relocating the feature directly on the main screen. Additionally, when analyzing photos from other apps, the app will now provide audio cues that indicate Seeing AI is processing the image.

Since the app’s launch in 2017, Seeing AI has leveraged AI technology and inclusive design to help people with more than 10 million tasks. If you haven’t tried Seeing AI yet, download it for free on the App Store. If you have, please share your thoughts, feedback or questions with us at seeingai@microsoft.com, or through the Disability Answer Desk and Accessibility User Voice Forum.

Go to Original Article
Author: Steve Clarke

ADA Anniversary: The Continued Importance of Inclusion

By Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer

On July 26 we will celebrate the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA stands as one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation and prohibits discrimination while ensuring that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and rights as people without disabilities. It serves as a reminder of both where we have come from as well as the work left to be done.

Since its inception, the ADA has helped break down barriers for people with disabilities in built environments, provision of government services, communications, and employment. Despite a lot of great progress, after nearly 3 decades there is still much to be done, not only to level the playing field, but also to recognize (and seek out!) talented people with disabilities, skills and expertise that we need in our companies. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities hasn’t materially shifted in that time and remains nearly double that of people without disabilities. We are one of the many employers that has the power to influence that number. We take that responsibility seriously. Here are three things we are doing to drive it:

Breaking Down Barriers Through Technology
It’s never been more important to have a diverse and inclusive workforce including people with disabilities. Put simply, it helps us create better products that empower people with disabilities. When accessibility is done well, it becomes invaluable to daily life, the workplace, and play. It’s ubiquitous and easy to use. These values guide us, and I urge you to check out the following:

  • Accessibility built in by design. There is a wealth of goodness built into the core of our products – from Windows to Office and Xbox. Learning Tools, Dictate, Narrator, Translator, Color Blindness Filters, and more. We’ve created a simple one-stop-shop with our Accessibility Feature Sway which has every feature broken down by disability type and we update this and our new website www.microsoft.com/accessibility as new features become available. Do check it out and share!
  • If in doubt, ask. Remember we have a dedicated support team for people with disabilities using Microsoft products, or using accessibility features. The Disability Answer Desk is there 24×7, via chat, phone and in the USA, a dedicated ASL video line. Now in 11 markets and ready to help you get going with your technology
  • Your feedback is gold dust. We want to know what future you want, and technology you want to empower you. Tell us via our Accessibility UserVoice, Disability Answer Desk or tweet @MSFTEnable. Your feedback powers us.
  • The power of innovation. AI is opening doors for innovation for people with disabilities. Invaluable tools like Seeing AI, Microsoft Translator, and Helpicto are built leveraging our vision, knowledge and speech Cognitive Services APIs and so we were excited earlier this year to announce the AI for Accessibility program to open up these technologies to you to create. The application process is now open, and first batch of grant applications are in mid review. Literally can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Creating Forums for Inclusion
It isn’t enough to just talk about inclusion, we need to partner together to drive impact. There are many events we host and attend where this happens, but two have highlighted the appetite for more:

  • Microsoft Ability Summit. For the first time ever, we opened the doors to this internal event to the public and we were humbled by the results. Over the 8 years since we started the Ability Summit, attendance has grown from just 80 people in that first year, to 1,200 Microsoft employees, and 1,200 external guests over the two days. At the event, we demonstrated the latest in accessible technologies and attendees connected with the owners and drivers of those technologies. They also had the opportunity to engage with over 20 companies at an inclusive hiring job fair and heard from our very own CVP of Retail Stores, a panel of dignitaries and CEO Satya Nadella, who shared their thoughts on accessibility and disability. We were honored to include former Senator Tom Harkin who introduced the ADA into the Senate back in 1989 and underscored the need to break down barriers to get people with disabilities into the workforce. It’s our hope that by opening the event up more broadly we can share knowledge and accelerate the process for all organizations to build their programs, hire amazing talent, and reduce the unemployment rate.
A group of people sitting on stage

Creating a Region of Inclusion panel discussion at the 2018 Microsoft Ability Summit.

  • Disability:IN. Just last week in Las Vegas, 1,500 folks from over 160 corporate partners came together to discuss, share and take action on disability inclusion. Disability:IN (previously known as USBLN) is a corporate based NGO, Microsoft is a proud sponsor, and I’m a honoured to be chair of the board of directors. This organization has grown in numbers and strength in the past years and it speaks to the need, appetite and desire from so many companies to not only understand but drive the future of disability inclusion. During this event, over 130 rising leaders met with company leaders and many walked away with jobs and intern positions. We celebrated those that have achieved high scores on the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), with many achieving 100% including ourselves. Also, technology was a HOT topic, and we dedicated one of the opening plenaries to showing and sharing the latest in accessible inclusive technology – and I had a blast showing Office 365, PowerPoint, Translator, PowerPoint Designer, Auto Alt-Text, Seeing AI and Xbox Adaptive Controller live on stage. It was clear from the room, amazing speakers and companies sharing their journeys, that this is a priority across corporate America, and how we partner together has never been more important.

Supporting Inclusion in Action
Perhaps one of the best examples of making inclusion real is the Special Olympics. This year Microsoft was proud to be the Presenting Sponsor of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games here in Seattle. With the theme “Rise with Us,” athletes challenged Seattle to make the 2018 games the most inclusive Special Olympics to date and honourary Chair Brad Smith, set the tone – asking Seattle to create a legacy of inclusion that lasts long after the games finish. As part of the event a job fair was held for athletes that included 16 companies including Microsoft. With 4,000 athletes and more than 12,000 volunteers (including 2,000+ Microsoft employees!) participating in the event, we are creating a legacy of inclusion in the region and a galvanizing force epitomized by local athlete Frannie Ronan – the youngest athlete in the games at just 8 years old who inspired us all at the opening ceremony and walked out with 2 silvers and 2 bronzes and a very big smile.

A big crowd of people in a field.

Opening ceremonies of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle

A woman and a child smiling

Jenny Lay-Flurrie with Frannie Ronan at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle

In addition to celebrating the ADA, we recognize individuals and organizations all over the world are developing disability rights policies and programs under the United Nation Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and helping their communities raise awareness of the importance of accessibility and need for an inclusive culture. To make real progress, it will take collaboration from across government, industry, employers and individuals with disabilities to realize the vision of the ADA and reduce the unemployment rate for people with disabilities everywhere.

In the meantime, do explore what technology can do for you through the power of accessibility, keep us grounded in what you want to see going forward, and get involved in forums and supporting these incredible organisations that are going to power the future of disability inclusion.

CodeTalk: Rethinking accessibility for IDEs

By Suresh Parthasarathy, Senior Research Developer; Gopal Srinivasa, Senior Research Software Development Engineer

CodeTalk team members from left to right include: Priyan Vaithilingam, Suresh Parthasarathy, Venkatesh Potluri, Manohar Swaminathan and Gopal Srinivasa from Microsoft Research India.

Software programming productivity tools known as integrated development environments, or IDEs, are supposed to be a game changer for Venkatesh Potluri, a research fellow in Microsoft’s India research lab. Potluri is a computer scientist who regularly needs to write code efficiently and accurately for his research in human computer interaction and accessibility. Instead, IDEs are one more source of frustration for Potluri: he is blind and unable to see the features that make IDEs a boon to the productivity of sighted programmers, such as squiggly red lines that automatically appear beneath potential code errors.

Potluri uses a screen reader to hear the code that he types. He scrolls back and forth through the computer screen to maintain context. But using a screen reader with an IDE is incomplete since much of the information from these systems is conveyed visually. For example, code is syntax highlighted in bright colors, errors are automatically highlighted with squiggles and the debugger uses several windows to provide the full context of a running program. Performance analysis tools use charts and graphs to highlight bottlenecks and architecture analysis tools use graphical models to show code structure.

“IDEs provide a lot of relevant information while writing code; a lot of this information — such as the current state of the program being debugged, real-time error alerts and code refactoring suggestions, are not announced to screen reader users,” Potluri said. “As a developer using a screen reader, the augmentation IDEs provide is not of high value to me.”

Soon after Venkatesh joined Microsoft Research India in early 2017, he and his colleagues Priyan Vaithilingam and Saqib Shaikh launched Project CodeTalk to increase the value of IDE’s for the community of blind and low vision users. According to a recent survey posted on the developer community website Stack Overflow, users who self-identify as blind or low vision make up one percent of the programmer population, which is higher than the 0.4 percent of people in the general population. Team members realized that while a lot of work had gone into making IDEs more accessible, the efforts had fallen short of meeting the needs of blind and low vision developers.

As a first step, the team explored their personal experiences with IDE technologies. Potluri, for example, detailed frustrations such as trying to fix one last bug before the end of a long day, listening carefully to the screen reader and concentrating hard to retain in his mind the structures of the code file only to have the screen reader go silent a few seconds after program execution. Uncertain if the program completed successfully or terminated with an exception, he has to take extra steps to recheck the program that keep him at work late into the night.

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The CodeTalk team also drew insights from a survey of blind and low vision developers that was led by senior researcher Manohar Swaminathan. The effort generated ideas for the development of an extension that improves the experience of the blind and low vision community of developers who use Microsoft’s Visual Studio, a popular IDE that supports multiple programming languages and is customizable. The CodeTalk extension and source code are now available on GitHub.

Highlights of the extension include the ability to quickly access code constructs and functions that lead to faster coding, learn the context of where the cursor is in the code, navigate through chunks of code with simple keystrokes and hear auditory cues when the code has errors and while debugging. The extension also introduces a novel concept of Talkpoints, which can be thought of as audio-based breakpoints.

Together, these features make debugging and syntax checking—two critical features of IDEs—far more accessible to blind and low vision developers, according to a study the CodeTalk team conducted with blind and low vision programmers. Real-time error information and talk points were particularly appreciated as significant productivity boosters. The team also began using the extension for their own development, and discovered that the features were useful for sighted users, as well.

CodeTalk is one step in a long journey of exploring ways to make IDEs more accessible. Research is ongoing to define and meet the needs of blind and low vision developers. The source code is available on GitHub and contributors are invited. The Visual Studio extension is available for download.

You can read more about this story on Microsoft’s Research Blog.

CodeTalk team members include Suresh Parthasarathy, Gopal Srinivasa, Priyan Vaithilingam, Manohar Swaminathan and Venkatesh Potluri from Microsoft Research India and Saqib Shaikh from Microsoft Research Cambridge.

Updated with currency and color recognition, Seeing AI is available in 35 countries

iPhone with Seeing AI app

Since we first made Seeing AI available, there’s been 100,000 downloads of the app and it has assisted users with over 3 million tasks. We have never been more humbled by your feedback and are encouraged to do more! When we first released this, we launched with features such as the ability to hear what a product is via audibly locating the barcode, describing images, text and faces of friends and family as they come into view. Today, we’re excited to announce new features coming to the app that will build on these early results, provide new user experiences and allow us to continue to learn and innovate. These new features, such as currency, handwriting and color recognition, as well as light detection, are now available in the app in 35 countries, including the European Union.

Some of the new features now available in Seeing AI include:

  • Color recognition: Getting dressed in the morning just got easier with this new feature, which describes the color of objects, like garments in your closet.
  • Currency recognition: Seeing AI can now recognize the currency of US dollars, Canadian dollars, British Pounds and Euros. Checking how much change is in your pocket or leaving a cash tip at a restaurant is much easier.
  • Musical light detector: The app alerts you with a corresponding audible tone when you aim the phone’s camera at light in the environment. A newly convenient tool so you don’t have to touch hot bulbs to know that a light is switched off, or the battery pack’s LED is on.
  • Handwriting recognition: Expanding on the ability of the app to read printed text, such as on menus or signs, the newly improved ability to read handwriting means you can read personal notes in a greeting card, as well as printed stylized text not usually readable by optical character recognition.
  • Reading documents: Seeing AI can read you the document aloud without voiceover, with synchronized word highlighting. Also, it includes the ability to change the text size on the Document channel.
  • Ability to choose voices and speed: Personalization is key, and when you’re not using VoiceOver, this feature lets you choose between the voice that is used and how fast it talks.

With each of these new features, we make sure to protect personal data while ensuring the technology operates effectively and provides users the best experiences with our products. If you have questions, the Microsoft Privacy Statement explains how Microsoft collects, stores and uses personal information.

We continue to hear from you how Seeing AI is bringing value to your life. It’s more than humbling. Cameron Roles, a university lecturer at the Australian National University College of Law, believes there’s never been a better time in history to be a blind person.

“I absolutely love Seeing AI. If my children hand me a note from school or if I pick up a book, I can use Seeing AI to quickly capture that text and just give me a very brief instant overview of what’s on the document,” said Roles of the important capability the app has for reading text and handwriting. “I can quickly be right on top of it.”

“For me, I think we’re coming into a really exciting time,” said Roles. “The growth in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, self-driving cars… I feel that it’s a great time for all of us in society.”

“Technology can be such an enabler of good and such an enabler for people to shrink the world, for the world to come closer together, and for people to be able to achieve so much more than they ever could without it,” said Roles.

We’re excited to share these features and look forward to hearing from you who Seeing AI is making your world more inclusive. Its available in Apple’s App Store in 35 countries and when a new version is released, you will be shown the list of new features when you next launch the app.

Please if you have feedback, we want to hear it! This started as a prototype just a year ago, and while we’ve been thrilled with the progress, we know we have a long way to go. Please send your thoughts, feedback or questions to seeingai@microsoft.com.

If you have further questions or feedback, please contact the Disability Answer Desk. The Disability Answer Desk is there to assist via phone and chat, and in the United States, we also have an ASL option for our customers with hearing loss (+1 503-427-1234).

Inclusion in action: Jack shows students what’s possible with Office 365, a screen reader and a keyboard

Today, we meet Jack Mendez, an instructor, at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Jack shows his students the full power of technology, and teaches them about the accessibility features and capabilities in Office 365 and Windows 10. Jack’s story is part of our Inclusion in action series announced last month, highlighting how accessible technologies enable transformative change.

Here’s his story.

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When a sighted person walks into Jack Mendez’s classroom, one of the first things they notice is a workstation without a screen. For Jack, this is a striking example how far assistive technology has advanced.

“I have a computer without a screen, and that’s intentional because I want people to understand that all you need is a keyboard and some headphones.” said Jack. “You can produce and consume content and use the computer and navigate just with the screen reader and your keyboard.”

A man who is blind walking

Jack Mendez is the Director of Technology at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

As the Director of Technology at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Jack is in charge of the school’s IT systems and the software used to prepare students for life outside of school.

When you enter his classroom, you discover a flurry of activity. Jack deployed Office 365 on all the school’s workstations. “It’s the best that’s out there. If you find something better, let me know.”

Students manage their calendars and access email through Outlook. They use OneNote to take notes and access them across multiple devices.

Jack is a big advocate for the use of Office 365 built-in accessibility checker to make content more inclusive, saying,

“It’s just something that it makes sense to click on. It takes a second, and a lot of times for most recommendations that the tool produces, it’s like a five-second fix.”

If students want to know how to perform a task in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, they use Office 365’s Tell Me feature and ask how it’s done. The answers are quickly provided.

For Jack, these accessible technologies are a game changer for him and his students.

“I can now open up Excel or PowerPoint or Word and I can produce content that someone across the world would look at and never know a blind person had a role in that production. It be just as appealing, just as in-depth as anything else someone with no disabilities could have produced.”

Jack says that students want to come to the school for technology classes because they see how productive you can be if you have good training and understand how the tools work.

“My hope for all of my students is that they’re able to use technology to make their lives better. Many of them go on to college. A lot of them start working. Some of them already have careers and they’re using this time to enhance their ability to be more independent at their current job.”

In addition to working with students, Jack shows companies the ways that accessible technologies can enable them to expand their workforce and employ more people with disabilities, like blindness.

During a recent demonstration he did for some local bankers generating a visual presentation on a computer without a screen, he opened up Office and started producing a document.

“I wrote some things, I changed some fonts, I saved the document all using the keyboard, all without a screen.”

Desk view

Jack uses a computer without a screen to create visual content.

Since that demonstration, some of his students have earned employment with those same bankers.

Jack serves as an example of how to personalize and maximize the use of technology. He says he was always curious as a child. When he got in touch with computers, he realized this meant even more stuff to explore.

During a routine visit to his dentist at age 15, Jack overheard staff talking about a problem with the computer. When he told the dentist he could fix it, the dentist hesitated before he gave him a chance. Jack repaired the computer and earned $500. The dentist then recommended him for other jobs, and that was the birth of his career in IT.

Jack’s hopes that accessible technologies become a given in the future, which he believes will make life and business better for everyone.

“When I’m able to help a business understand that when you make a hiring decision with someone who’s had good training that they’re going to help the entire company,” he said.

As for teaching? “It’s about helping a student understand what’s possible.”

Visit aka.ms/InclusionInAction to discover more stories of people pushing the boundaries of productivity and inclusion with Microsoft technologies.

Microsoft’s Seeing AI app now available in Australia, Ireland and UK

Microsoft’s Seeing AI app, which helps people who are blind and partially sighted by narrating the world around them, is now available for free download to people in Australia, Ireland and the UK via the Apple iOS store.

Seeing AI is designed to help people who are blind or have visual impairments use artificial intelligence to recognize objects, people and text via a phone or tablet’s camera and describes them.

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The app is now available for iOS devices in the Australia, Ireland and the UK, after being released in the United States, Canada, India, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore earlier this year.

You can read more about Seeing AI via Microsoft News Centre Australia or Microsoft News Centre UK.

Inclusion in action: Veronica scores 100% with Sway magnified to 225%

Today, we’re excited to introduce you to Veronica, a college student with low vision who uses accessibility capabilities in Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10 to excel academically. Veronica is the third of six individuals featured in our Inclusion in Action series announced last month, highlighting how accessible technologies enable transformative change.

Here’s her story.

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When you meet Veronica Lewis, it does not take long to figure out that this 21-year-old junior at George Mason University is going places. She plays clarinet in the school band, maintains high grades as an IT major and runs a blog called Veroniiiica – Veronica With Four Eyes that has captured the attention of some of our nation’s most powerful leaders.

When she was younger, Veronica’s mother often said she was “blazing a trail for other students in the future.” Little did Veronica know how true that would be.

Veronica has low vision, which she describes in simple terms: “I can’t see things smaller than size 22-point font, more than 15 feet away or more than about six inches on either side of me.”

When Veronica was younger, her school district did not have many resources for providing accessible materials.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the dumbest kid in the room because I will look down at a paper and not be able to figure out what is on there at all.”

She and her family soon learned to advocate for her best interests, and during her junior year of high school, they transferred to a district with more resources. Her new school had a program allowing students to earn Microsoft Office Specialist Certifications, which Veronica eagerly embraced.

“I was able to receive my Word, Word Expert, Excel, Excel Expert, and PowerPoint certifications to become a Microsoft Office Master Specialist.”

Veronica mastered the use of Microsoft’s built-in accessibility tools and her grades skyrocketed. In 2015, she graduated from high school with a 3.8 grade point average.  She’s continued this academic excellence in college and technology continues to play an important role in her life.

Veronica notes, “Technology just doesn’t make things easier for people with disabilities. It makes things possible.”

The ‘things’ she mentions include everything from homework to band practice to her blog. She makes her classwork accessible using Word. During class, she takes notes in OneNote. If she needs to read a blackboard or whiteboard, she can take a photograph of it. Together, Optical Character Recognition in Office Lens and OneNote enables her to search for text within the picture. To learn and practice her latest music assignments for band, she uses technology to enlarge her sheet music view to 225 percent.

One of her favorite features is Word’s built-in accessibility checker, which allows users to determine if a document is accessible and offers tips on how to improve accessibility.

“I’ve introduced that function to a lot of my professors when creating accessible materials, and showing them that it takes less than a minute to make a document accessible. Why wouldn’t you do it?”

Large screen

Veronica Lewis is a college student who uses accessibility capabilities in Office 365 to excel academically.

Another tool that Veronica found especially empowering is Sway. It has an accessibility view, which is compatible with screen readers, and easily lets you add alt-text for people with low vision.

“Every presentation that I’ve created with Sway has gotten 100 percent. A lot of my professors are just amazed because they didn’t know this existed, and it’s so easy to use.”

Veronica also uses Sway for her blog. She says she created the blog as a resource for students, parents, teachers and professionals to show how easy it is to accommodate for low vision.

“I’ve been able to contribute to websites like Perkins School for the Blind’s Paths to Technology, and The Mighty, and it’s been amazing just to see how many people are relating to what I write about.”

As her audience has grown, so has the focus of her blog. She now addresses disability and accessibility issues, and uses the blog as a platform to advocate for disability rights.

“I was able to start my blog and really reach out to people all around the world and teach them all about low vision. I’ve also been able to talk to many U.S. Senators and members of Congress about issues related to healthcare and disability.”

Veronica plans to continue to leverage her studies in IT and Assistive Technology to spread her message.

“To any other students who are in the same position as me, just remember you’re not the only one who went through these experiences. You belong.”

Visit aka.ms/InclusionInAction to discover more stories of people pushing the boundaries of productivity and inclusion with Microsoft technologies.

Challenge the status quo and reinvent the future of disability employment

By Jessica Rafuse, NGO Program Manager, Microsoft 


In celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Microsoft recently invited Seattle-area businesses, agencies, and NGO representatives for transparent conversations on the benefits, challenges and potential solutions regarding disability employment. The goal of the gathering was to bring together the community of people with disabilities and employers to challenge the status quo and reinvent the future of disability employment. Together, we have the power to make a difference to an unemployment rate that hasn’t materially changed in nearly 30 years.

Woman speaking to crowd

Jenny Lay-Flurrie, chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, welcomes the audience.

As an employment attorney by trade and former administrative judge, I have seen the worst of employment discrimination. As a person who uses a wheelchair, I have experienced the same biases, stigma, and misconceptions that feed the national epidemic of disability unemployment and underemployment. Yet, this often inaccessible world has made people with disabilities determined, adaptable, diverse, and excited to collaborate with employers to reinvent the future of disability employment. What if we all make a conscious effort to view disability as a strength that makes us the very best candidates for the job?

Microsoft Chief Accessibility Officer, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, kicked off the day with a high-energy account of our own journey at the company. Jenny candidly shared the history of disability inclusion and accessibility at Microsoft, including our stumbles along the way, as well as the successes that make us proud. Many of those moments are now captured in the Microsoft Disability Inclusion Journey, a Sway presentation outlining our programmatic approach to disability inclusion. 

Drive, determination, empathy and adaptability

The opening panel, comprised of business leaders with both apparent and non-apparent disabilities, highlighted the drive, determination, empathy, and adaptability that each panelist has developed because of their disabilities. The conversation was a celebration of disability as a strength and a sharing of individual experiences in the workplace. As Katherine Schomer, VP Research of Edelman Intelligence clearly articulated, “My disability has taught me to succeed.”

Woman in wheelchair speaking to audience

Katherine Schomer, VP Research of Edelman Intelligence, shares her thoughts during the opening panel.

The panelists concluded the conversation with a challenge to the employers, that they discuss with their employees early and often on how and when to support. Relevant advice for both employees with and without disabilities. The panelists remind us that managers of people with disabilities often develop the leadership skills that make them better managers to every employee.

Recruitment, Accommodations, and Employee Resource Groups

At the heart of the symposium, we responded to the need for more knowledge on how organizations are moving the needle in disability employment. As such, the breakout sessions proved to be a rich learning opportunity in Recruitment, Accommodations, and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

The key learnings we want to share with those looking to hire and retain people with disabilities are broken down by category below.

Recruitment

  • Partner with the community. If you’re unsure where to start, the best first step we can advise is to ask. There are nonprofits and agencies who can help you begin to find talent to build a pipeline of candidates. Another excellent resource is the team you already have: encourage people to reach out to their network and alert them to your company’s recruiting efforts.
  • Train your Talent Acquisition Team. Having a process in place and a list of resources will make the interview and onboarding processes for potential candidates go much more smoothly. But how about preparing your talent acquisition team? By providing the team with the resources, training and other relevant guidance, they will be able to offer accommodations and excellent customer service to candidates with disabilities.
  • Branding matters. Including people with disabilities in your marketing efforts will attract talent with disabilities. From words to images to how accessible your website is, including people of all abilities will attract a wider spectrum of candidates.

Accommodations

  • Ask the experts. Employers should tap into the expertise of employees with disabilities when evaluating the onboarding process, benefits, facilities, and corporate culture.
  • Be loud. Companies should share their policies and practices often, so that employees know where to go for accommodations and feel welcome disclosing their disabilities.
  • Design inclusively. Go beyond thinking about accommodations as programmatic solutions for an individual. Design your businesses inclusively from the start to benefit every person.

Employee Resource Groups

  • Align your strategy. Supporting the business in achieving its goals through the lens of disability inclusion will solidify the ERG’s role as a value-added partner to the business.
  • Build Accessibility Ambassadors. Encourage ERG members across the spectrum of disability to share best practices for disability inclusion, including physical and digital accessibility for all.
  • Gather the Community. Celebrate successes and explore solutions for challenges through meetings, webinars, and events.
Three woman speaking on panel

Liz Taub (center), Executive Vice President of USBLN, speaks on a panel.

Liz Taub of USBLN summarized, “When people feel valued and can bring their whole selves to work, they have permission to innovate. Some of the most popular and lucrative inventions have been started by people with disabilities.”

A man in a suit speaks to audience

Kenneth Price, Director of Aircraft Valuation at Boeing, shares his personal journey with a disability.

Our day of learning wrapped with a keynote speech from Kenneth Price, Director of Aircraft Valuation at Boeing, who shared his personal experience with both an apparent and non-apparent disability. Kenneth emphasized the importance of having the support of senior executives when building an inclusive corporate culture.

For employers and organizations looking to learn more about disability employment at your company, you can reach out to USBLN to connect with other companies engaged in the effort. Find out more about our efforts at Microsoft Inclusive Hiring or within the new Microsoft Disability Inclusion Journey.

Even though the symposium was a cause for celebration, there is still much work to be done. At Microsoft, we are excited to work together to have a positive impact on the unemployment and underemployment rates for people with disabilities.

Happy NDEAM Everyone!

The Fall Creators Update Brings Us Closer to a Windows for Everyone

By Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer


Today, with the launch of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Microsoft is taking a big step forward on our journey to make our products more accessible and empower people with disabilities. Our teams have been working tirelessly to build inclusive content and expand the usability of core accessible features. The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update delivers a ton of new features and experiences, some of which are mind blowing! But of course, I’m most excited by the updates, improvements and new tools for people with disabilities, and I want to share a few of my favourites with you.

First, let’s talk Eye Control. The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update will deliver a beta version of Eye Control, which empowers people with disabilities to use a compatible eye tracker, such as a Tobii Eye Tracker, to operate an on-screen mouse, keyboard and text-to-speech experience in Windows 10 using only their eyes. Eye Control began as a hack project during our One Week Hackathon, turned into a Microsoft Research project and ultimately became a product concept in the Windows team. It is an early feature set so we are really keen to hear from you as we continue to work on this input vehicle. So please, check it out and continue to share your feedback!

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We’ve also made updates to some products you may know and recognize that are already part of Windows 10. That includes new Learning Tools (also, originally a Hackathon project) capabilities in Microsoft Edge. Learning Tools are a set of features that make it easier for people with learning differences like dyslexia to read. In this update, we’ve added the ability to simultaneously highlight and listen to text in web pages and PDF documents to make it easier to read. These new solutions also make it easier not just for English language learners and people with dyslexia, but for everyone, to increase their focus, to improve their comprehension and to reduce their error rate when reading.

Another is Dictation on the Desktop. Already, this feature allowed people with vision, mobility and cognitive disabilities to speak into the microphone, and convert that using Windows Speech Recognition into text that appears on screen. In the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, you can now use dictation to input English text on the desktop. Besides dictating text, you can also use voice commands to do basic editing or to input punctuation.

It’s not just about productivity at work in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update – we want to make sure the time you spend online for fun is just as accessible and inclusive! We added a feature to our screen reader in Narrator that uses Microsoft Cognitive Services to generate image descriptions for pictures that lack alternative text. For websites or apps that don’t have alt-text built in, this feature will provide quick and accurate descriptions of an image. We also listened to your feedback and made it possible to use Magnifier with Narrator, so you can zoom in on text and have it read aloud.

Another one of my absolute favourite developments is a new feature for people with colour blindness, which affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women around the world. Color Filters are designed to improve the usability for people with colour blindness so they can more easily differentiate between colours like red and green. Consuming content is easier and since this feature works at the system level, all installed software and third-party apps will follow the filter you set up. Color Filters are available in greyscale, invert, greyscale inverted, Deuteranopia, Protanopia or Tritanopia.

There is so much goodness to digest in this update and we’re definitely excited about it. I’m thrilled at how far we’ve come since the initial launch of Windows 10, including enhancements with the Windows 10 Creators Update. At that time, we promised to invest in updates to improve the user experience for people with disabilities and I hope you’re seeing the progress. In July 2016, we shared the offer to extend the free Windows 10 upgrade. This extended availability is now coming to a close, as we’ll wrap this offer at the end of 2017. Please take advantage of this offer before it is retired at the end of this year!

It’s an exciting day for Windows users, and we hope that you’ll try out the new features and provide your feedback. This is how we make our products better and we want to learn from you. Don’t forget, if you are a customer with a disability (of any kind) and need technical assistance, the Disability Answer Desk is there to assist via phone, chat and in the United States, we also have an ASL option for our customers in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community (503-427-1234).

Go create!