A laptop displaying the message 'I design and develop experiences that make people's lives simple.'

The most recent Wirelive in our series saw Wirehive’s Principal Cloud Solution Architect, Andy Readman, discuss the importance of accessibility within the tech industry with Rory Preddy, the Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft.

  • Accessibility is one of the most pressing issues facing the technology industry today.

  • Software like VinVL and DrawingBot that are allowing people previously excluded from mainstream online and offline communities to participate in a greater number of discussions.  

  • The key to a generally accessible society lies in the hands of the tech industry. Software is already operating within certain sectors in order to enable accessibility. Yet, there’s scope for greater positive impact!

So, what do we mean by accessibility? Rory notes that to answer that question, we must first define the term ‘disability’ as a mismatched human condition. It refers to the inability to use something designed for the masses (a product, service or piece of software), and being made to feel disabled. To design something accessible is to design it for everybody to use, regardless as to any mental or physical challenges they may experience.

How you can make a difference?

 

Some background information

Ability is on a spectrum- there’s no ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ way to be or use technology. It’s time to pop the empathy bubble, because people might have comparable experiences that would enable them to create a more universally accessible product; there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to technology. Considering the restrictions that a user might be experiencing with using a product or service when constructing it will make for a more inclusive and user-friendly end product. Andy adds that building a technological product or service to be inclusive and accessible is a prerequisite for building a ‘good’ product. It can’t be good if it isn’t accessible. Whether you’re an architect or a developer, it’s important to consider every need or requirement that your user might have when using your product.

Real life examples

Technology is already paving the way to making entertainment, work-lives and the physical world more accessible to previously disadvantaged individuals. Rory highlights the Xbox adaptive controller, which was developed by Microsoft. He shares that initially; the audience were largely indifferent to the controller. Yet, when the people behind the design and production of the controller were introduced to the audience it was a different story. The controller became something other than just another product, it was a watershed moment in Microsoft’s history.

It’s additionally noted that Microsoft runs approximately 90% of all PCs worldwide. Microsoft, as one of the tech industry’s leaders in terms of digital accessibility, is in the ideal position to implement mass change. Users with ADHD or visual impairment are already supported by Microsoft’s software, just to give two examples. Accessibility is built into the Microsoft ecosystem, and the team are trained to be transparent and supportive of one another’s needs and requirements. Inclusivity begins at the grass roots; to make an absolutely accessible product, the team producing it need to be equally supported at work.

Andy shares the positive impact that technology has had on his family in recent years. Andy lost his mother to motor neurone disease last year, and notes the remarkable impact that technology had in facilitating conversation in the final stages of the condition. Simply by purchasing a £200 piece of tech to plug into a Window PC, Andy’s mother was able to communicate with her family when she’d otherwise have been unable to. Yet, Andy notes that the experience made it clear that some apps and providers are more accessible than others. Whereas Facebook made communication easy, other apps like Whatsapp did not.

The impact of coronavirus

Rory reflects on the impact that coronavirus has had on accessibility. Countless employees have worked from home for the last couple of years, those in need of additional help and support have been ‘muted.’ That is, because they’re not always visible, people may not think to take into consideration their additional requirements. Rory reiterates that people need to feel empowered to be vocal about when they need help. At Microsoft, ‘covering’ refers to individual teammates learning how to handle their peers’ disabilities. The more empowered we feel to be vocal and open about our own mental and physical challenges, the faster we learn about how we can make changes to products and services to make them more accessible.

What can you do?

Accessibility should never be a bolt-on- it’s an intrinsic part of a product or service. Microsoft has a free course titled ‘Accessibility Fundamentals’ that covers how you can use key accessibility features built into products like Windows 10, PowerPoint and Translator. The course also covers how you can create accessible content with Microsoft 365.

Get your Accessibility Fundamentals badge!

Catch up on the livestreamed discussion by clicking here.