Scaling accessibility through partnership and a shared approach - Microsoft AI Cloud Partner Program
Nicole Dezen Chief Partner Officer and Corporate Vice President, Global Partner Solutions
May 18,2023

Scaling accessibility through partnership and a shared approach

Two women converse while sitting at a conference table with one other colleague

Today is the 12th annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) — a day founded to get everyone thinking, learning, and actioning digital accessibility and inclusion, together with the more than one billion people around the world with disabilities.

As I reflect on my own learning journey, I’m proud to serve as the executive sponsor accelerating our global commercial accessibility agenda with our Microsoft partner ecosystem.

At the recent Microsoft Ability Summit, we announced exciting innovations including “Accessibility Assistant” in M365, as well as advancements with Microsoft Azure and Windows 11, that will empower blind and low vision users. More than 20,000 people from over 120 countries attended, with executives and practitioners across different disciplines — from IT, HR, ESG, D&I, marketing, legal and more.

Companies that champion disability inclusion often outperform competitors on profitability and value creation. In our customer conversations, we’ve found the focus on accessibility to be relevant and valuable across the business, including user engagement, employee experience, digital skilling, culture, procurement, regulations and policy, product testing, and innovation, among other areas.

Empowering a holistic and shared approach

Through learnings from a global team of Microsoft accessibility advocates, we’ve seen key themes emerge as organizations seek to learn, build, and deliver on digital accessibility. Hence, we developed an Accessibility Horizon Methodology that I’m excited to share with you, so that we can build a more holistic and shared approach to collectively grow in our understanding and better support our customers’ accessibility priorities.

Horizon 1: Adopt strategies and tools for accessibility and disability inclusion.

Gaining awareness of disability inclusion along with leadership commitment to implement an accessibility strategy is critical. Accessible digital transformation can start with simple steps to increase awareness and use of Microsoft 365 accessibility features, which include accessibility checker, magnification, keyboard shortcuts, captions, speech recognition, AI generated image descriptions, and reading views, to name a few. This helps organizations realize the benefits of adopting M365, and create new work approaches that meet the needs and expectations of employees today.  

For instance, Atos enables customers to adopt inclusive Microsoft 365 experiences, providing an Accessibility as a service implementation. They also offer an accessible helpdesk supporting employees who use built-in and third-party assistive technologies.   

Horizon 2: Build and scale accessible digital infrastructure

As organizations learn and grow in their accessibility commitment, they prioritize empowering employees and customers with accessible digital apps and infrastructure. Organizations can embed accessibility testing as they develop internal business applications, training collateral, product roadmaps, communications, and marketing plans. Over time, these efforts help support inclusive hiring commitments, boost employee engagement, and create more accessible customer experiences. 

For example, EY’s commitment to accessibility and inclusion spans from recruitment to accessible workplaces adjustments, to procurement and communications, and demonstrates the emerging importance of documenting and auditing their journey on accessibility. They recognize that by bringing together accessibility, usability, and collaboration with the target audience, inclusive design uplifts equity, creates long-term value, and drives innovation.

Horizon 3: Innovate and deliver new accessibility solutions to expand inclusion

Across industries, including healthcare, education, retail, banking, media and communications, transport and travel, accessibility is becoming a core customer expectation and a business differentiator. Through inclusive design approaches, adoption of AI and cognitive services, and delivery across multiple device platforms and operating systems, partners can unlock new use cases and opportunities to scale innovative accessible technologies.

Our partner WPP developed Brand Guardian, an AI-based app enabling companies to measure diversity, inclusion and accessibility (WCAG AAA) values of brand collateral at scale, and to enable a more inclusive digital marketing and social media presence. They also partnered with Haleon to reimagine customer experiences, enhancing the functionality of the Seeing AI app to enable low vision users to access important information on healthcare packaging.

Partnering with the community

On our journey, we must work with the experts in the community by our side. By collaborating with organizations that focus on people with disabilities, we learn what the community is looking for in technology solutions and meet their needs.

For instance, partners such as ATOS, EY and WPP, alongside Microsoft, are signatories to the Valuable 500, a global community of businesses and leaders who commit to make progress on disability inclusion.

A great example of this is Illitia, Microsoft #BuildFor2030 Hackathon 2022 winner, who collaborated with ONCE Foundation to create Braille Character Recognition, which uses computer vision and Azure Cognitive Services to convert printed Braille into text, making it easier for teachers to support blind students in the classroom.

Innovate and deliver accessible technology at scale, together

As we celebrate GAAD, I invite partners to bring your skills, passion, and innovation to accessibility within each of your own organizations and to your customers across every industry.

We’re excited by our shared goals of creating value for customers through innovation and inclusive digital experiences, delivered through the reach and scale of our global partner ecosystem.

Leverage the resources available to you, and join us: