Empowerment marks the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities

By Jenny Lay-Flurrie

Stuart Pixley, a Senior Attorney at Microsoft


Today marks the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (UN IDPD). This year’s theme, “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality” is a powerful and important reminder of the opportunity ahead to empower. Whether that’s with digital skills, technology that helps with daily needs or empowering and building the pipeline talent with disabilities entering the education and the workplace.

The word ‘empower’ means a lot to every Microsoft employee, it’s a key word in our mission ‘to empower every person on the planet to achieve more’, including the billion+ with disabilities. So, this year has special meaning to us and want to share some new features, and programs that we hope empower a more inclusive, diverse, and productive world.

Empowering Through Technology

As someone with deafness, I’m incredibly passionate about captioning. It’s part of my daily toolkit of accommodations I use to navigate my day in addition to my wonderful American Sign Language interpreters. Over the years, captioning has become a standard at our events and in our videos, and today I am excited to share news that AI powered captions are now available in the following products. I’ve been using these features for months (and in places years) as the quality has grown and can’t wait to see what you think!

Live captions & subtitles in PowerPoint.

Building on the success of the PowerPoint Presentation Translator add-in, today we’re announcing plans to release native live captions and subtitles for PowerPoint in early 2019, making presentations more inclusive and engaging for all audiences.

  • Live captions & subtitles provides real-time transcriptions of a presenter’s spoken words that appear onscreen either in the same language or in a different language.
  • At launch, we will support people presenting in one of 10+ spoken languages and support showing captions/subtitles on the screen in one of 60+ text languages.
  • The add-in option is still around and is not being deprecated – we know it’s loved, and it’s the inspiration for us going native.
  • Read more on the Microsoft 365 Blog.


Live captions & subtitles in Skype.

Today, Microsoft is also launching call captioning with live captions and subtitles for Skype to provide a more engaging experience in those calls to friends and family:

  • Live captions and subtitles in Skype are easy to turn on and use, and we’ve optimized them to be fast, continuous, and contextually update as people speak.
  • Currently subtitles auto-scroll in your call, but in the near future we’re rolling out additional viewing options that let you scroll through the conversation in their own side window so you don’t miss a moment.
  • Skype will be rolling out translation support for over 20 languages and dialects in the coming weeks.
  • Read more on the Skype Blog.


Intelligent accessibility in Stream.

As part of our commitment to empower people and organizations with AI solutions, we are expanding the availability of intelligent features in Microsoft Stream. These features are rolling out to all Office 365 Enterprise, Firstline and Education plans:

  • Speaker timelines that use facial detection to indicate who is talking, so you can easily jump to each speaker in a video.
  • Speech-to-text and captions that capture Streams in a readable form and make the content more accessible for everyone.
  • Transcript search and timecodes that let you quickly find moments that matter in a video.
  • Read more about intelligent features on the Microsoft 365 Blog.

We do recommend you use a high-quality headset microphone to get the best experience possible, and please, as always, we believe that feedback is a gift. As with any new feature set, do spend time playing with it and let us know what you think by providing your feedback via Accessibility UserVoice and the Disability Answer Desk.

There’s lots more product goodness to check out and encourage you all to check out the six videos released during October featuring our CEO Satya Nadella and many of our accessibility employee ninja’s. These videos explain the power of Xbox Adaptive Controller, Seeing AI, Eye Control, Soundscape, Learning Tools, and Inclusive Presentations. Fun fact, these have already been viewed over 4.5M times! For more information on these or any of the products, please do check out Microsoft.com/accessibility which we keep up to date with all the latest!

Supporting you with technology:

One of the common questions I get when out and about, is ‘where can I learn more about what features you have and how to use them’. One of our goals is to ensure you can find, activate and use features that empower you quickly and easily. We’ve been working on some programs that we hope help get you access to training to get up to speed, and support when you need assistance in the way that works best for you.

  • Webinar Series: Excited to announce that we are starting a new monthly Disability Answer Desk webinar series on Microsoft product accessibility features starting in January.  Check out our Webinar Sway to learn more and to sign up!
  • Accessibility at a Glance training: Quick snackable videos (2-3 minutes) show the latest and greatest in accessibility, a mix of technical and non-technical subjects. This month we released Considering Keyboard Only Users, Reading View in Microsoft Edge, and Inclusive Interviewing. And we do give points if you can figure out who the voice/cartoon character is – everyone featured is a member of the accessibility ninja crew!
  • Disability Answer Desk: We are here to support you in the way that works best for you and our Disability Answer Desk is currently available in 16 markets and 4 languages – French, English, Spanish and American Sign Language. We also offer live video support for people who are blind or have low vision through the free Be My Eyes App which recently went 24/7. You can literally call us anytime!


Building a Pipeline of Inclusion

Lastly, building a culture and a pipeline of inclusion. This has been an area of focus for us for several years, but like the saying goes – there is far more ahead of us than behind us. We encourage you to check out our updated Disability Inclusion Journey overview which shares what we’ve learned along the way and how we’re focused on building systematic inclusion of talent with disabilities in the company. We incubate programs in one location, but the goal is always to expand them both in size and geography. There are two programs that are open for applications today:

  • Expansion of Ninja Camp! Last summer, we hosted out first ever Ninja Camp for kids with disabilities. High school students joined us on the Redmond campus for an introduction to technology, life at Microsoft, and the future of accessibility. On December 3, we will begin accepting applications for the 2019 Ninja Camp, expanding the program to 50 students here in the Seattle area. Our goal is to take the learnings from these first set of camps and can create a toolkit to replicate the event in other companies.
  • DisAbility Scholarship Applications! The time between high school graduation and college graduation is the biggest drop-off point for kids with disabilities. We created the disAbility Scholarship in 2013 to help enable high school students with disabilities to go to college and target a career in the technology industry. Each year this scholarship is awarded to promising high school seniors who plan to attend a vocational or academic college in the US (or a school with a US affiliate) and have a financial need. We are excited to announce that applications now being accepted! If you’re interested in applying, don’t delay…applications must be submitted by March 1, 2019!

These are some of the new steps we are taking to empower, but it’s by no means the full list. Today, Microsofties and AI for Accessibility grant winners around the globe will be sharing some of their programs and stories and we can’t wait to share those with you. One of those is Present Pal in Scotland, which aims to improve how people give presentations, and InnerVoice in the USA who are working on an application that helps children with autism develop their communication skills. AI is such a huge catalyst for innovation and opportunity for people with disabilities, and if you have a great idea, please do check out the website: www.microsoft.com/airforaccessibility and submit your grant application!

Have a wonderful IDPD and thank you for the partnership. Please, don’t hesitate to let me know what you want to see going forward and be sure to visit the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities website to learn what you can do to empower and include people with disabilities around the world.