On Wednesday, Microsoft announced our support for the newly announced Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) charter, Promoting Global Digital Inclusion through ICT Procurement Policies & Accessibility Standards. The charter calls on governments worldwide to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities by demanding only accessible technology from their suppliers. We are proud to join the other signatories, which include some of the most forward-thinking governments and advocacy groups around the world like the European Disability Forum, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and Disabled People’s International, and we encourage other companies to consider joining the charter.
Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. This means developing innovative technology that is accessible to everyone – regardless of age or ability. It is clear to us that information technology needs to be a tool that empowers and enables people with disabilities to do more.
We believe that technology companies like ours should work – and are working – to better meet the needs of people with disabilities by making our products accessible. But there is also an important role for governments to play in promoting digital inclusion and advancing the use of accessible technology in the government sector.
Governments, consumers and industry all benefit when accessibility criteria are used in public procurement of ICT. Governments can interact with and deliver services more effectively to their citizens, ensuring that all of the people they serve have equal access to information and services, the political process and jobs. Increased workforce participation by people with disabilities can lead to increased incomes and higher GDPs. When procurement officials purchase the most accessible products available, it creates economic incentives for businesses to build products that are accessible, which in turn leads to more innovation in technology for people with disabilities.
Integrating accessibility into public procurement is already an obligation for public sector organizations in the United States and EU. And, as G3ict points out in its recent paper, Promoting Global Digital Inclusion through ICT Procurement Policies & Accessibility Standards, the technology, tools and best practices exist today to enable governments to increase digital inclusion in their agencies and communities.
For digital inclusion in the public sector to be truly successful at a global level, an international standard is needed to promote innovation, interoperability and cost effectiveness. Like G3ict, we believe the new European Standard is the best platform to build from and encourage industry, governments and consumers to continue to work together to deliver on the vision of an international accessibility standard for procurement.
Governments can start now by integrating accessibility criteria into their existing procurement procedures:
- Consider accessibility of ICT when it is purchased, acquired or developed inside government.
- Train procurement officials how to use and evaluate ICT against existing accessibility criteria such as the European Standard on accessibility requirements for Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) products and services (EN 301 549), and make awards based on performance.
- Partner with industry to learn more about available accessible technology and make self-declaration of conformance (SDOC) part of the collaborative process – one such example is the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) that is used in the United States.
Microsoft is committed to continuing to work with government, industry and consumers to bring more accessible technology to the market. We believe technology designed for the 15 percent of the world’s population with some form of disability can also be greatly beneficial for the other 85 percent that will encounter limits to what they would normally be able to do during some part of the day.
We applaud G3ict for their leadership and hope that others will join in supporting the charter to make full digital inclusion a reality for all.