Global Accessibility Awareness Day – Accessibility at the heart of innovation  

Image of members of the accessibility community at Microsoft

Today, we celebrate the 12th annual Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD): A day to drive awareness, highlight the advancements in accessible technology, and the incredible work happening within the community to bridge the disability divide. Last week, I had the opportunity to see this in action in Liverpool, UK, where staff at sites across the city had leaned into Microsoft training to level up their knowledge on digital accessibility, leading to a whole new level of conversation with job seekers. Can’t wait to see the impact this has on unemployment and underemployment with rates are still as high as 80% around the world.

Technology can positively impact the disability divide. Accessibility is a fundamental right and we are proud to build technology in partnership with people around the world, to raise the bar of equity. Accessibility has long historical roots that we build upon. Something we explored in this new two-minute video Accessibility at the Heart of Innovation, with more in stories behind the video. Today also sees the launch of new programs and technologies with technology advancements in AI, Office, Gaming and People with new skilling and non-profit partnerships to accelerate knowledge and use of accessibility around the world. Highlighted a few of these below.

Disability Answer Desk expands with GPT-4

Over the past few months, the world has been captivated by the promise of generative AI. Accessibility is important to deliver inclusive products and is a key part of the Responsible AI principles. Responsible AI is accessible AI. To keep accessibility at the heart of generative AI, we have three grounding principles: AI should be accessible, representative of people with disabilities and innovate to open doors. Great to see examples of where generative AI can change paradigms for disabled people. Starting with BeMyEyes.

Microsoft has a long-standing partnership with BeMyEyes, a smartphone app for blind and low vision users. BeMyEyes has expanded its capabilities, with the support of OpenAI, by introducing Virtual Volunteer that can provide 500 million of its users with detailed AI-generated descriptions of the world without needing a sighted person. Since we began our partnership with Disability Answer Desk and BeMyEyes in 2017, customers have told us that calling DAD via BeMyEyes resolves issues quickly (resolved 95% of the time) and with great results (customer satisfaction rating of 4.5 out of 5).

Now we are taking customer support to the next level by announcing a new pilot program to add GPT-4-powered functionality to DAD. Our hope to delight our customers with faster service, independent resolution, and learnings on the power of gen-AI for customers with disabilities. Together with Hilton, P&G, Sony, and The National Federation of the Blind. Honored to learn together.

Easier, more discoverable accessibility in Office

Our enterprise customers and partners are building accessibility into the heart of their organizations through Microsoft products, services, and websites. We asked how we can better serve IT administrators to create more inclusive workplaces. Based on their feedback, proud to announce Accessibility Baseline, an update to Microsoft 365 Apps Admin Center and Cloud Policy. Administrators can now enable accessible document creation for M365, and new improved Accessibility ribbon for Mac and PC,  enhanced Narrator support for Excel and accessibility checking tools built into Office, continues to make accessibility more discoverable and easier to use.

Gaming for everyone

Gaming is a huge field in accessibility and proud that Microsoft Gaming continues to drive innovation through accessible gaming for over 427 million gamers with disabilities. Today, they announced that 18,000 Xbox Ambassadors have collectively completed over one million Accessibility Explorer Path missions. Like ItsMileyGirl, a fierce advocate for accessibility after learning about features available and why they are important to users with disabilities. Check out the Xbox celebration of GAAD and learn more about Xbox Ambassadors, updated accessibility support pages, new features, and gamer stories.

Empowering disabled talent

People are at the heart of the work in accessibility. Empowering and upskilling the employment pipeline is a key part of our work to tackle the disability divide. Over the past two years, over 1.5 million have taken the Microsoft Accessibility fundamentals training. Including 26K job coaches in the UK, like those in Liverpool last week. Today, in partnership with LinkedIn, proud to launch new tools and trainings to pave a more accessible pipeline for talent whether you’re a person with a disability, manager, or ally. Visit Microsoft Accessibility Training, our one-stop shop for skilling, which includes pointers to these new resources:

Accelerating through partnership

Today, we are announcing the 2023 Microsoft Accessibility Nonprofit Tech Accelerator (NTA) grantees. Each nonprofit grantee advancing accessibility, disability rights, and inclusion around the world. One example is the Tech for Independent Communication project, a joint effort between African Health Innovation Centre and Ghana National Association of the Deaf, who aim to create an accessible video-based survey system for collating feedback from deaf students in Ghana. Congratulations to all grantees!

Microsoft Partners are also innovating, bringing their own strengths and relationships that accelerate accessibility through scaled solutions. Reddit is using Microsoft Azure Cognitive Service to provide best-in-class alt text captions for the millions of images on Reddit’s platform. Also stories from Atos, EY, and WPP on their accessibility journey to adopt, build, and innovate in new blog from Nicole Dezen, Chief Partner Officer. Thank you partners for investing in accessibility.

To close

Accessibility is a fundamental right and route to innovation. Growing a culture of accessibility takes all pieces, from technology to skilling to partnership. Proud that Microsoft is invested in that holistic culture and in awe of all those around the world that continue to push forward the future and build a more inclusive and accessible world. Thank you for your partnership and wish you all a Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

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