Spring forward – May gave us a month of accessibility innovation

A stylized image of a person using a laptop

New this month

There has been a lot of accessibility news this month including Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), an annual event that encourages everyone to learn and share best practices for digital accessibility and inclusion. And to think it all started with a blog post and a phone call. I had the privilege of talking with the co-founders of GAAD, Joe Devon and Jennison Asuncion, about the origin of GAAD and the potential of AI for accessibility and the disability community.

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Advancements in hardware

There were several advancements in hardware this month. The Designed for Xbox team with our partner Byowave, launched the Proteus Controller (available for preorder), a modular adaptive kit with innovative “snap and play” parts that connect for use in Xbox and PC games right out of the box, giving disabled gamers the tools to build their own way to play.

Surface shared its latest advancements in hardware, including adaptive touch mode and inclusive keyboards. With adaptive touch mode, you can use the touchpad with different parts of your limbs. The touchpad provides tactile feedback that simulates the feeling of physical clicks. Adaptive touch is available in Surface Pro Flex Keyboard, a detachable keyboard that allows you to position your keyboard in the most comfortable location. The team also demonstrated how Cephable’s AI-powered platform can use adaptive control inputs to interact with your Surface. Cephable’s platform takes advantage of the NPU on the new Surface devices.

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AI accelerating accessibility

Using the Ask Microsoft Accessibility chatbotAI can help identify new ways to support independence, inclusion, and accessibility. This month, we launched our updated Accessibility Fundamentals learning path, free for all, and available now on MS Learn, with an option to download and use the course within an organization’s learning environment, for the first time. This new course includes topics such as AI fundamentals and building inclusive AI experiences.

We’re also leveraging AI to better support you with your technical needs. Our new Ask Microsoft Accessibility chatbot provides quick responses to questions about the accessibility of Microsoft products and services.

At Microsoft Build, we showcased the latest developer tools, such as using a screen reader across virtual machines through Microsoft Dev Box, and the launch of Be My Eyes, now available on Windows. The app offers rich visual descriptions of photos, graphs, and screenshots for the blind and low-vision community.

We also shared the latest advancements in accessible media. Audio descriptions (AD) provide auditory narration of visual content such as movies and television. Less than 10% of global digital content has audio descriptions available today, not meeting the needs of the blind and low vision community. Register now for the preview. Through co-creation with the disability community and AI, we can responsibly accelerate the process of incorporating AD so more content is available with meaningful audio descriptions.

Mental health and technology

Card showing 1 in 8 people live with a mental health conditionMental Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to emphasize the important role technology can play in a person’s mental health journey. Approximately 970 million people around the world live with mental health conditions. We are committed to creating a culture of support and providing tools and resources to our employees and customers that support mental health. We’ve also been elevating the conversation around mental health and leveraging technology to support people with mental health conditions.

Microsoft Research co-published “Rethinking technology innovation for mental health: framework for multi-sectoral collaboration” to highlight ways to support greater collaborations across sectors toward a future in which people have consistently positive interactions between technology use and their mental health.

An illustration from Max and the Purple MonsterOne of the ways we leverage technology to support mental health is by empowering people to tell their own stories and share their experiences. Max and the Purple Monster is one of those stories. In this father and son collaboration, 13-year-old Judah moved across the country with his family and felt something he’d never felt before: anxiety. Judah wrote a story about the experience, and he and his dad brought the story to life with watercolor illustrations, created using AI.

Better together

We know we cannot achieve our accessibility goals alone. We need to collaborate with customers, developers, partners, advocates, and the disability community. Microsoft works with its global partner ecosystem to create a more accessible and inclusive future for all, using the Accessibility Horizons Methodology, which offers a common way to identify and address accessibility needs, to create a long-term value chain of inclusion with their employees and industry. Partners, such as WPP Satalia, are innovating with AI to make advertising more accessible for people with disabilities. These are just some of the incredible ways we are collaborating and innovating with developers, partners, customers, and the disability community, but there is still more to do.

In Brussels, Microsoft took part in the annual European Accessibility Summit, hosted by the European Disability Forum (EDF). At the summit, we showcased how AI-powered tools are creating new possibilities for people with disabilities. One example is how the iconic Rijksmuseum is making art more accessible. The Amsterdam museum is using AI to create rich descriptions for one million works of art, making the experience more accessible for blind and low-vision visitors.

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These are just some of the ways we are collaborating and innovating with developers, partners, customers, and the disability community, but there is still more to do. Join us on this journey and visit Microsoft Unlocked, where you’ll find additional accessibility impact stories and resources. Together, we can make a difference and create a more accessible and inclusive world for every unique person.


Microsoft Unlocked

Microsoft accessibility resources and training

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Microsoft YouTube Channel

Closing Video: Satya Nadella at Microsoft Build 2024

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