Thanks to a stretch project at work I had a chance to look into the different efforts around accessibility that are going on at Microsoft. This was a real eye opener and I thought it would be worth documenting some of my findings in a blog post.

Why is it important to build accessible products?

More than one billion people need a form of assistance when using technology today but only 1 out of 10 of them have access to the assistance that they require.

To truly capture the whole market, we need to be aware of the accessibility needs that exist inside our market and address them adequately. Otherwise we may not only miss out on market share but also lose market share to competitors who are able to serve everyone better.

What does Microsoft focus on?

One of Microsoft’s core products is Windows, a product that is (or was at least when it first launched) all about the visual user interface. Obviously, this creates a requirement for Microsoft to design accessibility helpers for those who cannot see that visual user interface.

While this is certainly one area that Microsoft focuses on, the company structures the accessibility needs of users into six different categories:

Three of them are more physical…

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Mobility

…but accessibility needs also include…

  • Neurodiversity
  • Learning: Ability to Learn & Learning Types
  • Mental Health

What are some examples of the work Microsoft is currently doing?

Most people in tech are aware of the Xbox adaptive controller, which got a huge amount of positive feedback from the accessibility community when it first launched.

After its build presentation Seeing AI – a phone app developed by Microsoft – gained popularity. It allows users to take pictures of their surroundings and get Azure Cognitive Services to work out what is around them.
This allows people with little or no vision to read menus in a restaurant, check who is sitting around a table in a meeting, or even read text in pictures on websites that they are browsing in other apps.

In collaboration with the American Printing House for the Blind and a number of non-governmental organisations across the world Microsoft also helped create “Code Jumper” under its “Project Torino” banner. Code Jumper is a set of hardware modules that can be plugged together to create simple audible programmes, allowing children to learn programming concepts without the need to use an IDE or visual interface.

Microsoft also helps enable accessibility scenarios through its partners: