2003 Conference Proceedings

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Part II (B) - Microsoft & Accessibility - Past, Present, and Future

Presenter
Madelyn Bryant McIntire, Director
Microsoft
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
Email: madbmac@microsoft.com

OVERVIEW

Microsoft is committed to supporting the development of personal computer software that is fully accessible to individuals with disabilities-technology that enables them to use PCs at work, at school, and at home. To this end, accessibility options are built into our Windows operating system, and features specifically for individuals with disabilities are included in many of our software applications (such as Office XP). In addition, we are creating technology that can be used by software developers to make their products more accessible.

Currently, over 150 assistive technology products are commercially available. These assistive technology products enable individuals with disabilities to work in all types of environments, go to school and have ready access to the Internet. However, in spite of the wide variety of assistive technology products that provide access to PC systems for individuals with all types of disabilities, the majority of people around the world do not know of their available ability or how these products work.

How does an individual with a severe mobility impairment use a productivity application when he/she can't use the keyboard or the mouse? How does a programmer who is blind use a state-of-the-art development tool when he/she can't see the screen? These questions can be answered with assistive technology products that run on the Windows platform to provide complete computer access.

Technology-wise, we are rapidly moving towards a myriad of form factors and devices for performing tasks and to access the increasingly vast array of products and services on the Web. This has the possibility of incredible impact while at the same time, the very real yet disturbing possibility of making the Digital Divide a chasm, especially for people with disabilities. As cell phones and PDAs converge to be the new personal computers, what happens to students who are blind or fine-motor impaired? Today they are out of luck. Tomorrow, if we technologists work together with people with disabilities and do our jobs right with respect to access for everyone, they should be included in the revolution. But, it has to be designed in, thought about, and built upon. How do things like this happen? How can we insure that they always happen? However it happens, it can't be an after-thought. It has to be an invaluable product development process.

We will have failed to truly change the world during this so-called information revolution if a significant portion of humanity is locked out. The tools and services that we provide must be accessible for everyone. We can't appreciate any of this technology, nor truly value it, until we look at everything that will come together to weigh it ... The person who is blind on the Web. An individual who is deaf who wants to communicate with a colleague. The senior citizen who is arthritic. The child having a hard time in the classroom. We must also remember that technology developed with one disability in mind often results in helping individuals with a completely different disability, or multiple disabilities - or no disability at all.

Microsoft will continue to strive to build the most accessible products possible, and to work closely with assistive technology vendors to meet the needs of our customers with disabilities throughout the world.


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