Microsoft announced today a new five-year plan to help bridge the “disability divide” for over 1 billion people living with disabilities. The various initiatives aim to make technology more accessible for disabled people, increase skills and education, and make the workplace environment more inclusive for everyone.
On the technology front, Microsoft is committed to making its products accessible by design. Some of the Microsoft 365 accessibility features Microsoft highlighted today include Dictate in Microsoft 365, Immersive Reader support coming to PowerPoint, as well as Microsoft Teams’ high-contrast mode.
Microsoft will also continue to work with the best accessibility researchers across the world, and the company announced today a new partnership with the University of Washington in the US and the nonprofit SeeAbility in the UK to develop new accessible technologies. The company will also create a new Low-Cost Assistive Technology Fund this fall to make accessibility technologies more affordable for everyone.
Because the development of accessible technology is not enough, Microsoft is also investing in skills development programs for disabled people and plans to offer new curriculum across Microsoft Learn and LinkedIn Learning. The company also detailed new efforts to connect skilled workers with jobs, including the new Career Coach app in Microsoft Teams that is powered by LinkedIn.
Last but not least, Microsoft will encourage inclusive hiring by bringing its Supported Employment program from one to 12 countries. The company’s Autism Hiring program, which will soon include neurodiversity and learning disabilities, will also be expanded to Asia and Europe over the next 12 to 18 months.
If the Redmond giant is now taking accessibility very seriously with an internal Disability Employee Resource Group including more than 22 disability communities, the company also wants to create promote a culture of accessibility among its partners. “Since 2015 we have expressly included accessibility in our procurement processes, and it’s now a requirement for working with us,” Microsoft President Brad Smith emphasized today.