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Editor’s note: This blog is a guest post written in partnership with the Microsoft Accessibility team.

 

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person on the planet to achieve more, inclusive of all backgrounds and diverse characteristics. With more than 1 billion people worldwide who have a disability, it’s critical that accessibility is a part of the design process to both fuel innovation as well as create a digital future that extends to everyone. When inclusion is used to drive innovation, there are no limits to what’s possible to help empower people to communicate, create, keep meaningful employment, and ensure diverse populations have access to new technology. Accessibility may include things you’ve never thought of before, so be sure to check out all the accessibility features that Microsoft offers.

 

Inclusive culture is at the core of Microsoft’s mission. When a diverse set of people are involved in the design process, it promotes innovation, creates better services, products, and websites, and ensures the needs of all users are addressed. These considerations also extend into our student developer initiatives. In both the Imagine Cup and Microsoft Student Partner programs, students are encouraged to make an impact locally and globally through technology, and solve problems leveraging their passion.

 

For the 2020 Imagine Cup competition, we’ve introduced new Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion judging criteria to empower students to create solutions inclusive of all users. Past teams have used diversity and accessibility challenges in their own communities as a lens to drive their innovations. 2016 finalists, team BoneyCare, developed an app for users with speech disorders to improve their confidence and speaking quality. In the 2019 Imagine Cup World Championship, team Finderr won third place for their app solution to help people who are blind or have visual impairment find lost objects using their phones. Other teams have developed diversity-focused solutions such as an app to monitor fetal health remotely to reduce the rate of intrauterine deaths, a communication platform for dyslexic users, and a water contamination detection app to empower all communities to have access to clean water. “We’ve always been motivated and inspired by what comes out of the Imagine Cup. It’s a really strong root of innovation and participants create the future wave of technology,” says Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft. We can’t wait to see what student innovators create to benefit all users.

 

Whether you’re a student attending a local hackathon, leading as a Microsoft Student Partner, developing an Imagine Cup solution, working on a class project, or interested in expanding your skills, these tips and resources are a great place to start.

 

Here are our top 3 accessibility, diversity and inclusion tips to keep in mind:

 

1. Design inclusively from the start.

A project or technology that’s inclusive by design is not only accessible to a wider community from the get-go, but also shows that you are committed to creating something usable by everyone. Inclusive design is a methodology, born out of digital environments, that enables and draws on the full range of human diversity. Most importantly, this means including and learning from people with a range of perspectives.  Consider the wide variety of people using your solution and if they will be able to benefit from it, such as elderly users, minority communities, and those with disabilities. Find resources for inclusive design, including downloadable toolkits and video inspiration.

 

2. Include and seek input from people across a wide variety of backgrounds.

Make a habit of asking questions and getting feedback from audiences of diverse gender, race, age, and disability characteristics. If you create something for varied populations, involve them in the design process to create something that is more likely to meet the needs of the end-user. This could also include leveraging external reviews such as customer surveys, focus groups, beta-testers, subject-matter experts, or potential investors. Ensure review participants are representative of a wide spectrum of perspectives  to gain accurate insight into your project’s accessibility and applicability, so that you are more likely to create something that works for anyone who might use it.

 

Microsoft’s Xbox adaptive controller, for example, originally started as a company hackathon project working in consultation with Warfighter Engaged, a nonprofit organization which provides gaming devices to wounded veterans. With insight into accessibility challenges that users experience, the team continued to iterate the controller, becoming the first piece of Microsoft hardware developed through an inclusive design approach. In addition, check out an interview with Jutta Treviranus, Founder of the Inclusive Design Research Centre at the Ontario College of Art and Design University, on why having empathy for others can be a lens to create an inclusive community and benefit from everyone’s unique input.

 

3. Test accessibility in your projects, technology, and events.

It’s equally important to include diverse group representation in your design and testing processes to ensure your technology works for them. You can also run accessibility tests for your websites using Accessibility Insights. This can be especially helpful if you’re planning to submit a project to the 2020 Imagine Cup (hint: part of the updated 2020 judging criteria includes accessibility testing!).

 

Additionally, ensure your events and presentations are inclusive by testing your Office content with Accessibility Checker. For example, not only can you test if your PowerPoint presentations are accessible to everyone, you can also include live subtitles and captions with support in 12 languages.