We're at the very beginning of an exciting chapter in software development, where AI enlightenment and assistance in all products will allow end-users to focus on the unique insight and ingenuity they bring to work and creation. AI has so much potential to advance accessibility and inclusivity in technology. Examples include Seeing AI, a free app that uses artificial intelligence to describe the visual world for blind and low vision individuals, and the Jugalbandi chatbot, which is reducing language and literacy barriers for Indians accessing government information.
But if we want AI-driven innovation to truly empower everyone, we must have diversity on the teams who create with AI – in factors including disability status, gender, race and beyond. We’ve seen that diverse teams build more inclusive products and have more innovative ideas. For example, at Microsoft we have many employees with disabilities driving huge impact in AI innovation – like Saqib Shaikh who created the Seeing AI app, or Swetha Machanavajhala, who led the hackathon team that brought Live Captions to Windows 11, to name just two.
At Microsoft we are committed to growing diversity and inclusion in our own teams through our inclusive hiring programs, but we are also in a position where we can positively impact the technology industry as a whole.
One of the ways we support our customers in their own inclusion journeys is by creating accessible development tools and platforms -- like the accessibility checker built into Visual Studio, powered by Accessibility Insights and integrated directly into the developer environment, making it easier to detect and fix common issues early in the software lifecycle. Another example is the work we’ve invested in Visual Studio Code, which is one of our most inclusive developer tools. We are continuing this today within the emerging area of AI development.
Introducing the new Azure AI Studio – designed and built with accessibility in mind
Today at Ignite 2023 we announced the Public Preview of our new Azure AI Studio and SDK, a cutting-edge platform that enables developers who want to add AI capabilities into their applications without having to build and train their own models from scratch. In building a new tool, we saw an opportunity: Our new Azure AI Studio wasbuilt with accessibility in mind from the beginning.
When developing the new Azure AI Studio, we knew we had a huge opportunity to make sure cutting-edge AI tools could be used by everybody. We started with inclusive design reviews, accessibility testing using the DHS Trusted Tester standard, and usability reviews, including working with our accessibility research collaborator Fable to get feedback from their community. We worked closely with our colleagues with disabilities all the way through the development process of Azure AI Studio. Employees with disabilities are part of the frontline of AI development – including projects like the Microsoft Security Copilot and Azure AI Studio itself.
The result is a product and SDK we believe is simple and easy for everyone to use, including inclusive features that will benefit everyone:
A full-featured SDK, allowing developers to move seamlessly between UI and code, choosing their preferred way of working when developing generative AI solutions
Accessibility support for the Azure AI Studio user interface
Speech capabilities in the studio playground, allowing developers to talk to their copilots and hear spoken responses
Coming early 2024: Dark mode, a beloved feature for many developers, but especially useful for users with vision disabilities and some users who are neurodivergent.
Collaborating with EY’s Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence
Accessibility is a journey, and our commitment to accessibility continues past today’s announcement. We’re excited to share that we will be collaborating with EY’s Neuro-Diverse Center of Excellence to improve the inclusivity of Azure AI Studio for neurodivergent developers.
We’ve been working with EY since 2017 as part of the Neurodiversity @ Work Employer Roundtable, and we share their philosophy on diversity as a fuel for innovation. Through this new collaboration, we will be working closely with neurodivergent developers from EY to gather feedback and to co-design improvements for the new studio. We believe this will help us create a product that is easier for everyone to use.