You use accessible technology everyday and don't know it
Published May 22 2020 08:27 AM 2,104 Views

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Claire:  You're watching the Microsoft US Health and Life Sciences Confessions of Health Geeks podcast a show the offers industry insight from the health geeks and data freaks of the US Health and Life Sciences industry team. I'm your host, Claire Bonaci.   

On this episode, Tracy Picon, HLS Accessibility lead, discusses the importance of inclusive design anAccessibility 

So Hi Tracy. Welcome to the podcast I'm so used to working with you on the behind the scenes part of the podcast, so it's great to have you on the other side as our  HLS Accessibility lead.   


Tracy:  Yes! I’m so excited to be here.  It’s very, very different to be on this side of things 


Claire: It really is, I know. I totally understand that. So let's jump in. So since I met you over a year ago, you've been very involved in Accessibility at Microsoft.  So how has your approach to Accessibility changed over time?  


Tracy:  When I first discovered accessible technology, my focus was on the features and functions. I wanted to educate everyone on how you could customize your machine via these functions and create a work environment that empowered everyone to work in their preferred way. And as I became more educated, I started to look more broadly at the power of accessible technology, and you start to notice that the proliferation of computing has shifted 

So, for years the typical software user was an office worker. But today, everyone has a connected device. Kids as young as 2adults 92 use smart phones and tablets every single day. So, its no longer just office workers using software. The scope and complexity of accessible technology has increased. It’s not Sufficient for technologists to ask “ how would someone in an office use technology” because seriously, every role and every function of our economy is now a software user 


Claire: Yeah, no, that’s a perfect point. And I love that you bring up that you know, everyone has it, whether its kids whether you’re in school.  It really has kind of hit every part of our world. So, do you have any examples of some tech enabled health accessibility features or tools that you’re most excited about?  


Tracy:  I do!  So, let me set the stage. Health is a great industry to focus on accessibility and driving innovation.  We inherently have a community of people who need accessible technology. We have patients with accessibility needs, maybe for the first time due to an accident or illness or loss of function and they need access to technology that supports them. And, for many of our patientstwo of the most important things to consider is communication with their care givers and to be able to interact with the tech in their hospital room or at homeSo any solution that uses software that enables people with accessibility needs to still use the software and interact with their caregiver is something that is really important. 


Ok. So, what I’m most excited about, that sort of hit the news recently, is for the future of what is being created. Or really, perhaps maybe what has yet to be created. The innovations that people are creating to tackle some of health’s biggest challenges, is astounding. This year at the 2020 Imagine Cup hack-a-thon, the innovation in the health space was astounding.  


For example.  This is not all the winners, but I’ll give you a couple of examples. One team created a digital mental health companion for younger generations, and what they found (May is mental health awareness month) but younger generations, given this new work form home scenario that we’re in, for younger generations there is a gap of accessing mental health capabilities.  

Another tech team focused on detecting early onset Parkinson’s Disease and easing the process of virtual appointments to track the diseases progression,  

And then finally, another team created a mobile app designed for the wellbeing of both the Alzheimer’s patient and their caregivers. So, there is so much innovation happening 

in the health and life sciences space.  


I am so Excited to see what we create to support patients and their families, care givers, clinicians and really our greater communities. 


Claire: Well, I love that you bring that up, because this is the new normal that we’re living in. So, having these accessibility features and having the ability to change up how we work is really important. So, I know that accessibility is very personal to you and you take it very seriously, which I love. Do you mind sharing a time when others were resistant to talking about Accessibility of inclusive design and how you addressed it?  


Tracy:  Sure. What I have found to be some of the most common objections around accessibility is 1)  a fear of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing and 2) that accessibility seems so undefined, so big, and arduous. 

So, the fear of saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say, of being unsure how to interact – People need patience and grace with themselves and to be educated. 

Ultimately the fear is addressed through education and creating allyship – being an ally to all. 


The perception  that accessibility is so big and undefined – when people start to understand that so much of the technology we use every single day was created for the disability community and this tech is a ubiquitous part of our daily lives now – we pull back the curtain. 


Whether you are using digital assistants or the microphone on your mobile, design features within the software or reading closed captions at your favorite restaurant  

– those are all examples of technology created for the disability community that have modern functions. And we really use them every day. 

Understanding that building technology with accessibility at the forefront leads to innovation for all starts to dissipate the resistance. 

I think it boils down to, educating yourself on disability etiquette and breaking down the black box of accessibility into bite size pieces, are 2 ways to knock down any blockers or barriers and then we can move forward. 


Claire: These features are really they are for everyone. Even I know I’ve heard you give this example of the button to open a door for an automatic door. You know you’re going to use that whether you’re holding a bunch of things or if you are disabled. So it really is for everyone, which is a great thing to point out. And to close out, I’d love to hear your take on one thing that you think will be an accessibility standard 10 years from now that isn’t already.  


Tracy: The advancements in Natural Language Processing will enable truly intelligent digital assistants and that will be able to assist all people, across all abilities. When we can interact with computers with the  same fidelity that we have when we use a keyboard and mouse, the more accessible software will be for the masses. 

I areally excited for the advancements in Human Computer interactions.  When we design for inclusivity it opens up products and experiences to a wider range of people. And really our job is to lower barriers to participation and reflect the diversity of our society.  


Claire: I’m so excited to see what happens in the next 10 years! And I know that we’ll be a part of it. And thanks so much Tracy. One thing I did not prep you for but if you want to give a quick plug for the Ability Summit next week?  


Tracy: Sure!  So next week is Microsoft’s 10th Anniversary of the Ability Summit. This year it will be held virtually. It will 2 half days starting Wednesday, May 27th and Thursday afternoon, May 28th.  The Ability Summit is about community and innovation and bringing those two together. It supports our disability communities, allies and accessibility professionals. So, its going to be a great event. Please register if you want to attend and I look forward to seeing you there.  


Claire: Thanks so much and I look forward to seeing everyone there, as well, since I will be attending too.    


Claire: Thank you all for watching. Please feel free to leave us questions or comments below. And check back soon for more content from the HLS industry team.  

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