[Guest Blog] Ability lies within your vulnerability
Published Nov 12 2020 05:56 PM 1,690 Views
Occasional Contributor

David Brown, an Accessibility and Inclusion leader at Phoenix Software, a Microsoft Partner based in the UK, shares his personal journey with Dyslexia and how he leverages Microsoft 365 tools for accessibility.


By pushing the button and opening the door to issues like race, accessibility, sexuality and religion, we are given opportunities that we may never have been presented with. I don’t think I could have ever imagined that Microsoft would be asking me to write a blog.  


Picture of a disabled access door buttonPicture of a disabled access door button


As someone with dyslexia, I’m passionate about inclusion. I spent most of my childhood undiagnosed, struggling to read and write until the age of 14 when I finally started to get the support I needed. That, however, ended abruptly when I left education and started in the workplace. I’d often try to hide my dyslexia and, until just a few years ago, I’d ask my partner and friends to proofread my emails to avoid embarrassment and therefore hide my accessibility needs. 


Fast forward to today, I’m sitting on my sofa using Microsoft Dictate in Word Online, not even pausing to consider spelling and punctuation.  


Those diagnosed with dyslexia are often great thinkers, and weirdly, great communicators, but unfortunately in my case that went untapped until I found the tools that I needed to unlock my potential.  


Now, I’m not saying that I’ve ‘made it’, but the moment I stopped hiding my vulnerability and my disability, I found opportunities you wouldn’t believe. I now lead the Modern Workplace and Accessibility practice at Phoenix Software and every day I get the opportunity to help the UK Public Sector become more inclusive by utilizing these skills and Microsoft’s amazing accessibility features. I’m also the Director of Accessibility & Inclusion for York Pride, ensuring it becomes a more inclusive event for our community.


Inclusive and Accessible Design 

Push the disabled access door button…it opens wider than you could imagine! 


Have you ever walked into a hotel and pressed the disabled access door button either for your own need or simply as your huge suitcase won’t fit through the dreaded revolving door? You don’t need to have a physical disability to see how poorly designed revolving doors are - they’re inaccessible by design. 


The power of inclusive design is something we can all benefit from, whether it be a dropped curb, tactile paving, voice-activated technology, or clear and concise print design. 


Accessible tech excites me. Cortana, Microsoft 365’s (M365) learning tools, robotic synthetics dictation and live captioning (to name a few), but what really excites me is the impact that accessible design brings.


Coincidentally, Microsoft has just rolled out a fantastic new feature for its M365 productivity suite which helps streamline something I have always struggled with - transcribing.  


The feature, called Transcribe in Word, gives you the ability to open the Word app on your desktop, and in the near future on your smartphone, and begin transcribing anything being said by multiple people in the room with you or on Microsoft Teams. You can also quickly grab portions of a transcribed conversation and drag them into your document. 


To access this new feature, just click the Dictate button in the toolbar and select the Transcribe option. 


Delivering accessibility and inclusion to transform education and impact lives in the community

One of the best examples customer engagements I’ve had the privilege of supporting is City College Peterborough. The college prides itself on the important role it plays in the Peterborough community, where it works with organizations of all shapes and sizes, and people from all backgrounds, to achieve their goals.


Utilizing Microsoft Teams has meant that the College now has one platform upon which they’ve built their internal communication strategy. All staff have access and can use this to hold learner files, enabling them to do their job more efficiently and effectively. They are also able to better support their learners including those in need of additional support.  An example of one such student is Ziah.


Ziah’s journey started in the Schools for Independence Group and, following a Cerebral Palsy diagnosis, he needed a frame to walk as well as other aids. The college have seen him excel and noted great improvements year on year. Thanks to the support of the college and having the right tools such as the Surface Go and Microsoft Teams, Ziah is fully independent and ready to leave the college. He is currently on work placement, and the college knows that the use of Microsoft Teams and the Surface Go is the best thing to help him excel now and in the future.


Learn more and watch Ziah’s story in our City College Peterborough Case Study

So why am I writing this?

Well, I want to talk to you about the opportunities that accessibility can bring to you and your organization. 


For much of my life I’ve hidden my accessibility needs, certainly in the corporate world it has been deemed unprofessional to discuss things that don’t fit the norm. Working within the tech industry, certainly a few years ago, I was convinced, with justification, that my career progression would be limited. Thankfully things have changed, and although there is progress to be made, by questioning, listening and adapting we all have greater opportunities than ever before. 


Only recently have I been honest with my employer about my Dyslexia, and only after discovering the amazing tools available, built-in to the software I already used, have I gained opportunities I could never have imagined. I have been asked to speak at events like Microsoft Inspire, Future Decoded, GAAD and more. I’ve built a profitable practice for Phoenix delivering hundreds of Accessibility workshops to Public Sector Organizations and I’ve recently been appointed the Accessibility & Inclusion Director for York Pride. However, more importantly, I’ve helped thousands of individuals, like me, benefit from the capabilities of inclusive technologies. 


Organizations can benefit from the implementation of a diverse workforce and generate new revenue streams by engaging with more people. Take, for example, something as simple as Accessibility Checker in M365




Using this ensures that the content you create is accessible to everyone, and might mean you reach a customer/individual that you may otherwise have missed. 


Rather than an organization pushing out a blanket statement, organizations should be doing what  employees and customers want to see to back up statement. Do you provide training? Do you provide a platform for your staff to discuss and support these statements? Open discussion of these issues is in itself education. 


This approach has benefitted Phoenix and our customers via Microsoft Accessibility Fundamentals https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/learn/paths/accessibility-fundamentals/ .


Hundreds of our staff and customers have completed this free online certification designed to educate organizations and individuals on the tools Microsoft offer to support with accessibility.


I talk about accessibility everyday due to my passions, but seeing a huge part of our business complete this accreditation without instruction has been inspiring. It’s led to employees being comfortable talking about their own hidden disabilities and encouraged everyone to think more inclusively. Hopefully you will too. 


Take care, be kind and thank you for taking the time to think about inclusion. 


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