Insights from Microsoft's Chief Accessibility Officer and the Author of the ADA
Our team just closed the books on the 11th Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Just when you think you can’t top last year, more things happen to surpass it. Many organizations and companies have worked to spread awareness and made major announcements on accessibility advancements.
Of course, our team at Diamond thinks about accessibility every single day. And we hope everyone gaining awareness on GAAD will do too.
A lot has happened in the 32 years since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. And more so since the first GAAD when Diamond CEO and co-founder of GAAD announced the founding of this day.
Last year, GAAD co-founders Jennison Asuncion and Joe Devon announced the creation of the GAAD Foundation. It’s a nonprofit organization with a mission to disrupt the culture of technology and digital product development to include accessibility as a core requirement. Its vision is for accessibility to be built into the product development lifecycle for technology and digital products.
The organization oversees the GAAD Pledge. The purpose of the #GAADPledge is for the GAAD Foundation to work with one influential open source project per year that takes the Pledge to make accessibility a core value of their project. The third company to take the pledge is Drupal. The other two organizations include Facebook (now known as Meta) and EmberJS project.
Moreover, we had the honor of hosting two leaders to talk about how far we’ve come since the signing of the ADA and the first GAAD. Event host Joe Devon talked to these leaders about what is on the horizon and how organizations of all sizes can do their part in making the world a more inclusive place.
Conversation with Microsoft Chief Accessibility Officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie
Jenny Lay-Flurrie, the Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, joined the conversation as the first guest speaker. She shared the story of her 17-year journey that led to her becoming the Microsoft CAO and how she first learned about GAAD through Jennison, of course.
She said the industry has made a lot of progress. And there’s still a lot of work to do. “We need more people to be aware of accessibility from a developer perspective, which clearly is the foundation to everything,” she says. “Over time, it's extended to making sure that humans, all of us, know about accessibility. Everyone's coming awake. That's just the nature of disability. It's closely correlated with age, it's closely correlated with life-changing events like a pandemic, and we all need to invest our time to understand accessibility and the features available, but also to make sure everything we do is accessible and inclusive.”
Jenny reflected on tech and employment for people with disabilities. She talked about Microsoft’s new line of Adaptive Accessories for the PC. This includes buttons, hubs, and a customizable mouse. The company’s Inclusive Tech Lab is expanding to become an incubator of new designs by collaborating with people with disabilities.
Microsoft is working with educators to solve the problems surrounding the hiring of people with disabilities. The company is doubling-down to opening doors to disabled talent to work for the company. They partnered with 30 companies to launch the Neurodiversity Career Connector and expanded its relationship with the Valuable 500.
Initially, Microsoft developed the Immersive Reader for those with dyslexia. Now it’s part of Edge and all Office products as — it’s the curb-cut effect — many people use the Immersive Reader. It simplifies the user interface and removes distractions to allow users to focus on the content.
One thing Microsoft is working on internally is its supplier procurement process. The company wants to support an accessible culture and ecosystem. We wrapped the conversation with Jenny showing gratitude to the audience.
“And I just also honestly want to say a huge thank you to the community for powering us. Know that I spend hours of my day listening and collating and chatting with folks, that will always be the case. Thank you for keeping me grounded, and I know that there's always more to do,” she says.
As Jenny was about to leave the virtual stage, she saw the Honorable Tony Coelho, the primary architect and author of the Americans with Disabilities Act. “You've got one of my heroes on the call. My gosh, he just waved at me. Please keep the energy going!” said Jenny.
Chatting with the Honorable Tony Coelho, Author of the ADA
Joe Devon welcomed Tony to the stage by introducing him to the audience and sharing a summary of what Tony calls his ministry. Tony is a six-term congressperson who is the primary author and sponsor of The Americans with Disabilities Act. He also advocated for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
He was instrumental in President Bill Clinton’s establishment of the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor. Tony also worked with President Barack Obama to issue an executive order enforcing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require federal contractors and subcontractors to hire people with disabilities.
In starting the work on the ADA, it was a challenge to get a diversity of communities to come together. They had never worked together before. Despite all that has been accomplished, there are still difficulties in getting more than 180 disability groups to work together in the pursuit of an accessible internet.
“It’s a large community, as you well know,” says Tony. “One out of every five Americans has a disability, but then if you take their loved ones and their people who help, it’s larger than that. It’s a community that can get a lot done if they get together.”
Tony shared a personal perspective on the millions of people who don’t share they are disabled because they're afraid they can't get a job, they're afraid they may be fired, and they're afraid of the stigma. He told of how his family bought into this stigma. He struggled to break free from this stigma.
Nothing can slow down Tony as he continues to work with the White House in urging them to move faster on the rules and regulations in making the internet accessible. His goal is to see progress by the end of the year before Congress adjourns.
“And so that's my journey,” says Tony. “I am devoted to making a difference for our community. Have not stopped, will not stop. Just because I'm 80 doesn't mean that I don't have a few more years to keep doing it, and I intend to.”
You can view the video conversation with Tony and Jenny. It’s captioned and has an ASL interpreter.
GAAD 2022: Over to You
GAAD may only be one day a year, but people with disabilities think about accessibility every single day. And so does our Diamond team. What will you do in the next 364 days?
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