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Water Music: Blind and low vision paddlers make waves using Soundscape

By: Amos Miller, Microsoft AI & Research

Imagine you’re paddling on the lake, you feel the warm sun on your face, listen quietly to the calm ripples of the water. You can hear a sound beacon, in 3D, on the water, just in front of you and over to the right; you know exactly where it is, you steer the kayak towards it, paddle like crazy and catch it, collecting 25 points.

When your ability to perceive the space around you is enhanced in a natural, intuitive way, the urge to get out and enjoy that heightened sense of independence is irresistible. We experienced that feeling a few weeks ago on a beautiful sunny day on Lake Sammamish at the Microsoft Soundscape kayaking PaddlePalooza. What was that all about? Let me share the story.two kayaks on lake Sammamish

In my June post, I noted the continued excitement about the Soundscape beacon from people who are blind or have low vision. Many of you have asked to be able to place the Soundscape audio beacon anywhere. In response, we recently introduced Soundscape markers. With Soundscape you can now quickly and easily mark-up anything in your surroundings that you care about. That could be, for example, your front door or the post box at the top of your street, or you can mark-up key landmarks in your area to help with learning a route. You might even mark the entrance to the park or the picnic spot on the lawn.

With your markers in place you can hear them through Soundscape or set a beacon to them, so you can always know where they are. This is a wonderful way for you to personalize the areas you walk in and build up confidence to go beyond what you are familiar with, always knowing that you have your markers for orientation. Do give it a try and tell us what you think. It’s a lot of fun.

We then thought, well, if you can place a marker anywhere what if we marked up a lake and used the markers for orientation on the water while kayaking? Hmmm. Ok, so this sounds new, and we figured it would be something that takes empowerment to a completely new level!

As part of the Microsoft One Week hackathon, we marked up seven virtual beacons on the lake. In partnership with Outdoors For All, we invited a group of people with blindness or low vision to join us for a kayaking scavenger hunt.

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Click here for the audio description of the Soundscape Kayaking Scavenger Hunt video.

Wow! What an extraordinary day. When you wake up in the morning and by the end of the day realize you have done something you never imagined would be possible.

Now for the cool statistics! Of the 13 competing teams, 3 had only sighted paddlers, and 10 had blind or low vision paddlers. 11 of the 13 teams successfully found all seven beacons (covering an area roughly within a circle of 1000 meters in diameter) and scored the maximum points. The winning team completed the course in just 16 minutes!! The best sighted team came in sixth place at 25 minutes!

people with their kayaks on the shoreline of Lake Sammamish

“We were having a blast, the sun was shining, the water was calm and warm, I had an attentive partner, and I was independently captaining a kayak and successfully found all seven beacons, earning the maximum 140 points in 25 minutes…the exhilaration of being able to compete, to experience the freedom of paddling on the water, and truly being the navigator of our team is something I’ll remember always,” noted Cindy Van Winkle, a participant from the Seattle Lighthouse. You can read more about her experience on her blog.

The kayaking experience motivated us to reflect, once again, on what we mean by the sense of independence and about presence and empowerment. Have people who are blind kayaked before? Sure, they do all the time. However, are they really the driver? On this occasion they indeed were the driver in every sense of the term.

Firstly, in the teams with a paddler who is blind, only the blind participant knew where the beacons were located; the sighted companions had no indication where they were, and therefore they were not able to help. That meant that the paddler who is blind didn’t even need to ask for that independence, it was built into the game. Secondly, the participants didn’t have an agent whispering in their ear, go left a bit, straight, right, nor did they receive any form of instructions they had to listen to and process. Instead, Soundscape, using 3D audio, enabled the participant to effortlessly hear exactly where the beacons were, leaving it for them to decide where to steer. This transfer of control not only creates a true sense of independence, but the participants in fact performed much better. I talk about this phenomenon in my TedX talk where I describe the feeling I had flying a glider.

A few months ago, at an event in Montana I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon. As we made our way out to learn how to use the Soundscape beacon, I noticed that Sharon stayed back. When I checked with her I understood she chose not to join because she is hard of hearing. After we established that she was still able to hear the high pitch of the Soundscape beacon, she gave it a try, and, with her husband walking along with her, off they went and within a few minutes made it to her destination. When I caught up with them I noticed she was overcome with emotion, this had been the first time in many years she truly felt that sense of independence and that she was in the driver’s seat. For her, this is what mattered at that moment, that sense of joy and empowerment; and, knowing that her life would now be different.

There is no greater gift that technology can provide than a true sense of independence.

I must say that the impact the kayak hack has really surprised and motivated us to think about how we can bring Soundscape to more people and more organizations to really benefit from the value it provides and the empowering changes it has started to enable for people. This is something that we are looking into, and if you, or an organization you know, run programs or activities in which you believe Soundscape can help then do get in touch with us at

Before wrapping up let me highlight some of the other recent updates we made to Soundscape:

  • We’ve been working to light up the experience while you’re travelling, whether in a bus, a car, or a train. To minimize interruptions and avoid getting in the way of whatever else you may be doing, Soundscape now identifies when you are in a moving vehicle and adjusts callouts to include only major landmarks, and update you only when you change roads.
  • Battery savings! You no longer need to close Soundscape to save battery; you can now just select the “Sleep” button on the home screen to stop Soundscape from using GPS and your data plan.
  • For our low vision users, you no longer need to hold the phone flat when pressing buttons; instead, you can now bring the phone right up close and press buttons, and everything will continue working correctly.

screenshot of the Soundscape homescreen

We can’t wait to hear what you make of them, please do continue to write to us on and of course, check our FAQ’s on our website for more detailed information and guidance.

In closing we welcome our friends from down under to the Soundscape community! Soundscape was launched in Australia on September 12, 2018, with a great partnership with Vision Australia and the extended community of people who are blind. Based on our learnings from the launch in Australia we continue to look at how we can bring Soundscape to other countries and aim to support the local language where possible. We will be sure to provide further updates as soon as we can.

We continue to be humbled by the response to Soundscape, we recognize that this is just the start and there is more work to be done; but please keep the feedback coming, on anything from the app, to the content we produce, to the way we can engage with you. Let’s continue to empower everyone, everywhere with the benefits of technology.

Amos and the Soundscape team.

Microsoft Soundscape is available for free on iOS and iPhone in the US, UK and Australia.

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Whats new in Windows 10 accessibility in the October 2018 Update

At Microsoft, we believe our technology should reflect the diversity of the people that use our products.

We are excited to share how the Windows 10 October 2018 update delivers on that mission by giving you more accessibility features than ever before to enhance your personal computing experience. These features include Ease of Access updates to make Windows 10 easier to see, Narrator improvements to make Windows 10 easier to use without a screen, and Learning Tools and text suggestions updates to make it easier to read and write.

Ease of Access Updates

You now have more ways to see Windows 10 your way, with the addition of text size customization across the platform. From the “Display” page in Ease of Access settings or by typing “larger text” in the search bar, you can adjust a single global text size slider to make text bigger across Windows, efficiently making just the words bigger without affecting the entire visual layout. You can customize text size in conjunction with DPI scaling, otherwise known as the “Make Everything Bigger” setting. As the name implies, this feature makes everything on the screen larger, which can sometimes reduce productivity for users with low vision by requiring more panning or scrolling. By complementing DPI customization with text size customization, users now have more options to tailor their Windows 10 display.

We realize many users with low vision not only prefer more levers to customize their experience, but they also prefer using multiple tools together. The custom text size works great with Magnifier, which provides new ways for you to optimize your experience. You can choose to keep your mouse centered on the screen, which can be particularly helpful at higher magnification levels, so you do not lose your mouse or focus when trying to navigate. We have also added smaller increments of 5 percent and 10 percent for adjusting zoom level, so you can have even more control of your magnifier experience.

Narrator Improvements

We have continued to make Narrator, our built-in screen reader, easier to learn and use.

We have made narrator easier to learn with two key updates.

  • Narrator QuickStart: When Narrator launches, a new QuickStart tutorial experience will be available to teach you Narrator basics such as keyboarding, navigation and editing. At the end of the QuickStart there is a link to the User Guide where you can continue learning about Narrator.
  • Narrator screenshot

  • Improved and more familiar keyboard: Narrator now ships with a new keyboard layout designed to be more familiar to screen reader users. Differences in the keyboard layout are designed to improve keyboard ergonomics and usability, e.g. with improved mnemonics. Check out the Narrator user guide for more details on these changes.

We have also made narrator easier to use with improved navigation and efficiency.

  • Easier navigation: With Narrator Find, you now can search for specific text, which Narrator will then move to if found. Narrator can also now present a list of objects, such as links, headings, or landmarks that you can quickly filter to find what you want. Refer to the Narrator user guide for command mapping.
  • Increased efficiency: Narrator will now automatically read dialog boxes, such as the Word dialog box that appears when you try to close a document with unsaved changes. We have also made two key improvements to Scan Mode, a narrator feature that simplifies navigation by primarily using just the up and down arrow keys, to enable a more seamless experience:

o   Narrator stops on interactive elements like links so you can more easily interact with them, or you can continue reading with just a press of the down arrow.

o You have more options for selecting text while in Scan Mode including commands to copy an entire block of text without holding down the Shift key. Narrator’s selection commands will copy the format of the text being copied such as headings, lists and more. You can also now speak the selected text using a Narrator command. Refer to the Narrator user guide for additional information on Narrator selection commands or use the Show Commands List Narrator command by pressing Caps + F1.

Reading and Writing Improvements

In addition to Ease of Access and Narrator updates, the October 2018 Update also brings more ways to improve reading fluency and comprehension and author text.

Within Microsoft Edge, you now have more flexibility with web browsing and reading with new ways to customize your learning experience with Learning Tools. First rolled out in the Fall Creator’s Update a year ago, we added Learning Tools like read aloud to the web browsing experience. The April 2018 update then came with the addition of grammar tools, enabling you to break words into syllables and highlight parts of speech.

We are making Learning Tools even more powerful with the October 2018 update. With any ePub or webpage in reading view, you can customize the page theme color with Irlen colors that make it easier to decode text. You can also turn on line focus for a webpage in Reading view to help you concentrate. Additionally, you now have more ways to personalize grammar tools: you can customize the highlight color for parts of speech or turn on labels within the text if you find it difficult to disambiguate between colors. Should you run into words you are unfamiliar with, you can quickly look them up in the built-in dictionary that also works offline*.

Writing experiences are also improving. Text suggestions, which suggests the top three word candidates as you type, is now expanding to 50+ languages** since its debut in the April 2018 update.

Thanks and keep the feedback coming

Thank you to the many people who help shape the accessibility of Windows 10 experiences. Through channels like the feedback hub and the Windows Insider Program, we get your feedback that directly informs product development. That includes not only the features in this latest release but also throughout our work this past year in the Fall Creator’s Update and April 2018 Update.

Additionally, if you are a customer with a disability of any kind and need technical assistance, the Disability Answer Desk is there to assist via phone and chat. In the United States, we also have an ASL option for our customers with hearing loss: +1 503-427-1234.

Thanks again and please keep your thoughts coming! Whether you join the Windows Insider Program or activate the feedback hub by just pressing the Windows + F keys, we want to know what is top of mind so that we can continue to evolve the accessibility of Windows 10.

*Offline dictionary supported in English, Spanish, German, Italian, French

**Text suggestions languages include: Afrikaans​, Albanian​, Armenian​, Azerbaijani – Latin​, Basque​, Bulgarian​, Catalan​, Croatian, Czech​, Danish​, Dutch​, English (US, UK, AU, CA, IE, IN)​, Estonian​, Finnish​, French (CA, FR, BE, CH), Galician​, Georgian, German​, German (Switzerland)​, Greek​, Hausa (Latin), Hungarian​, Indonesian​, Italian​, Kazakh​, Latvian​, Lithuanian​, Macedonian​, Norwegian​, Polish​, Portuguese (Brazil)​, Portuguese (Portugal)​, Romanian​, Russian​, Serbian​, Serbian – Cyrillic​, Slovak​, Slovenian​, Spanish (Spain)​, Spanish (Mexico)​, Swedish​, Turkish​, Ukrainian​, Uzbek – Latin​, Filipino/Tagalog, Welsh, Icelandic, Maltese, Hawaiian, Greenlandic, Kinyarwanda, Xhosa, Zulu, Yoruba, Setswana, Maori, Turkmen (Latin), Bosnian (Latin), Mongolian (Cyrillic), Belarusian, Kyrgyz, Tajik (Cyrillic), Tatar (Cyrillic), Bashkir, Sakha

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Chicago to pilot new project to make cities more accessible

Microsoft believes accessibility and inclusion are essential to delivering on our mission to empower everyone, everywhere. Technology can play a powerful role to empower people with disabilities. Across Microsoft, we are working to make technology more accessible – whether that is built-in accessibility features in Windows and Office 365, new tools and resources like Soundscape, Seeing AI and Learning Tools, or collaborating with organizations on initiatives to help make the world more inclusive.

In Chicago, we have an opportunity to further the Smart Cities for All global initiative, a partnership between G3ict and World Enabled to help cities empower people with disabilities. The City of Chicago will become the first city in the world to pilot the Smart City Digital Inclusion Maturity Model, an assessment tool created by G3ict and World Enabled with support from Microsoft.

Designed to help city leaders and urban planners better understand the needs of and empower people with disabilities, the new Maturity Model helps cities measure digital inclusion and track progress. Focused on a broad range of functions important to all cities, such as communications, procurement, training, and technology standards, it defines key performance indicators and metrics to support advancing accessibility. Five levels of digital inclusion maturity guide cities in assessing and tracking progress across multiple Smart Cities dimensions, e.g. technology, data, culture, and strategy.

We are honored to collaborate with the City of Chicago and two nonprofits with a history of leadership in inclusive and accessible design that are actively working to help cities advance how they utilize technology to build more inclusive communities. The leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Karen Tamley, and CIO and Commissioner of the Department of Innovation and Technology Danielle DuMerer, will create an important legacy of inclusion in Chicago. The new pilot demonstrates their continued focus of building inclusive practices into their planning and development process, a model that cities around the world will benefit from as we look at ways we can empower the more than 1 billion people with disabilities in the world.

Throughout October, we are celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Initiatives like Smart Cities for All and the pilot project in the City of Chicago are great examples of how we can work together to help change the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, which is nearly double that of those without disabilities. Check out the blog, Empowering all people in the workplace, to learn more about our work to make technology more accessible.

We all have the responsibility to come together – across industries, sectors and geographies – to create a more inclusive world. Together we can support cities in using innovative technology to advance opportunities for everyone.

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National Disability Employment Awareness Month: Empowering all people in the workplace

By Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer, Microsoft

Group of people smiling around a computer. Caption: America’s Workforce: Empowering All. National Disability Employment Month

Every day, we have an opportunity to stand up for each other and work together to empower people to achieve more. For many people, including the 1+ billion people in the world with disabilities, employment is critical to a productive and purposeful life.

Today is the start of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) and this year’s theme, Empowering All, is near and dear to our mission. I’m reminded of the progress made since 1945 when Congress declared the origins of this movement. Today, there is a clear call to action to do so much more to change the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, which is nearly double that of those without disabilities. We have the responsibility to come together – across industries, sectors and geographies – to create inclusive workplaces for all. Technology has an important role in empowering people at work, home and play. Similarly, organizations have a responsibility to support employees in an inclusive environment.

NDEAM is an opportunity to motivate the community, but we need to make progress every day. Here are three ways that you (or your organization) can get involved.

Hire talent.

  • Building an inclusive workplace starts with culture. Every person has a role to play in embracing inclusion. There are so many tools available for you as well as tools available you can use to empower others in the organization.
  • Lean into the resources available. Inclusion in the workplace leads to innovation. Employers that are actively seeking out people with different viewpoints and backgrounds will have a greater opportunity to meet the needs of all their customers.
    • We have put all of our learning and the technologies that can be impactful into our Disability Inclusion Sways. Do read and share your experiences with others.
    • HR professionals and recruiters can benefit from sharing best practices and connecting with other employees and companies are finding great talent by adjusting their thinking on how they recruit and interview as shared recently on CBS Evening News.
    • Check out Disability:In and the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable, as great resources for the business community to begin their journey towards disability inclusion.

Empower all employees in the workplace.

  • Creating Inclusion through conversation. We all have our preferred features and settings around the office that help us do our best work. From lighting and ergonomic keyboards, to accessible facilities and quiet work spaces. Everyone has preferences, including people with disabilities. We touched on a few of these in the Wired25 article, and encourage you to have conversations with existing and new employees to help managers and teams understand what employees need to be successful. Remember ~70% of disability is invisible.
  • Check out features built into Windows and Office. Did you know that there are now Color Blindness filters in Windows 10 Ease of Access Settings? We have been busy creating accessible features built-in to the core of Windows and Office 365, like Learning Tools, Dictate, Narrator, Translator, Color Blindness Filters, and more. Our goal is to make technology that works for each of us.
  • Send inclusive accessible content. Next email you send a mail, PowerPoint you create, or in fact any Office365 document you’re working on – remember to use accessibility checker to ensure that your content is inclusive. It’s easy to do, just click on Accessibility Checker right next to Spell Check.

Build innovative futures. Lean into the potential of AI.

  • With rapid advancements in technologies, like AI and machine learning, we are creating accessible technology that can enable all workers to be productive in the workplace. That’s why we announced the five year, $25M AI for Accessibility program in May this year.
  • We want to see more grant applications towards leveraging the power of AI to lower the unemployment rate for people with disabilities, that can impact modern life, and and the third challenge area: communication and connection. Please do check out the AI for Accessibility website and submit your grant application.

We are excited to talk more throughout the month of October about disability inclusion – starting with the first in a series of demos from our CEO, Satya Nadella and members of the disability community talking about accessibility features and products that empower people. On Wednesday, here in the Pacific Northwest, we will host the Microsoft DisAbility Employment Symposium on October 3, 2018 at the Microsoft Conference Center. The event will bring together Puget Sound employers and partners to discuss best practices for inclusive hiring. If you are in the area and interested in attending, learn more and register here.

Keep an eye out for more blogs, demos and news coming out this month as we celebrate NDEAM. It is only together that we can change the unemployment rate for people with disabilities.

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London’s V&A museum adds Xbox Adaptive Controller to gallery on groundbreaking design

The Xbox Adaptive Controller has been added to a V&A gallery dedicated to groundbreaking moments in design.

The controller, which was released on September 4, lets gamers with limited mobility plug in assistive aids such as buttons, joysticks and switches to allow them to play videogames on Xbox and Windows 10 PCs.

The V&A, the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance, has acquired Microsoft’s product for its Rapid Response Collecting display. The area, on the third floor of the seven-floor museum, was opened in 2014 and explores how current global events, political changes and pop cultural phenomena impact, or are influenced by, design, art, architecture and technology.

Other products in the Rapid Response Collecting gallery include a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, a Lufsig soft toy, a set of Bolide HR handlebars, a personal genetic testing kit and a LEGO set.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller on display at the V&A
The Xbox Adaptive Controller on display at the V&A

Corinna Gardner, Senior Curator of Design, Architecture and Digital at the V&A, said: “The Rapid Response Collecting is about bringing objects into the museum that signal moments of economic, political, social and technological change. It’s contemporary design history in action.

“The Xbox Adaptive Controller was an object that we thought very much captured a specific moment within the field of videogames but also more broadly about social and inclusive design. It’s a real opportunity to bring an object into the collection that addresses the question of inclusive design head on. It’s an important and attractive acquisition for us here at the V&A.”

The Xbox Adaptive Controller delighted charities and gamers with limited mobility when it was unveiled in May. They say it will help them continue to enjoy something they love as well as connect with other people and be more independent.

There are around a billion people across the world with a disability, including 13.9 million people in the UK. Research from Muscular Dystrophy UK found that one-in-three gamers has been forced to stop playing videogames due to their disability.

Chris Kujawski, Senior Industrial Designer at Xbox, said it was an honour to see the controller placed in the V&A.

“This is the most important project that I’ve been a part of at Microsoft because of the impact it will have on people,” he said. “It’s an honour to have a product that we designed in a museum.

“The recognition of inclusivity and gaming that this provides is good for the industry, and it’s great that Microsoft is being recognised as a leader in this space. I hope it inspires other companies and the next generation of designers to build hardware that’s inclusive.”

The Xbox Adaptive Controller, which can be connected to any Xbox One or Windows 10 PC via Bluetooth, features 19 3.5mm input jacks and two USB ports. Gamers can plug their third-party devices into these, with specific support for PDP’s One-Handed Joystick, Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro Joystick and Quadstick’s Game Controller.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is in the Rapid Response Collecting gallery of the V&A
The Xbox Adaptive Controller is in the Rapid Response Collecting gallery of the V&A

Two, large, easy-to-press programmable buttons and a D-pad means it can also be used as a standalone controller. The internal lithium-ion battery can be recharged, eliminating the need to change small batteries.

Up to three profiles can be saved on the controller, allowing people to quickly switch between set-ups depending on the game they are playing.

Even the packaging has been specially designed to be opened by gamers with limited mobility.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is available to buy now, priced at £74.99. Sitting alongside 12 other objects, It will have a permanent place in the free area at the V&A, in London, which houses a collection of more than 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity. The V&A also displays a copy of Minecraft, as well as a hooded sweatshirt and action figure of the Creeper from the game in its Museum of Childhood.

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Gaming gets more inclusive with launch of the Xbox Adaptive Controller

Without a doubt, 2018 has been a hallmark year for inclusivity in gaming. From individual platforms and games introducing more features for gamers with accessibility needs to physical hardware like the Xbox Adaptive Controller, there has never before been such a high point for inclusivity in gaming. Available at Microsoft Stores and GameStop Online for $99.99, the first-of-its-kind Xbox Adaptive Controller will be available starting today, so even more gamers from around the world can engage with their friends and favorite gaming content on Xbox One and Windows 10.

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is a product that was ideated and pioneered with inclusivity at its heart. We iterated on and refined it through close partnership with gamers with limited mobility and fan feedback, as well as guidance and creativity from accessibility experts, advocates and partners such as The AbleGamers Charity, The Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Craig Hospital, Special Effect and Warfighter Engaged. Even the accessible packaging the Xbox Adaptive Controller arrives in was an entirely new approach to redefining success in product packaging—directly informed and guided by gamers with limited mobility. It’s truly the collaboration and teamwork from these individuals and groups who helped bring the Xbox Adaptive Controller to gamers around the world. And gaming, everywhere, becomes greater because of that collaborative spirit.

Xbox Adaptive Controller

Xbox Adaptive Controller

To the gamers and industry professionals around the world who shared their thoughts, feelings and feedback on either the Xbox Adaptive Controller itself or the accessible packaging it ships in—thank you. From gamers like Mike Luckett, a combat veteran based in the US who tested and shared feedback on the controller through the beta program, to gamers in the UK who kindly invited us into their homes and shared which iteration of the accessible packaging they liked most—this day of launch is a thanks to all your contributions. On behalf of gamers everywhere, we share our sincere thanks.

While the response from communities, gamers and press when we introduced the controller in May was remarkable, the true impact the Xbox Adaptive Controller has had with gamers becomes clearer when attending events like E3 in Los Angeles in June, wearing an “Xbox Adaptive Controller” t-shirt. Walking the show floor to run a simple errand, you become bombarded with smiles, greetings and high-fives—shared by gamers of all types—embracing and furthering the fondness of supporting inclusivity in gaming. It’s a powerful sentiment of appreciation for inclusivity, and we’re humbled by the reception.

Xbox Adaptive Controller

Xbox Adaptive Controller

Beyond the humbling praise from the gaming industry, the Xbox Adaptive Controller has been equally recognized for its innovative approach to inclusive design in gaming. In fact, just today it was announced that the V&A, the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance, has acquired the controller as part of its Rapid Response Collecting program, which collects contemporary objects reflecting major moments in recent history that touch the world of design, technology and manufacturing. It’s an honor and achievement we did not set out to accomplish but are nonetheless moved by the recognition of the team’s passionate work invested in the Xbox Adaptive Controller, helping it stand out as a truly first of its kind product—in gaming and beyond.

Let today be a celebration of inclusivity in gaming—regardless of your platform, community or game of choice. Whether you’re a gamer using the Xbox Adaptive Controller for the first time or new to gaming, welcome to the Xbox family! Inclusivity starts with the notion of empowering everyone to have more fun.  That means making our products usable by everyone, to welcome everyone, and to create a safe environment for everyone.

If you’re looking for more information on the Xbox Adaptive Controller, peripherals available today to configure it just for your use, or tips on how to get setup, we’ve got you covered. Learn more about peripherals from our hardware partners such as Logitech, RAM and PDP, used to customize your Xbox Adaptive Controller configuration, here. Visit this page to learn more about using Copilot with the Xbox Adaptive Controller. And here is some general product information to help you learn more about the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Thanks again for joining us on this incredible journey of inclusivity; see you online!

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New accessibility improvements now available for Skype

A few months ago, we provided an update on our continued commitment to making Skype accessible. We are very grateful for the feedback you’ve given us—it continues to be an essential and impactful part of our work. We listened and made changes to make Skype more accessible for everyone.

Below are just some of the recent accessibility improvements available in Skype version 8:

  • Improved navigation now makes the app easier to use. Navigation is smoother and takes a more natural left-to-right and top-to-bottom path.
  • Additional information about messages that are sent and received is now displayed. For example, we now announce when messages are sent and when messages you attempt to send have failed.
  • A number of new keyboard shortcuts make it easier to start a chat, answer a call, and navigate within Skype. Visit Skype support for a full list of shortcuts.
  • Accessibility functionality was rolled out across all platforms. Skype version 8 is available on iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and most recently iPad.

If you haven’t already done so, we encourage you to upgrade now—only Skype version 8 will be available after September 1, 2018.

We continually work to improve our technology to ensure it is accessible and empowers every person and every organization to achieve more. Please share your comments and feedback via Microsoft Accessibility UserVoice or contact the Disability Answer Desk for real-time support via phone, chat, or ASL videophone. If you are an early adopter and would like to participate in early preview releases, please consider joining the Skype Insider Community.

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TD Bank empowers employees with assistive technology in Office 365 and Windows 10

Today’s post was written by Bert Floyd, senior IT manager of assistive technologies at TD Bank Group.

My journey with accessible technology at TD started more than 10 years ago, when I was called in to help incorporate a screen reader and Braille display into our retail environment for a new employee who was blind. Back then, it was a steep learning curve for the IT department. That’s not the case today. Over the intervening decade, we have created an inclusive corporate culture that celebrates everyone, including people with disabilities, and provides us with huge business potential. For example, one in seven people* in Canada identifies as having a disability, and there is an increasing incidence of age-related disabilities among our growing elderly demographic. Making sure our services are easily accessible is key to earning the business of this considerable segment of the population.

We are excited about introducing accessible technologies within Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10 to empower our employees to help us work toward this strategic advantage. We find that most people can benefit from these accessible technologies, whether they identify as having a disability or not, because the technologies are built in to the Office apps. When employees can customize their environment and adapt to a wide variety of situations, they will be far more successful and productive.

And when we accommodate employees who identify as having a disability, we gain their insight and innovation to help us build accessibility right into our products and services. People with disabilities must think creatively about how to do things that other people don’t necessarily have to worry about, and we want to support that creativity in our workplace. We’re deploying Office 365 to all our employees and Windows 10 to almost 100,000 computers, which helps create an accessible workplace and ensure we will not miss out on hiring the best and the brightest.

From our websites to our brick-and-mortar branches and ATMs, we try to consider accessibility in every aspect of the customer experience. And we believe that with a more diverse and inclusive workforce, we’ll be in a better position to get there.

I’m excited about giving our employees the opportunity to leverage the accessibility features in Office 365 and Windows 10 in their everyday work lives. All employees need to think about accessibility, and everyone plays a role in creating a supportive, inclusive culture. When we all use the same inclusive tool set, there is enormous potential for improving productivity and driving awareness about the value of creating accessible documents and presentations for everyone to easily read and understand. Employees at TD already have access to Accessibility Checker, which makes it easy to spot problems and make content in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote more accessible. People are learning about Narrator and Magnifier in Windows 10 and about the built-in color filters.

We have come a long way since hiring that first employee who was blind. Today, approximately 6 percent of our workforce identifies as having a disability. Our Assistive Technologies Lab welcomes anyone to come and learn about inclusive design and the technologies we have available to support our employees. We work with technology projects to help them conform to our IT accessibility standards, and we rolled out a training program for our developers and testers—a number of them with disabilities—to ensure we fully consider accessibility in our customer-facing products and services.

Today, TD prides itself on its diverse and talented workforce, and I’m incredibly lucky to be part of a great team that works hard to put so many resources behind our employees. Along with our assistive technologies, we are using Office 365 and Windows 10 to help us remove barriers for people with disabilities to create a more inclusive workplace that’s as diverse and exciting as the communities we serve.

*A profile of persons with disabilities among Canadians aged 15 years or older, 2012.

—Bert Floyd

Read the case study to learn more about how TD Bank is empowering its employees with assistive technology in Office 365 and Windows 10.

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Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary an opportunity to recognize workplace accessibility and inclusive design

By Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer

On July 26 we will celebrate the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA stands as one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation and prohibits discrimination while ensuring that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and rights as people without disabilities. It serves as a reminder of both where we have come from as well as the work left to be done.

Since its inception, the ADA has helped break down barriers for people with disabilities in built environments, provision of government services, communications, and employment. Despite a lot of great progress, after nearly 3 decades there is still much to be done, not only to level the playing field, but also to recognize (and seek out!) talented people with disabilities, skills and expertise that we need in our companies. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities hasn’t materially shifted in that time and remains nearly double that of people without disabilities. We are one of the many employers that has the power to influence that number. We take that responsibility seriously. Here are three things we are doing to drive it:

Breaking Down Barriers Through Technology
It’s never been more important to have a diverse and inclusive workforce including people with disabilities. Put simply, it helps us create better products that empower people with disabilities. When accessibility is done well, it becomes invaluable to daily life, the workplace, and play. It’s ubiquitous and easy to use. These values guide us, and I urge you to check out the following:

  • Accessibility built in by design. There is a wealth of goodness built into the core of our products – from Windows to Office and Xbox. Learning Tools, Dictate, Narrator, Translator, Color Blindness Filters, and more. We’ve created a simple one-stop-shop with our Accessibility Feature Sway which has every feature broken down by disability type and we update this and our new website as new features become available. Do check it out and share!
  • If in doubt, ask. Remember we have a dedicated support team for people with disabilities using Microsoft products, or using accessibility features. The Disability Answer Desk is there 24×7, via chat, phone and in the USA, a dedicated ASL video line. Now in 11 markets and ready to help you get going with your technology
  • Your feedback is gold dust. We want to know what future you want, and technology you want to empower you. Tell us via our Accessibility UserVoice, Disability Answer Desk or tweet @MSFTEnable. Your feedback powers us.
  • The power of innovation. AI is opening doors for innovation for people with disabilities. Invaluable tools like Seeing AI, Microsoft Translator, and Helpicto are built leveraging our vision, knowledge and speech Cognitive Services APIs and so we were excited earlier this year to announce the AI for Accessibility program to open up these technologies to you to create. The application process is now open, and first batch of grant applications are in mid review. Literally can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Creating Forums for Inclusion
It isn’t enough to just talk about inclusion, we need to partner together to drive impact. There are many events we host and attend where this happens, but two have highlighted the appetite for more:

  • Microsoft Ability Summit. For the first time ever, we opened the doors to this internal event to the public and we were humbled by the results. Over the 8 years since we started the Ability Summit, attendance has grown from just 80 people in that first year, to 1,200 Microsoft employees, and 1,200 external guests over the two days. At the event, we demonstrated the latest in accessible technologies and attendees connected with the owners and drivers of those technologies. They also had the opportunity to engage with over 20 companies at an inclusive hiring job fair and heard from our very own CVP of Retail Stores, a panel of dignitaries and CEO Satya Nadella, who shared their thoughts on accessibility and disability. We were honored to include former Senator Tom Harkin who introduced the ADA into the Senate back in 1989 and underscored the need to break down barriers to get people with disabilities into the workforce. It’s our hope that by opening the event up more broadly we can share knowledge and accelerate the process for all organizations to build their programs, hire amazing talent, and reduce the unemployment rate.
A group of people sitting on stage

Creating a Region of Inclusion panel discussion at the 2018 Microsoft Ability Summit.

  • Disability:IN. Just last week in Las Vegas, 1,500 folks from over 160 corporate partners came together to discuss, share and take action on disability inclusion. Disability:IN (previously known as USBLN) is a corporate based NGO, Microsoft is a proud sponsor, and I’m a honoured to be chair of the board of directors. This organization has grown in numbers and strength in the past years and it speaks to the need, appetite and desire from so many companies to not only understand but drive the future of disability inclusion. During this event, over 130 rising leaders met with company leaders and many walked away with jobs and intern positions. We celebrated those that have achieved high scores on the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), with many achieving 100% including ourselves. Also, technology was a HOT topic, and we dedicated one of the opening plenaries to showing and sharing the latest in accessible inclusive technology – and I had a blast showing Office 365, PowerPoint, Translator, PowerPoint Designer, Auto Alt-Text, Seeing AI and Xbox Adaptive Controller live on stage. It was clear from the room, amazing speakers and companies sharing their journeys, that this is a priority across corporate America, and how we partner together has never been more important.

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Supporting Inclusion in Action
Perhaps one of the best examples of making inclusion real is the Special Olympics. This year Microsoft was proud to be the Presenting Sponsor of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games here in Seattle. With the theme “Rise with Us,” athletes challenged Seattle to make the 2018 games the most inclusive Special Olympics to date and honourary Chair Brad Smith, set the tone – asking Seattle to create a legacy of inclusion that lasts long after the games finish. As part of the event a job fair was held for athletes that included 16 companies including Microsoft. With 4,000 athletes and more than 12,000 volunteers (including 2,000+ Microsoft employees!) participating in the event, we are creating a legacy of inclusion in the region and a galvanizing force epitomized by local athlete Frannie Ronan – the youngest athlete in the games at just 8 years old who inspired us all at the opening ceremony and walked out with 2 silvers and 2 bronzes and a very big smile.

A big crowd of people in a field.

Opening ceremonies of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle

A woman and a child smiling

Jenny Lay-Flurrie with Frannie Ronan at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle

In addition to celebrating the ADA, we recognize individuals and organizations all over the world are developing disability rights policies and programs under the United Nation Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and helping their communities raise awareness of the importance of accessibility and need for an inclusive culture. To make real progress, it will take collaboration from across government, industry, employers and individuals with disabilities to realize the vision of the ADA and reduce the unemployment rate for people with disabilities everywhere.

In the meantime, do explore what technology can do for you through the power of accessibility, keep us grounded in what you want to see going forward, and get involved in forums and supporting these incredible organisations that are going to power the future of disability inclusion.

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Shin’s story: Using technology to break down the barriers of disability in Japan

Shin’s journey hasn’t been an easy one, but thanks to his parents lobbying a local education board – which once suggested Shin go to a special needs school – he has always been studying at regular schools.

Since elementary school, he studied with the help of computer software, such as Microsoft Word and OneNote. He uses a small, special mouse to draw graphs.

“By using Windows’ on-screen keyboard and moving the mouse, I can use my PC for study and communicating with my friends,” he explained.

Since 2013, Microsoft has assisted his learning, including preparation for the tough university entrance exam, by providing IT tools, such as the on-screen keyboard and a cursor control system that uses eye movements.

Shin is now trialing a new eye tracking software that enables him to move the mouse cursor with his eyes

“I have faced lots of challenges like everyone else, but we often need help too,” Shin said. “I’m currently trialing the new eye tracking software that enables me to move the mouse cursor with my eyes. This is one more example of how technology will help people like me work more efficiently.”

“My dream is that one day these kinds of functions will not be listed under accessibility but will be an integral part of how we all work to make a better future,” he added.

In 2016, Shin successfully passed the entrance exam for Tokyo University after spending a year at a preparatory school together with other students who aimed to enter the country’s competitive universities.

Now as a university student, Shin continues to study on his electric stretcher with assistance and support from helpers and the school. Since April this year, he lives on his own with assistance when he needs to move.

The entrance exam for Tokyo University is one of Japan’s most competitive assessments. Before the exams, Shin submitted a request to the exam authority, the National Center for University Entrance Examinations, notifying them that his physical condition required more attention.

During the exam, Shin sat in a separate room with more time to take the paper, and was assigned an assistant to write down his answers. Shin was also allowed to use a computer, especially when an answer required a graph.

Shin’s favorite quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher he admires, is “Man is something that shall be overcome.” The feisty student is often led by these words when reflecting his own physical disability.

Shin, now 21, studies Western Philosophy at Tokyo University

“I believe that we need a new inclusive philosophical framework because technology is now empowering people to become independent beyond any physical barriers,” he says.

Learning from those with disabilities to improve their opportunities

One of those working with people with disabilities, such as Shin, is Microsoft Japan employee Tomoko Ohshima.

Gathering their comments, requests and feedback, she passes those to the tech giant’s developers to create tools to help people with disabilities.

Ohshima was encouraged to take on this project by Microsoft Japan some ten years ago, inspired by her interactions with a colleague, a programmer who is blind. “Technology is so helpful for people!” she says.

Meanwhile, Japan’s entrance exam system is also improving to accommodate students with various disabilities. A consensus has been established to allow students with disabilities to use tools approved by the authorities, such as computers, and to extend the test time depending on each student’s condition. Ohshima’s commitment of the last ten years coincides with this improvement, and has allowed her to witness the transition.

Challenges still remain for students with disabilities. For example, having a computer read out exam questions is rarely permitted in Japan. Instead, a reader is assigned to read the questions aloud for the examinee. This does not always work well for the students –– some students might want to read important parts more slowly, and others might want to have questions read out repeatedly to better understand them.

One of the reasons computer reading has not been approved is because examiners need to create extra exam papers by digitalizing them. This may be avoidable with optical character recognition (OCR).

“We are willing to provide any useful help and technology to create a society in which anyone can have the opportunity to take the entrance exams and be judged fairly regardless of one’s physical condition,” says Ohshima.

To read more about Microsoft Philanthropies’ work to build future ready generations in Asia, click here.