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Microsoft’s initiative to close the 'disability divide'

Microsoft’s new mission (and target audience): inclusion for people with disabilities

Microsoft has announced an ambitious five-year plan in which the company pledges to “create and open doors to bigger opportunities for people with disabilities” not merely technologically, but also in the workforce and in the workplace, helping to close the ‘disability divide’

Microsoft’s plan includes multiple efforts to support people with disabilities, aiming to close the ‘disability divide’ – the gap between the resources and opportunities available to those with disabilities and those without.

“This new initiative will bring together every corner of Microsoft’s business with a focus on three priorities: Spurring the development of more accessible technology across our industry and the economy; using this technology to create opportunities for more people with disabilities to enter the workforce; and building a workplace that is more inclusive for people with disabilities,” wrote President Brady Smith in a blog post.

All of this work is interrelated, Smith says. “We can’t create the next generation of accessible technology unless we attract more people with disabilities to play a bigger role in helping to develop it. And we need to create an inclusive workplace that nurtures this talent.”

On the technology side, Microsoft announced a variety of new “accessible by design” features and advances in Microsoft 365, enabling more than 200 million people to build, edit and share documents. These features include detecting and converting heading styles for Blind and low vision users in Word, a navigation pane in Excel that helps screen readers move through spreadsheets, and automatic captions for LinkedIn Live broadcasts.

Other initiatives announced include ASL video calls in Microsoft retail stores for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers, a Career Coach app in Teams that helps job seekers with disabilities learn new skills, and increased internal hiring practices.

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