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History of Microsoft Commitment to Accessibility

At Microsoft, our commitment to developing innovative accessibility solutions began more than two decades ago and continues with each new product we develop. Accessibility, as part of overall usability, is a fundamental consideration for Microsoft during product design, development, evaluation, and release. The timeline below illustrates milestones in our longstanding commitment to accessibility.

2013: Making Technology More Accessible

2012: New Products and Recognition for Universal Design

  • Windows 8 introduced the accessibility opportunities inherent in touch-only devices. With touch devices, users can directly interact with everything on the screen by touch, without using a keyboard or mouse, including managing accessibility options in the Ease of Access Center. With Windows 8, users can easily access the most commonly used accessibility options right from the sign-in screen.
  • Office 2013 programs provided accessibility features that both make it easier for people with disabilities to use these products; and, for all content creators to make more accessible documents, presentations, and other materials.
  • Internet Explorer 10 brought accessibility settings to help all users, including those with disabilities, move around the Internet easier, see webpages more clearly, and access information quicker.
  • [image: awards icon] Microsoft recognized in India for Universal Design work .
    In 2012, Microsoft received a Chairman Award for Advancement in Accessibility. Microsoft was recognized by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People in India for “work towards the cause of accessibility.”

2011: Empowering Individuals with More Tools and Training

2009-2010: Making PCs Accessible to Everyone

  • Office 2010 was introduced with greater improvements in navigation and accessibility. The Ribbon was made consistent throughout Office programs making it easier to find features in programs and reducing keystrokes for keyboard-only users. A compact layout reduced navigation time for Magnifier users, and SmartArt graphics tools made it possible to create complex graphics and diagrams without a mouse. The Zoom tool made resizing the work area faster and easier.
  • [image: awards icon] 2010 O2 Ability Leadership Award . Microsoft Ireland was recognized as an Ability Company at the 2010 O2 Ability Awards. In order to become an Ability Company, organizations are reviewed and assessed in relation to their thought leadership, recruitment, retention, and well-being of their staff and customers with disabilities. Kanchi's O2 Ability Awards, established in 2005, recognize organizations embracing diversity and employees with disabilities.
  • Windows 7 was introduced with significant accessibility improvements—most notably, Magnifier added a lens mode and full-screen mode; and, On-Screen Keyboard could be resized to make it easier to see. Text prediction was also added to OSK. Windows 7 also enabled more ways to interact with a PC by taking advantage of new strides in speech recognition and touch technology.
  • Baby boomers shaping the future of technology, AARP and Microsoft research shows . According to the report, aging computer users have a unique relationship to technology—different from any generation before or since—and, they are actively shaping the devices, software, and services of tomorrow by the choices they're making today.
  • Inclusive Innovation Showroom illustrates value of accessible technology. The showroom, introduced in 2012, featured home and office technology to help people with disabilities and aging computer users enjoy a digital lifestyle.
  • Microsoft works to improve the ecosystem and interoperability across the industry. Microsoft works with leaders in the industry through involvement in organizations such as the Accessibility Interoperability Alliance (AIA) and the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA). Through these industry groups, Microsoft encourages technology innovation across platforms and devices to create the broadest ecosystem of solutions for people with disabilities and to drive down the cost and complexity of building accessible mainstream products.
  • 2006-2009: Increasing Ease of Access

  • [image: awards icon] Microsoft earns O2 Ability Leadership Award . Microsoft was honored with an O2 Ability Award for leadership in the area of disability and accessibility. The O2 Ability Awards are business awards for best practices in the inclusion of people with disabilities, both as customers, and, as employees. Microsoft was chosen for the leadership award in recognition of the corporation's strong diversity in its workforce, and inclusion of accessibility in Microsoft products and services.
  • Microsoft, DAISY make reading easier for people with print disabilities. Using Office Open XML files, users of Microsoft Office Word could produce content in the world's most widely used assistive technology format.
  • Microsoft Accessibility Developer Center was integrated into the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). The site was designed to provide developer resources, from technical content to prototypes, and to foster dynamic communication among people who develop accessible technology and conduct accessibility research.
  • Internet Explorer 8 was released with numerous accessibility improvements including better compatibility with assistive technology products and new features: caret browsing, accelerators, and zooming to make Internet navigation easier than ever. Enhanced keyboard access could also be found in the default toolbar buttons, search box items, address bar, and tabs.
  • Windows Vista: Introducing the Ease of Access Center. Major accessibility improvements in Windows Vista were the Ease of Access Center and state-of-the-art speech recognition and magnification capabilities.
  • New accessibility settings in Internet Explorer 7 offered better compatibility with assistive technology products and new accessibility features including the Zoom option in addition to enhanced keyboard access.
  • Microsoft Office 2007 made it easier for everyone to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations with rich content. The completely redesigned user interface made finding commands easier; and, compatibility with assistive technology products was improved.
  • [image: awards icon] Microsoft was honored with a "Corporate Stars" Award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, for its commitment to ending Multiple Sclerosis through technology innovations that benefit people living with MS.

2005: Technology Leadership

  • Microsoft Accessibility Resource Centers (MARC) were designated throughout the U.S. to show what's possible with accessible technology solutions available on today's computers. Whether a person has low vision, wrist/arm discomfort, hearing loss, or other impairments, these centers can demonstrate accessibility options and assistive technology products that can add to computer skill and proficiency.
  • The accessibility model, Microsoft UI Automation was introduced to promote innovation in the assistive technology industry.
  • [image: awards icon] Microsoft was awarded the 2005 Corporate Employer of the Year Award from the Washington State Governor's Committee on Disability Issues and Employment. The award recognized Microsoft for "outstanding contributions to increase the employment of people with disabilities in Washington State." The Governor's Committee has recognized private, public, and non-profit businesses that hire and promote employees with disabilities.
  • [image: awards icon] Microsoft was recognized with the Business Champion Award from the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR), at the Legislative and Business Awards Breakfast in Washington, D.C. The award recognized "your support of the national network and its ongoing commitment to the employment of people with disabilities as part of your vision of diversity." CSAVR is a membership organization comprised of the Directors of the 80 VR programs across the country, in the territories (such as Guam and Puerto Rico) and, in the District of Columbia.

2002 - 2004: Raising Awareness

  • [image: awards icon] Investor in Human Capital Award was given Microsoft from the Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum in November 2004. Microsoft General Manager in Bulgaria Teodor Milev says, "This award recognizes our commitment to extend the benefits of technology to people with visual disabilities. We are very proud to support our partners in this project. Their work is vital for the social inclusion of this community and supports its members in using their spiritual force and intellectual power to bridge physical difficulties."
  • [image: awards icon] The New Freedom Initiative Award from the U.S. Department of Labor recognized exemplary and innovative efforts by Microsoft to train, recruit, and hire people with disabilities. The New Freedom Initiative is a comprehensive set of proposals designed to give people with disabilities the opportunity to fully participate in all aspects of community life, including employment.
  • Active support of Section 508. Microsoft initiated active support of Section 508 requirements including developing product VPATs.
  • Case studies spotlight professionals with disabilities working in all industries. Microsoft introduced a series of case studies to help educate business managers about how accessible technology can empower people with disabilities in major industries including manufacturing, retail, government, healthcare, and retail organizations.
  • Microsoft Office 2003 included features that made the software accessible to a wider range of users, including those who have limited dexterity, low vision, or other impairments. Information on accessibility was integrated into the Microsoft Office 2003 Help System.
  • The Market for Accessible Technology and Its Current Awareness, Use, and Potential, a study commissioned by Microsoft from Forrester Research, Inc., measured the potential market of people in the United States who are most likely to benefit from the use of accessible technology for computers.
  • [image: awards icon] The Award of Distinction from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services honored Microsoft along with six individuals, recognizing October's National Disability Employment Awareness Month. According to the HHS press release, "Microsoft Corporation has been a national leader in employing persons with disabilities, and in the development and promotion of software that meets the assistive technology needs of persons with disabilities."
  • [image: awards icon] Telly Awards—Corporate Image Category. Five individual vignettes from the "Microsoft Accessibility: Technology for Everyone" video received Telly Awards in the 2003 competition. These video case studies featured professionals with disabilities pursuing successful and satisfying careers in business and government using a wide range of accessible technology. The Telly Awards is a highly respected national competition showcasing and recognizing outstanding non-network and cable commercials, film, and video productions.
  • [image: awards icon] Microsoft received two New Freedom Awards from the Jim Mullen Foundation: Best New Freedom Research (accessibility) and Best New Freedom Product (Windows), at the first annual Jim Mullen Foundation New Freedom Awards event held at Navy Pier in Chicago. The New Freedom Awards recognize those who create extraordinary new freedoms for Americans with special needs.
  • [image: awards icon] Special Recognition Award from Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc. (TDI), recognized Microsoft among 12 companies and two educational institutions for "extraordinary efforts in promoting equal access to telecommunications and media for consumers who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened or deaf-blind." According to the organization, "TDI commends Microsoft for its special commitment and allocation of resources over the years to introduce and offer accessible and usable software applications for all Americans. With this technology, deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans can fulfill their potential as full, active participants in the general mainstream—regardless of differences in culture, language and communication."
  • [image: awards icon] IT Works Ability Awards—Accommodations Category from the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), in cooperation with the Law, Health Policy & Disability Center at the University of Iowa. "Microsoft Corporation won an award in the category of Accommodations, because of its deep commitment to supporting its employees with disabilities and ensuring that they are an integral part of the Microsoft workforce." The IT Works Ability Awards were established to stimulate interest in employing individuals with disabilities and to give public recognition to IT firms that have developed effective strategies that promote the employment and advancement of people with disabilities.
  • [image: awards icon] Apple of Our Eye Business Award from Dayle McIntosh Center, honors and celebrates individuals, agencies, and businesses for their contributions toward the Independent Living philosophy.
  • [image: awards icon] Corporate Best Practices Award and Corporate Leader Award from Dallas Mayor's Committee for the Employment of People with Disabilities to Microsoft CEO and President Steve Ballmer and Microsoft Corporation. The Dallas Mayor's Committee for the Employment of People with Disabilities honors Dallas citizens and companies committed to assisting individuals with disabilities in pursuing employment goals.
  • [image: awards icon] Louis Braille Gold Medal from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and the World Blind Union. Presented to Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, in recognition of Microsoft Canada's contribution to helping develop a digital library system for the CNIB. A key component to the digital library is the Children's Discovery Portal, the world's first Internet portal for children who are blind or visually impaired. The medal is awarded to individuals who have made an exemplary commitment to advancing the rights and freedoms of blind people around the world.
  • Book helps raise awareness among business leaders on the power of accessible technology for employees. In 2002, Microsoft Press published the book, Accessible Technology in Today's Business, to demonstrate to organizations that accessible technology solutions are available today to provide people with disabilities the essential tools they need to work—and that it makes good business sense to hire people with disabilities.
  • Designed for Microsoft Windows—Optimized for Accessibility program was introduced by Microsoft to provide accessibility guidelines for improving a product's user experience. These guidelines were released in spring 2002 to help educate technology manufacturers across the industry about accessibility issues when developing products.

1999-2001: Progress into the New Millennium

  • Accessibility documentation improved. By 2001, Microsoft products provided much expanded and improved accessibility documentation within the product Help system. Microsoft also introduced a host of new Step by Step Tutorials for accessibility options and features, and a searchable keyboard shortcuts database. An accessibility newsletter describing accessibility resources available from Microsoft, along with articles, stories and a calendar of events, began publication and distribution.
  • Microsoft Office XP was introduced in the summer of 2001 with accessibility improvements including Speech support, improved underlying support for assistive technology, more keyboard support, and more customization options.
  • Microsoft Windows XP introduced better integration with assistive technology, richer communication options, and greater flexibility in adjusting the appearance and behavior of Windows XP.
  • Internet Explorer 6 introduced more accessibility options to customize text, styles, and colors, and complete keyboard accessibility.
  • [image: awards icon] 2001 TASH Award for the Microsoft video "Windows of Opportunity." This award honors presentations in print, film or other forms of media, which promote the images of people with significant disabilities in all aspects of community life. Criteria for selection includes: emphasis on inclusion or civil rights aspects of issues or stories; supports self-determination and or independent living philosophy; promotes empowerment; values the civic participation of individuals with disabilities; contributes to the shaping of positive images and helps to eliminate stereotypes by accurately portraying people with disabilities; people with disabilities are the primary source(s) of information; accessible (must be available in alternate format such as captioned, large print, etc.); portrays diversity.
  • [image: awards icon] 2001 Media Access Award from the California Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, for the Microsoft video "Windows of Opportunity." Since 1978 the California Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities has been honoring the entertainment and media industries with the Media Access Awards. Recipients are honored for their efforts in promoting: awareness of the disability experience, accurate character portrayals, innovative themes, accessibility, increased employment in the industry, non-traditional casting, and depiction of the diverse American scene.
  • [image: awards icon] Eagle Award from Disability Rights Advocates (DRA). Microsoft was selected as a recipient for spearheading the "Able to Work" Consortium along with the National Business and Disability Council, and for the company's commitment to developing accessibility features in all of its software.
  • Microsoft Office 2000 was released in the spring of 1999 with a number of new and enhanced accessibility features including improved high contrast and keyboard support, personalized menus and toolbars, and better natural language searching capability in Help.
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 was released in February 2000. It introduced accessibility features including a new text-to-speech utility and on-screen keyboard.
  • Microsoft Windows Me, the consumer operating system successor to Windows 98 designed expressly for the home computer user was introduced in late 2000. New and improved accessibility tools and features included an enhanced accessibility menu, new mouse control options, a new cursor-width option, accessibility improvements in calculator and keyboard access to the taskbar.
  • [image: awards icon] Ron Mace Designing for the 21st Century Award from Adaptive Environments. In recognition of Microsoft work in making Windows and other software accessible to the broadest range of users, including users with disabilities. The award is given to organizations that excel in universal design concepts—a worldwide design movement to make products, environments and communication usable to the greatest extent possible by the broadest spectrum of users.
  • [image: awards icon] Corporate Sponsorship Award from Easter Seals. For continued support for Easter Seals including a $1 million software grant in 1999 that was used to build an internal network for Easter Seals' 105 affiliates and 430 program service sites. The software grant also helped Easter Seals give children with disabilities training and computer assistive technology in their schools and to expand adult employment training.
  • [image: awards icon] Golden Ladder Award from WE Magazine, a lifestyle publication for people with disabilities. Microsoft was recognized among 10 companies that "go above and beyond what is required in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it comes to recruiting and accommodating employees with disabilities."
  • Internet Explorer 5 was released in March 1999 with improved support for assistive technology and new and enhanced features including AutoComplete options, keyboard shortcuts, adjustable font sizes and colors, and support for user style sheets.
  • Microsoft Active Accessibility 1.3, the developer technology that helps the operating system, applications and assistive technology communicate more effectively, was released in October 1999. With this release, all 27 Microsoft Windows operating system languages were supported.
  • Able to Work, an independent business consortium, was launched in October 1999 by the National Business & Disability Council (NBDC) and Microsoft. NBDC and Microsoft brought together 21 leading companies to help raise awareness of the value of recruiting and hiring people with disabilities.

1998: Proactive Involvement

  • [image: awards icon] Outstanding Achievement Award from United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons. Presented to Microsoft for the documentary, "ENABLE:  People with Disabilities and Computers."
  • [image: awards icon] Corporation of the Year Award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Given in recognition for Microsoft support, including a $2 million grant that allowed the Society to focus other critical resources on its mission:  research and programs for people with multiple sclerosis.
  • [image: awards icon] Hammer Award from the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR). Microsoft representatives were among the team members led by the Department of Education who devised comprehensive requirements for accessible software design. Representatives from Trace Research and Development and IBM, were also honored with Hammer awards as members of the same team.
  • [image: awards icon] Private Sector Employer of the Year from CAREERS & the disABLED magazine. The magazine, established in 1986, is the nation's first and only career-guidance and recruitment magazine for people with disabilities who are at undergraduate, graduate, or professional levels. Award given for our commitment to the recruitment, hiring, and promotion of people with disabilities in the workplace.
  • Sweeping changes announced. Early in 1998, Microsoft hosted Accessibility Day to raise awareness among Microsoft employees that accessibility must be a fundamental part of software design. In a speech at the conference, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates reaffirmed the company's commitment to accessibility and encouraged accessibility measures within the software industry as a whole. Gates outlined the new Microsoft plan to further advance accessibility and tripled the number of people working full-time on accessibility throughout the company.
  • Also in 1998, Microsoft initiatives included:

    • Release of SAMI , a technology used to enhance multimedia content with closed captions for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and with descriptive narration for people who are blind.
    • Microsoft Windows 98 launched, which included all the accessibility features of Windows 95 and added several new ones, such as Magnifier and the Accessibility Wizard.
    • Grants awarded to expand technology access and opportunities for people with disabilities.
    • Microsoft Accessibility staff increased. By 1999, approximately 40 full-time positions were allocated to work on accessibility in coordination, outreach, product development, testing, program management, documentation, and marketing. In addition, throughout the company, other Microsoft staff worked on accessibility issues as part of their jobs.

  • [image: awards icon] Partner Award from National Business & Disability Council. Microsoft recognized for "leading the business community in realizing the benefits of diversity." The NBDC is a leading national resource on all issues related to the successful employment and integration of individuals with disabilities into America's workforce.

1995-1997: Strengthening the Commitment

  • Active Accessibility released. In 1997, Microsoft released its first version of Active Accessibility, and worked to make Microsoft Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange (SAMI) available. Microsoft received recognition for its efforts from the nation's largest consumer organization for hard of hearing people.
  • [image: awards icon] SHHH Award from the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People Inc. (SHHH). SHHH, the nation's largest consumer organization for hard of hearing people, awarded Microsoft Corporation its top honor for progress in making multimedia software accessible to people with hearing loss. SHHH cited the company's commitment to working toward captioning all spoken commands and audio content.
  • Accessibility staff increases. Microsoft added six staff members to work on important accessibility projects around the Internet and to create the technology to make its products more accessible. While some staff members concentrated on what ultimately became Microsoft Active Accessibility, a developer technology that improves the way the Windows operating systems and programs work with assistive technology, others helped Microsoft product teams incorporate accessibility features into their products.
  • Microsoft Accessibility Mission & Strategy created. In 1995, Microsoft publicly declared its commitment to accessibility with the adoption of its Accessibility Policy and significantly increased its accessibility efforts. The company also conducted a conference of assistive technology manufacturers and representatives of the disability community.
  • Accessibility features built into Microsoft products. In 1995, the release of Microsoft Windows 95 marked a change in the way Microsoft handled accessibility. For the first time, accessibility features were built into the operating system rather than offered as add-on features requiring separate installation.

1988 - 1994: Early Accessibility Efforts

  • First full-time staff position. In 1992, Microsoft created its first full-time staff position dedicated to accessibility issues.
  • Released first independent project. Access Pack for Microsoft Windows NT was the first major accessibility product to be developed completely by Microsoft, and the first one to work on the Windows NT platform. Until then, most assistive technology was compatible with the MS-DOS platform, but not with Microsoft Windows, which is a graphical platform.
  • Assistive technology for Windows encouraged . Microsoft began actively encouraging and supporting assistive technology vendors to create products that would work with the Windows operating systems.
  • Collaboration with Trace Research and Development Center. Microsoft first worked in the area of accessibility in partnership with the Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Trace requested assistance from Microsoft in creating a product that would make the Microsoft Windows 2.0 operating system accessible for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have limited dexterity.
  • Accessibility add-ons developed. Funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and IBM, the "Windows 2.0 Project" was carried out with technical assistance from the Microsoft Windows management team. The result was "Access Utility for Windows 2.0," an add-on program that enhanced keyboard and mouse operations (including the original versions of Sticky Keys, Filter Keys and Mouse Keys), provided visual feedback when the computer made sounds (Show Sounds), and allowed specialized devices to operate the computer through a serial port (Serial Keys).
  • Access Pack for Microsoft Windows. Following the success of the first collaboration, Trace and Microsoft updated the Access Utility for Windows resulting in Access Pack for Microsoft Windows.
  • AccessDOS and Dvorak keyboard layouts developed. Other early accomplishments included licensing AccessDOS for distribution on the MS-DOS 5.0 Supplemental Disk and adding the first Dvorak keyboard layouts to MS-DOS and Windows operating systems. These were later supplemented with versions for people who type with one hand or who use a stick to press keys on the keyboard.

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Accessibility Awards

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Microsoft is proud to have been recognized for leadership and consistent efforts in promoting accessibility for all people—including people with disabilities.


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