Accessible technology: Make sure you measure up

04 December 2013 | Michele Bedford Thistle, Business Manager, Government, National Security, and International Organizations, Worldwide Public Sector

Yesterday was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a perfect time for the world’s IT and government leaders to take stock of our progress toward digital inclusion. Much has been achieved since we learned about the “digital divide.” Yet much remains to be done to help the more than 1 billion people living with disabilities. It’s time to recognize that everyone can benefit from accessible information and communications technology (ICT), regardless of age or ability.

To ensure access for all—and continual progress toward digital inclusion—in your community, your local government could consider focusing on three areas:

1. Providing accessible products and services

Significant advances have been made in accessible technology, making it easier for governments to provide online products and services that anyone, including employees and citizens with disabilities, can use. From Braille displays to electronic pointing devices, many types of assistive technology products are available today. A blog post by Chief Accessibility Officer, Rob Sinclair, highlights Microsoft’s efforts to make technology and devices accessible to more people right now. Looking toward the future, engineers are working to provide access to all people with disabilities. BrainGate is an exciting example: through a brain sensor, people who are paralyzed can control computer cursors simply through thoughts.

2. Following best practices from around the world

Local governments that demonstrate a commitment to implementing accessible technology often start by enlisting executive support and involving people with disabilities. The City of Chicago is following a 9-point strategy. This includes pointing to harmonized standards such as US Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, integrating accessibility throughout IT systems, training employees, and utilizing accessible products. To start your own program, check out the Accessibility Guide for Government, a Microsoft resource designed to help you understand the needs of employees, citizens, and partners who have a range of abilities. 

3. Establishing policies for digital inclusion

James Thurston, Director of International Accessibility Policy at Microsoft, notes that accessibility policy has moved onto the global stage. Government leaders everywhere are enacting policies and pointing to internationally harmonized standards to support accessibility, such as Section 508 of THE Rehabilitation Act in the United States and European Standards Mandate 376. To learn more, see Lessons from Bogotá and the policy support documents available through G3ict (The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs).  

According to the United Nations, about 15 percent of the world’s people have disabilities. By paying attention to these three aspects of accessibility, governments can make strides toward removing digital barriers so all citizens have access to social, economic, and educational opportunities. By opening the digital door to more citizens, governments enable all people to be contributing members of the community while creating a model for other governments to follow. 

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Michele Bedford Thistle
Business Manager, Government, National Security, and International Organizations, Worldwide Public Sector

About the Author

Michele Bedford Thistle | Business Manager, Government, National Security, and International Organizations, Worldwide Public Sector

Michele is focused on sharing stories from government customers creating real impact for citizens, employees, economies, and students. She joined the worldwide team from Microsoft Canada, where she was also marketing lead for several technology start-ups.