At Microsoft, we believe that there are no limits to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of everyone who uses it. With more than 1 billion people with disabilities in the world, we are passionate about creating products and services that are designed for people of all abilities. Together, we can create a more inclusive and diverse world.
“Specifically, we will do three things: First, be transparent in sharing our goals and plans to ensure our products are accessible. Second, be accountable, which means engineering leads will prioritize universal design in the development of all products and services going forward. Third, continue to make this part of our work on building a more inclusive culture, including efforts to expand our existing accessibility hiring and awareness training initiatives and programs.”
—Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
At Microsoft IT, we are on a journey to learn more about how we can create a Lobby Experience that is accessible and inclusive. This project has fundamentally changed how we think and provides an opportunity to share our experience.
Inclusive design reflects human diversity
From universal to personal, we design to connect seven billion people, and fit each unique person. We start by placing people at the center of the design process, and viewing human diversity as a resource. We design technology to embrace the things that make us human.
What is the Microsoft Lobby Experience?
More than 400,000 people come through the doors of Microsoft buildings each year. From vendors, customers, and potential employees to friends and family members, our guests are a diverse group with individual needs. Our first impression is an important opportunity to engage with our guests in new ways.
We reimagined our Lobby Experience to be inclusive and accessible for everyone. This is a great example of how we apply inclusive design principles to Microsoft products and services. The Lobby Experience project is transforming our physical space in three key ways—people, environment, and technology—to create a unique Microsoft space. A once-ordinary process becomes an engaging journey through three distinct experiences, as our guests:
- Arrive and check-in.
- Stay in our lobbies until their host arrives.
- Depart after their visit.
Optimizing for touch technologies
There’s a big emphasis on touch technologies in our redesigned lobbies. For example:
- Guests arrive in our lobbies and approach the reception desk. There, a lobby host greets guests and they identify themselves on a Surface Pro with their email address. If they’re a return guest, the system automatically populates a registration form with information from their last visit, such as their car license number. They’re asked the purpose of their visit and who they’re here to meet.
- While guests wait for a Microsoft host—what we call the Stay experience—a 55-inch interactive device with multitouch functionality gives them engaging interactive options to pass the time. For example, the device offers options such as mixed media milestones of Microsoft history, a campus map, puzzle games that were created from the Microsoft art collection, and the latest corporate news from the Official Microsoft Blog.
- When guests depart, two 42-inch, multitouch devices serve as a transportation hub. Here, guests can ask for campus shuttles, get suggestions for campus cafes based on their next destination, investigate transit options, and receive updated flight information.
Learning on our journey
To kick off the project, we consulted with an accessibility expert who showed us that, although we had created certain accessible components—such as kiosks that slide up and down the wall to adjust for height—we needed to think holistically about the entire guest experience and design with inclusivity in mind.
We initially designed our Arrive, Stay, and Depart experiences to showcase Microsoft touch technologies. Although touch-enabled technology is great for many people, it is not accessible for some of our guests, like people that are blind or have visual impairments.
The team refocused efforts to think about accessibility holistically. Our next step was to develop an execution plan based on learnings from community partners, customer feedback and usability observations to help deploy technology that would help make our lobbies more accessible.
Our dedication to making our Lobby Experience more inclusive is ongoing process. We continue to look for areas for improvement and gain feedback from our guests. We feel it is also important to share our learnings with internal teams and external partners to implement best practices.
Empowering people of all abilities
Empowering people is at the heart of our focus on accessibility. We developed an enhanced experience for guests of all abilities through a process of designing and testing our solutions. Our kiosks are self-service enabled, but our lobby hosts are always ready to help guests as needed.
We designed our Arrive and Depart kiosks to work with assistive technology, such as a screen reader, for people that are blind or have visual impairments. For example, the kiosk audibly tells the guest that to reach the Home screen they need to swipe left. The narration orients the guest, lets them know what interactions are possible, and lets them choose how to interact.
Creating an effective screen reader and navigation experience required a great deal of engineering work. We used HTML and ARIA tagging to map our app screens according to hierarchies of traversing, and created a focus order. This means that navigating by keyboard logically moves the guest between landmarks, such as headers or buttons. The guest doesn’t have to move between every tabable element on the page; instead, they can move between the significant ones.
At the Depart kiosk, we integrated Cortana for voice interaction on some features where it made sense. For example, when a guest wants to ride a shuttle, from the Depart kiosk they can simply say, “Hey Depart, book me a shuttle.”
The large screens in the Stay and Depart kiosks easily slide up and down, benefiting guests of all heights or those that use wheelchairs. We are continuing to work on adaptations for touch scenarios. For example, the navigation and exploration in Stay can be touch-gesture enabled with audio cues on each screen. We are also looking at air-gesture-based solutions rather than relying only on touch.
Hear and speak
We enabled closed-captioning in our Stay experience videos. The app takes guests through check-in, and prompts guests to interact with lobby hosts when the app ends.
Continuing our journey of inclusion
We use inclusive design to think about the spectrum of abilities for our guests. Inclusive design helps us find and address issues to empower individuals across environments and scenarios.
Thinking about abilities as a spectrum can be a quick and powerful tool to help demonstrate how a solution scales to a broader audience. Often, when designing solutions to be inclusive, they often can have an impact on a much wider audience. For example, closed captioning isn’t only available for people that are deaf or have hearing impairment, but is also useful in a loud or crowded lobby.
Designing with inclusive principals requires a change in thinking, but the results can have a very powerful impact on all our guests. In essence, a solution for one person can also extend to many people. Here are some examples:
- High-contrast screen settings. Originally created to benefit people with visual impairments, many people benefit from high-contrast settings when they use a device in bright sunlight. We renewed the color palette based on 4:5:1 ratio to make this possible.
- Closed captioning. Transcribing the audio portion of a video program was originally designed for people that are deaf or have hearing impairment. But there are many applications for closed captioning that weren’t expected and that bring real benefits, such as being able to read in a crowded airport or teaching children how to read.
- Mobility. A device designed for a person who has limited mobility of their limbs can also help a person with a temporary injury or a new parent holding an infant. In the United States, 26,000 people a year suffer from the loss of upper extremities. But when we include people with temporary and situational mobility impairment, the number is greater than 20 million.
- Sight. People with visual impairment have a wide range of scenarios. From someone who is born with low vision to older persons that have eye health issues, solutions for people of with visual impairment also benefits people in other situations, like distracted drivers.
By thinking through a spectrum of abilities and scenarios, we can create more powerful solutions. Together, we can design inclusive and accessible applications that open our products up to a larger audience.
Table 1 shows how we mapped touch, see, hear, and speak spectrums to our Lobby Experience.
Spectrum of abilities
Requires assistive technology
Understanding our guests
Universal design helps focus our product managers, designers, and engineers on creating experiences that work for all guests. Universal design also improves use of and satisfaction with our products and solutions. Approaching accessibility with an inclusive mindset pushes technology to the next level. We’ve learned some lessons along the way:
- Focus on specific scenarios. For example, if a guest has had Lasik or other surgery that may temporarily affect their vision, how would they use their expense reporting tool? This scenario opens the design and process conversation early, during the planning period, and involves the entire team.
- Test every scenario. By verifying an app or website using only the cues from a screen reader, can we do everything we intended to? This verification technique helps to quickly understand if a website needs a screen reader to help users not only navigate, but to orient themselves on the website and make navigation options available. We imagined a scenario where someone might not be able to use a keyboard and realized that we can incorporate voice activation to reach more users. We quickly learned that simple tasks can be difficult for users of all abilities. If a task couldn’t be completed, we needed to revisit and revise our strategy.
- Gather user feedback. We worked with Microsoft accessibility experts and people with a variety of abilities. We asked people to demonstrate navigating a phone or using assistive technology. We used these sessions and feedback to reverse-engineer solutions and build accessibility into our products.
Shifting our mindset
Inclusive design requires designers and engineers to shift their mindset. It’s impossible to create solutions that are truly one-size-fits-all. However, by taking an inclusive approach, we created a Lobby Experience solution that fits more of our guests. When we went deeper and looked at challenges from an accessibility viewpoint, things that seemed impossible to design and engineer became clear, valid, and attainable.
Microsoft IT re-imagined the Microsoft Lobby Experience with inclusivity in mind. We created a fresh and energized aesthetic, and extensively incorporated our own products and technologies in the redesigned spaces. Our new lobbies give us a unique opportunity to engage with anyone walking into our buildings—whether they’re here to visit, interview, or become a customer.
When we looked at our new lobbies through an accessibility lens, we saw an opportunity. We wanted to expand our Lobby Experience to even more guests and increase their satisfaction. We learned that when we design for all guests, we created opportunities to increase both reach and use of our products.
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 Source: United States Census Bureau, Limbs for Life Foundation, Amputee Coalition, MedicineHealth.com, CDC.gov, Disability Statistics Center at the UCSF (P 21)