Prioritizing accessibility at Microsoft with feedback from people with disabilities

Nov 2, 2021   |  

Microsoft Digital storiesEditor’s Note: We’ve republished this blog with a companion video.

Prioritizing accessibility at Microsoft is helping the company create products and services that are inclusive and accessible for everyone.

Being successful at this important work hinges on getting feedback from people with disabilities ranging from mobility and cognitive disabilities to temporary disabilities due to an injury or short-term condition.

Hope Idaewor, a user researcher in Microsoft Digital, says that creating inclusive experiences starts with creating products and services for Microsoft employees, who are often the first and best customers at the company.

In this video, Mango and Idaewor discuss how they’re prioritizing accessibility at Microsoft by doing inclusive usability studies with people with disabilities.

“We’re trying to innovate and provide our employees and customers with the best user experiences,” says Idaewor, who works with partner teams in Microsoft Digital, the organization that powers, protects, and transforms the company, to ensure that internal applications and services meet accessibility standards and guidelines. “To do that, we have to take into account the lived experiences of every employee, regardless of ability.”

Mango sits at his desk and smiles at the camera.
Faris Mango is a software engineering manager in Microsoft Digital. (Photo by Faris Mango)

This was the approach that Idaewor, Faris Mango, a software engineering manager in Microsoft Digital, and their teams used to improve the portal that Microsoft guests can use to register their devices and connect to the internet when they visit one of the company’s buildings.

“We didn’t want to just guess what certain employees would want or face,” Mango says. “Instead, we wanted to have our employees use the portal so we could get feedback straight from them.”

This is why Idaewor set up inclusive usability studies to get feedback from people with disabilities, where she would observe them going through a series of tasks using the portal. To do this, she worked with employees who volunteered to share their lived experience and test out the portal. Their lived experience and feedback were vital to building out this technology and ensuring that it is usable for employees and customers with a range of lived experiences.

In the research findings, Idaewor summarized that some participants wanted more consistency around the semantics of the color palette in the user interface and simpler language that wasn’t specific to software engineers. Others advocated for a version of the user guide video with American Sign Language (ASL).

“All of the feedback made sense to me,” Mango says, explaining Microsoft Digital’s accessibility team made it easy for him to find and hire an ASL interpreter. “We were able to quickly record a version of the video with an ASL interpreter, and that made a huge impact.”

Ensure that you’re getting feedback from customers outside of your own team, discipline, or organization. Bring in a diverse user base from the beginning, and really listen to what they need.

—Hope Idaewor, user researcher in Microsoft Digital

Conducting the inclusive usability studies with people with disabilities has also reinforced the importance of creating intuitive user experiences. What’s more important is that these learnings have shifted the mindset of his team. Mango also worked with Idaewor to apply principles of Microsoft’s inclusive design methodology to the technology and tools they’re developing. One of the core principles is “solve for one, extend to many.” In other words, technology created with people with disabilities in mind, like video captions or a push bar on a door, can benefit people in a range of situations and ability levels.

“We’re taking the lessons we learned in the inclusive usability studies, applying them when developing new products and services, and prioritizing accessibility at Microsoft,” Mango says.

For teams that want to take a page out of Mango and Idaewor’s book by prioritizing accessibility, it’s important to think about inclusion from the beginning of the product-making process.

“Ensure that you’re getting feedback from customers outside of your own team, discipline, or organization,” Idaewor says. “Bring in a diverse user base from the beginning, and really listen to what they need.”

You can even leverage free tools, like a plug-in for accessibility insights that can be added to any webpage, or do your own research.

This conversation is especially important as companies continue to embrace remote and hybrid work, and ensure that every employee is invited to participate regardless of where they’re working or what technology they’re using.

“Put yourself in customers’ shoes and get feedback from them directly about what they need,” Mango says. “This gives you a better sense of what to invest in.”

Key takeaways

Related links

Find out how building inclusive, accessible experiences at Microsoft is a catalyst for digital transformation.

Read about how Microsoft is enabling remote work with Zero Trust networking, Microsoft Teams meetings, and employee engagement.

Watch this video about how to design Microsoft products and services with accessibility in mind.