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You may not know Eugene Flaherty, an IT expert in Massachusetts who loves science fiction and has cerebral palsy, or Anne McQuade, a former software tester in Georgia who runs two book clubs and has low vision. Maybe you don’t know anyone who has called the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk or is known as a “Trusted Tester.”
But they’re among the thousands who helped shape technology you probably use every day. Their voices and work are vital to Microsoft’s behind-the-scenes system of building technology that works for many millions of people with and without disabilities.
If you’ve ever increased your mouse pointer size, you have McQuade’s experience to thank. If you use Narrator, a screen reader in Windows that reads text and buttons aloud, it was Disability Answer Desk customers who are blind or have low vision who suggested the idea for Narrator Home, a feature that makes the screen reader easier to use. And if you dictate messages on your device, it’s people like Flaherty who bolster research that helps it recognize what you say. I for one, am always dictating messages on my personal device. Its incredible to know the individual who made that possible.
“It is important for me as a member of the disability community to have a voice, because we can help improve things for everyone. And technology can do nothing but good things for the disability community,” says Flaherty, who uses a power wheelchair and keyboard shortcuts and has shared his experiences with dexterity and speech recognition with Microsoft, and has touched so many lives doing it.
The approach to product testing revolves around three key programs: the Accessibility User Research Collective (AURC), a community of people with disabilities who give feedback to Microsoft; Disability Answer Desk, a free 24/7 support team that solves problems for customers with disabilities and passes their feature ideas to product teams; and the Department of Homeland Security Trusted Tester program, which trains and certifies accessibility testers.
The company’s advances in accessible technology stem from an evolution model that includes thousands of tests, surveys, reviews and conversations with people with disabilities — guided by an emphasis on inclusive participation and the phrase “nothing about us, without us.” That phrase is so powerful, and very true.
“Anything I can do to make a product better and help somebody else be more productive is the right thing to do”. We are so grateful to have people like you finding solutions for real-world obstacles.
Team LittleWins wants to thank Eugene and Anne for all that you do to support the individuals who have disabilities in our community to make everyday life, and the obstacles that may come with it, a little bit easier.