PEAT Blog

PEAT Talks Recap: Fostering a Culture of Inclusion and Accessibility in the Workplace

If you follow IT accessibility issues, you likely know the name Jenny Lay-Flurrie (or perhaps her twitter alias @JennyLayFluffy). She’s the Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft and a well-known thought leader in the field. Jenny recently joined PEAT Talks to offer her perspectives on the role that technology plays in creating a workplace culture of inclusion and accessibility.

Throughout the conversation, Jenny stressed that the key issue is that disability is a basic part of being human—so it’s crucial that companies provide workplaces that are inclusive and accessible at every level of the workplace. Her talk focused on Microsoft’s efforts to employ workers with disabilities to “truly reflect the diversity of the population out there,” and also to ensure that Microsoft delivers products and services that are truly accessible.

Jenny emphasized the important role that employees with disabilities play in strengthening the accessibility of Microsoft’s products. She lauded the efforts of Anne Taylor as an example, a team member who is blind who has contributed a wealth of personal and professional knowledge to make many Microsoft tools more accessible, including email in Office 365. Jenny noted that Anne’s particular strength has been providing user feedback in a way that fosters collaboration and sets a bar for creating technology that’s not only compliant with accessibility standards, but also highly usable. This type of feedback promotes conversation that fuels innovation and inclusion both in the workplace and on product shelves. 

To further highlight this collaborative approach, Jenny discussed Microsoft’s efforts to ensure that their career website is illustrative of the company’s welcoming culture. “We want people with disabilities clearly to be able to apply for a job independently, in a great way, and have a great experience,” she noted.  These efforts also compliment other related efforts to make their hiring processes more accessible, such as the Microsoft Autism Hiring Initiative, which trains and recruits individuals on the autism spectrum to work as programmers and software engineers. By expressing their commitment to inclusion, Microsoft has been able to attract talented people with disabilities who have also helped establish a general culture of accessibility. As a result, the company benefits from a sustained cycle of learning and inclusion at all levels of the company.

Jenny concluded with an important reminder about why it pays for companies to make accessible workplaces a true priority: “Disability is a strength, and if you don't have [people with disabilities] in your company and you haven't got the right accessible, inclusive environment for it, you're not going to reap the benefits.”

To learn more from Jenny about how accessible technology fits into building an inclusive and dynamic workplace culture, check out the archived PEAT Talk. And please be sure to share your comments and thoughts below on how you’re using technology to foster an inclusive and accessible workplace.

Comments

As a disabled former programmer dependent on the use of speech recognition, I wish Microsoft would look into making software development possible with voice recognition. There is one commercial product so far that does not work very well and is limited to Mac computers. There is an effort to make open source speech recognition product for programming but it is going nowhere. Backing of a major player like Microsoft would help disabled programmers affected by repetitive stress injuries continue to work and reduce disability and Social Security insurance cost.