Accessible Technology

Microsoft

One of the great things about my role at WPP AUNZ is working with Microsoft and their passion on creating technology focussed on accessibility. The Microsoft company wide goals and plans are to essentially put solutions in for existing barriers that technology can bring—which are part of systemic ableism—that typically preclude disabled people from being successful, contributing members of society. That includes areas such as employment and education, which unsurprisingly in modern times, is largely driven by technologies created by Microsoft, Apple, and others.

Microsoft under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, a father of three including an adult son with cerebral palsy, has been for sometime improving and innovating with accessible tech.

I remember the Microsoft’s 2014 Super Bowl commercial being very impactful in outlining how technology can support diverse workforces provide companies with a greater range of talent. 

Bringing people with different backgrounds and experiences together can improve problem solving and creativity, while contributing different points of view. A core element of embracing diversity and inclusivity is ensuring that every single employee has access to all the tools and resources they need to enable them to do their best work.

It’s important to create an environment in which, for example, people with dyslexia, vision impairments, language barriers and hearing conditions can work and collaborate to their full potential. Everyone has the right to be heard and understood, and allowing diversity and inclusion to flourish will encourage teams to thrive.

Like many companies, WPP has rolled out Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 to encourage collaboration across its global workforce. When COVID-19 hit, more than 95 percent of WPP’s workforce shifted to working from home

WPP was also serving all its clients remotely, and the company wanted to ensure that all client communications were as inclusive as possible. Inadvertently excluding people during creative pitches and client meetings would be a missed opportunity, so using technology to enable all staff to work at the same level was important for a sustainable remote-working model.

Microsoft worked with WPP to train 85 accessible tech champions — people who have an in-depth knowledge of all the accessibility tools available across Microsoft’s products and services so that they could, in turn, help their colleagues.

“Working with Microsoft has enabled us to really speed up our inclusion work,” says Nancy Lengthorn, Managing Partner and Head of Inclusion and Belonging for WPP UK.

“Improving systems and processes is vital to inclusion and diversity, and there can’t be a more critical system to improve than how we communicate with each other. The initiatives we are putting in place will really help us all to be more authentic and more effective, both with each other and our clients. This is about helping everyone to flourish and Microsoft have been a brilliant partner.”

Following the tech champion training sessions, a series of “brown bag” events focusing on diversity and technology took place.

These virtual sessions were made available to WPP, and covered areas such as vision, hearing, cognition, mobility, mental health, wellbeing and dyslexia. Around 800 WPP employees attended the sessions in the UK, and they were also recorded for people to view at their leisure.

“When the pandemic suddenly hit, it was a struggle,” Lengthorn continues. “However, in a way it also democratized everything.

Everyone was in the same boat, and we all had access to the same tools. Some of the barriers were taken away and many people started to notice new things. Perhaps things they hadn’t felt the need to confront in the past – can everyone participate, can everyone hear, does everyone feel they can speak up in a meeting?”

There are more than one billion people in the world with a disability, and for the majority, their disability is invisible. In the UK, 33 percent of surveyed employees responded that they choose not to disclose their disability, hiding their true selves due to fear or embarrassment – often referred to as “Covering”. Many people with dyslexia won’t, for example, disclose they have the condition.

WPP recognised that to help combat this stigma, they had to encourage openness through shared experiences while showcasing the strengths of dyslexic thinking. WPP and Microsoft created an event called The Creative Brilliance of Dyslexia, which included a keynote from Kate Griggs, CEO and founder of the Made by Dyslexia charity.

Role models from across WPP and other companies shared their experiences on the virtual stage, showing that people should embrace diversity. Demos of Microsoft Learning tools were also carried out, in addition to discussions on how managers can help their teams. Topics also covered how you can best help children with dyslexia to build their confidence and enable them to thrive.

“The dyslexia event had a much wider ripple beyond WPP,” says Lengthorn. “Employees also had their friends and family watch the live Teams event. Suddenly everyone found themselves at home, and people were homeschooling children with dyslexia, dealing with new, challenging situations. Bringing together so many people for such an important, positive cause was an amazing thing.”

The past year has been challenging for everyone. The global pandemic has kept friends, family members and co-workers apart, often isolating people from their support bubbles. While remote working isn’t a new phenomenon, shifting an entire workforce to a working from home model while expecting everyone to remain connected is no easy task.

The solution for WPP was Microsoft 365, a platform that provides a scalable and global collaboration platform. Employees in a global company like WPP will often work with people from other countries that don’t have English as a first language. Teams can help overcome language barriers by offering built-in text translation, letting people converse instantly without a delay in communication.

Employees who give PowerPoint presentations on Teams calls can also turn on automatic captioning, which presents subtitles in real-time, allowing employees with hearing loss to follow along more comfortably. There’s also the option to select live translations, which translate subtitles into other languages in real-time, opening up presentations to an international audience. If there are viewers who speak multiple languages, they can use the Microsoft Translator app on their smartphones to have real-time translations in their chosen language, too.

“It’s been an awful year, but some good things have come from it, too. We’ve all had to re-assess how we interact and that gave people a reason to engage with these tools and become closer to each other,” Lengthorn says.

For a company to truly embrace diversity and inclusion, the drive for change needs to come from the top. Leadership is vital in helping to instill a culture that fosters innovation and equal opportunities, and it’s a process that needs to be thorough, and authentic.

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