A skilled Microsoft software engineer with disabilities developed an app that helps people with sight loss experience their surroundings with their phones. This app empowers people to read documents, do groceries, scan barcodes and identify objects. The Microsoft Seeing AI app is available for free and it’s being used by everyone, including people that are not blind. Similarly, a group of Microsoft professionals developed a technology that helps kids and adults with cognitive and learning disabilities to read and write. This technology called Learning Tools, first designed for people with dyslexia, is now empowering more than 15 million customers worldwide, and it is also available for free. These are just two of many examples of innovations designed by talented individuals with disabilities, for people with disabilities, but with an extended and positive user scenario that benefits everyone, including people without disabilities. Unfortunately, not many organizations are considering people with disabilities in their hiring practices. But the pool of talented professionals with disabilities is larger than you think and the impact that this untapped potential can have on your business is greater than you imagine if you seize the “invisible opportunity”.
The “Invisible Opportunity”
Worldwide, one in seven experience some form of disability. In Canada, that number translates to 6.2 million or 22% of the country’s population. Under the World Health Organization definition, these individuals experience a complex phenomenon reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. In other words, disability is not a health condition but a mismatched human interaction.
Statistics show that people with disabilities find it twice as hard to secure employment and many find themselves underemployed. The inclusion of this segment of the population in the workplace can have great strategic value for companies of all sizes and sectors and has the potential to bring great social impact and innovation. A report by Accenture shows that companies in the United States that champion accessibility and inclusion are twice as likely to have higher total shareholder returns. So it is worth considering the overlooked opportunities that an inclusive hiring practice could have in your business, and to question how prepared is your business to accommodate for the diversity of talent that could join your workforce.
Innovation: a side-product of accessibility and inclusion.
How can accessibility and inclusion trigger innovation? Collaborators with different experiences see the world differently, and the exchange of insights to solve a common usability problem can solve the demands for everyone.
When you create innovation for people with a permanent disability, this solution will work for someone facing a temporary disability, or a situational disability, or even without any disability. Take close captions as an example. It was originally designed for the hard of hearing. But if you are in a noisy environment such as an airport or the gym, and by so experiencing a temporary disability, you are probably benefiting from this solution yourself.
Technology can be a great enabler in creating an inclusive environment. Solutions such as artificial intelligence have the power of bringing everyone together with something as simple as live subtitles, so that everyone can truly follow the conversation, in their preferred language, in real-time, and in whatever situation they find themselves.
Every employee is also a potential consumer.
It is worth noting that every employee is also a potential consumer. By including a diverse set of perspectives since the initial stage of a project, a company can account for the demands of a larger public, a public that perhaps was not initially considered. This approach allows businesses to be proactive and develop products that are truly designed for all, rather than having accessibility as an afterthought, and seek for adaptations to include the product after the final stage of development.
At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. To achieve this mission, we need to ensure that all our products are designed for everyone. This results in innovation and solutions that benefit everyone, which in turn, helps our organization speak to a larger market and contribute
with significant social impact. Artificial intelligence is setting a new bar of opportunities that we are making available to all in our solutions, empowering organizations like yours to seize the “invisible opportunity”.
This transformation can only happen when all businesses adopt accessibility and inclusivity practices within their organizations. Creating accessible and inclusive work environments is a great first step that can help get your business ahead in the competitive landscape. To learn more about how you can build your business by championing accessibility and inclusivity in the workplace, access The Invisible Opportunity eBook. Learn more about Microsoft Inclusive design principals here.