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Introduction: Hi, I’m Navleen Prasad, and welcome to the podcast. As part of the 2021 Macquarie Technology Summit, my colleague Jeff Orlowsky spoke with Microsoft's Chief Accessibility Officer, Jenny Lay-Flurrie. They talked about the importance of inclusive technology, Microsoft’s new technology-led initiative to close the disability divide, and they talked about how corporates can create an inclusive culture for people of all abilities. When you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear that these are topics that are very close to Jeff’s heart. It’s a great conversation. I hope you enjoy it.
0:00:34 - 0:02:47
Jeff: Jenny, it's absolutely wonderful to be here with you. I feel like I just listened to my own Microsoft ability summit with you and Kylie. How are you? I'm good. How are you? I'm very well, thank you. I just wanted to tell you that I've been following you the last couple of years and I think your enthusiasm and the work that you've done so far is very infectious and I love the fact that you inspire me to aspire to do more. And I think you'd be really pleased with all the work that we've done here at Macquarie thus far, so I just wanted to thank you for you being you. Well, I can't be anything else sir so you’re kind of stuck with that. But thank you for talking with me. I, I appreciate it. Before we jump into it. I thought we could start by describing ourselves to our listeners. So I'll go first. My name is Jeff Orlowsky and I'm a white male with a shaved head and wearing a V-neck t-shirt, recording this in my home in New York. My visible disability is that I wear two hearing aids. And now you Jenny.
Jenny: So I'm Jenny Lay-Flurrie. I'm sitting in my outdoor little shed here. There's white walls behind me and there's a little pinch of Seattle greenery in the background. I am wearing a white shirt that has A. S. L. finger spelling of disability pride on it. Um and pink glasses and I'm a white female with brown hair. There you go. And I know you're a fan of your t-shirts, so thank you for that. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about your role at Microsoft and how your personal experiences have led you here and why you're so passionate about driving change? I'm the chief accessibility officer at Microsoft. I have the privilege of being in that role. So my job is to create a culture of sustainable accessibility within the company and everything that we do. That empowers the one billion people with disabilities out there in the world. And I'm able to use those, you know, my experience in life and business and also my personal lived experience of disability uh in that job.
Jeff: Recently, Microsoft announced a new technology-led five-year initiative to close the disability divide. Can you tell us about this initiative and how it builds on Microsoft's work to empower people with disabilities?
Jenny: Yeah, we basically spent the last gosh, 6-12 months in a bit of a foxhole doing a lot of research on the demographics of disability and where things are going. Um and the result in many ways unsurprising given what's going on in the world right now. The demographic of disability is growing. The pandemic has added fuel to that fire, but disability is clearly correlated with age who are an aging globe. Then you add on uh COVID-19 to that, which has a direct and indirect impact on the demographic of disability, whether that's the increase in mental health or factors like long COVID, um that is a very real thing coming through. Uh so you got a growing demographic, but societal inclusion of disability has remained static. Uh and so the unemployment rate underemployment of people with disabilities, and labour participation is that rate is just horrible. It's doubled up for people with disabilities versus not, and it hasn't materially shifted in decades. So you've got a divide. Uh and the disability divide has failed to narrow. In fact, it's widening, and we think it will widen further. Um and yet we know when digital accessibility is infused in the right way that can impact and grow inclusion of people with disabilities and open doors to talents. So really our emphasis over the next five years is how can we grow the use of technology, grow the capability of technology and digital accessibility?
And then how can we open doors to the talent pool, to the disabled talent pool, which is fierce out there in a really good way. Um that has so many blockages that need just blasting through. And then how can we as a company continue to groove on our culture uh and our own representation of disability? And you know, we have 150,000 employees we are a big employer. And how can we continue to grow our own strength? So I think it's a mixture, but ultimately we want to see that divide come down. We have to see that come down.
0:05:15 - 0:010:45
Jeff: I agree, we do have to see that which leads me to my next question is that Microsoft is a leader in accessibility and inclusive and the inclusive design space? Can you share a time where Microsoft won a contract because of this and how companies can be challenging themselves to drive better business outcomes?
Jenny: Yeah, I mean it's a great question. I think inclusive design, just to ground on the, on what it is, inclusive design is about making sure that you have people with disabilities embedded into the design process. So ensuring that the insights, the expertise, our strengths are reflected in whatever you are building. Now, that could be a process, that could be a product that could be a campaign. Um, it doesn't have to be a piece of code, but what it does mean is that you are gathering inclusively insights across the spectrum of human and it really did come out of designing within sport and that sort of incredible motto there is for the disabled world, which is nothing about us without us. Um, and so what have we, what have we done through this? Well, I think the age-old example of this one is the Xbox adaptive controller. That one started as a hackathon project with a non-profit charity that focused on disabled veterans.
Um infused the insights of people with disabilities, far too many to mention by name, just got them in as the 3D printed versions of this thing came together and ultimately helped right the way through to the launch um of that product and continue to keep us grounded. Um, and I think it's one great example, um of the outcomes that you can drive, this is driving better business outcomes. Um and so yes, it's really impactful I think, um and it helps us to deliver on our ultimate goal, which is the mission of our company to empower every person, every organization to be, to achieve more.
Jeff: Absolutely. And then, uh speaking of product, what Microsoft product has surprised you in terms of increased uptake during the pandemic and what are some of the learnings that have come from this challenging period?
Jenny: That's a great, another great question. I think the one product that I'm, I guess in hindsight shouldn't be surprising, but it was definitely surprising at the time, was the uptake of Teams. Microsoft Teams. Now it's a massive communications environment. Um this Microsoft Teams, if you're not familiar with, it isn't just about making a phone call or getting a bunch of people on video, it's connected to office. And so it's a one stop shop for everything, literally. You pretty much live in Microsoft Teams. And as a Microsoft-e, I definitely do. We saw the uptake of teams, just phenomenal growth, exponential growth within weeks and months of the pandemic coming through. And I think the accessibility and need for accessibility features, the good news is that we've done a lot of work before the pandemic. Um yeah, because that's by the way, if you don't want to get caught by something like that, make sure that everything that you do is accessible. Right?
So we were honestly just very glad that we've done a lot of work to really envision what Microsoft Teams is for people with disabilities. But we clearly learned a lot through the process. The use of Teams captioning grew 30x between April and February last year. We then got a bunch of requests of, hang on a minute, I need names um so I can see who's speaking on the caption. So the team got that added, they gave us some feedback. We need extra fidelity of some of the accuracy of the words. So the team worked on some of that. They needed transcripts. So that came through pretty quickly, um needed different ways of socially interrupting, so hand raise came up and came through um different emojis. So actually there's now buttons so you can press those emojis and put your heart symbol out if you really like what someone is saying, dynamic view so you can pin different people, um if you need to keep a sign language interpreter visible and a lot more still to come. UmI love that you can now use your own accessibility when someone is presenting a PowerPoint slide that's just a really important thing. So it's still about 30 to 40 per cent of the calls that we get to disability answered as people are still coming to Teams through the pandemic. I think they will be after the pandemic um and we move to hybrid world.
Um and I think you know I think my biggest learning again is there are many, many, many scenarios with Teams that we never planned out, but the pandemic threw a whole bunch of scenarios at us um just look at you know, I'm sitting here with my interpreter sitting 30 miles away on video with me. Belle and I were attached at the hip um physically never in the digital space before.
0:10:45 - 0:14:44
Jenny: Um just one example, very rarely uh one example of just scenarios that really shifted with this case.
Jeff: I agree 100 per cent and I'm actually a huge fan of Teams that I think Teams has completely changed the way that I work and it definitely connected me with my team and definitely people around the company. It's an amazing product. Absolutely agree with everything you said regarding Teams and that someone who has worked in a corporate environment for many years, what advice would you have for me and my colleagues to ensure we're continuing to create and included culture for people of all abilities?
Jenny: If you appreciate that disability will be a part of your company whether those numbers are shared or not, it is just part of being human, it's part of the workforce. Then I think the first thing clearly is to focus on self. If you are not your own best self-advocate, then you're missing out. Um and I think all of us have gone through that journey at some point. I've definitely been in some scenarios and even today I was at a dentist office, I don't really want to talk about being deaf um not really my, you know, I'm British, I'm in a dentist office, I'm uncomfortable to begin with. Um but I have to be my best advocate. I have to be able to say, look, I can't understand you, you're wearing, you're wearing a mask, and I'm sorry, but I'm just not going to understand you right now, and you don't know my language of sign. Um, and you have to find out those ways to be able to be the advocate for yourself in those moments and step into that sometimes discomfort. And if you find yourself hitting a brick wall, ask so ask for help and know that that's a sign of strength, not weakness. Um because ultimately, if you don't ask for the help, that brick wall will stop you from achieving a goal. And the only person it's gonna stop is you.
So just, you know, it's bigger than you get. Let's power up. So one I think it's self-advocacy, I think it's very important. Two I think it's very important to learn. Um well I may be an expert in my disability and you in yours, I'm not an expert in anyone else's. It's important to listen to learn. Take the training, alright, get immersed, get involved, feel confident with how to talk about disability, all aspects of disability from mental health, neurodiversity, speech, deafness, blindness, mobility, get comfortable in talking about it and the language and etiquette associated with it, but also learn to listen and get curious. What does that mean for you? How do you prefer? What language do you do? What do you what's your preferred style and what would help you to be successful? Ask good questions and listen to good answers. And then I think, you know, the other one with an inclusive culture is just remember the mantra of if, if you don't know if it's accessible, it's not. Make sure that before you send a document you've hit accessibility checker. Before you've finished a website that it's accessible and you've run accessibility. Accessibility insights are one of the testing environments. Make sure you know, don't get caught in the grey. Accessibility is black and white, so make sure that what you do is accessible, everything that you do. Um and I think those three factors self-advocacy, learning, listening, being curious and then really driving for a high bar in accessibility. Um just those three alone could have a pretty huge impact.
0:14:44 - 0:15:17
Jeff: I agree. I think that's some fantastic advice and I agree 100 per cent. I also agree, I don't know what it is about the dentist office that makes you uncomfortable, but I'm also uncomfortable in the dentist office as well and I think many of us could agree with that. Jenny I want to thank you so much for joining us. I'm very excited about what's to come for inclusive technology in the near future. And after speaking with you, I'm even more excited for the future. Thank you so much for joining me.
Jenny: Thank you for your great question, sir, and have a lovely rest of day in New York.