Microsoft Corp. today announced the immediate availability of Microsoft Accessibility Tools & Training, a package of free online accessibility training courses, tools and other resources to help developers worldwide create technology products, services and websites that are accessible to people with disabilities, and to enable business leaders to make more strategic technology decisions.
Microsoft made the announcement at the 26th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, sponsored by California State University, Northridge (CSUN). The annual CSUN conference brings the accessibility community together to share best practices and to learn about new and emerging accessibility products and solutions.
Microsoft initially developed the online tools and training courses to increase accessibility awareness and expertise among its own developer groups. In response to growing customer demand for accessibility guidance, however, Microsoft decided to make the resources available, free of charge, to corporations, governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) around the world that want to make technology more accessible.
Microsoft is also offering an accessibility resource guide to help organizations meet the needs of people with all types of abilities. The guide, which can be downloaded or printed, provides specific information about many types of disabilities, impairments and age-related difficulties and some of the accessible technology solutions that can help address them. The training courses, tools and resource guide are all available online; most of these resources are also available on CD.
“Microsoft is one of the technology industry’s leaders in accessibility innovation and developing accessible technology, and we continuously work to improve access to our products and services,” said Bonnie Kearney, director of marketing for Trustworthy Computing at Microsoft. “By making these training courses and resources widely available, we hope that we can help raise the level of accessibility worldwide for people of all ages and abilities.”
The seven training courses that Microsoft developed cover a general overview course suitable to both technical and nontechnical audiences, a development overview course, and five courses covering the Windows platform technology, including Windows Forms and the Windows Presentation Foundation. With this content, developers can focus on a range of topics, from general accessibility development to specific technologies, such as Microsoft Silverlight. In addition, dedicated, in-depth content on Web-development topics, such as ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) and HTML 5, is available. The courses and other resources are also designed to help business leaders make more informed decisions about improving the accessibility of their technology products, Web services and internal processes. All the training courses stress the importance of building accessibility into products and internal systems from the start of the development cycle.
How Accessibility Training Benefits Businesses, Governments and NGOs
Developing and using accessible technology can help organizations attract and retain outstanding employees by enabling them to recruit from a larger pool of talented candidates and to equip them for maximum collaboration and productivity. As the aging population continues to expand, the need for accessible technology within an organization’s customer base grows, making accessible products and services increasingly essential for creating and maintaining a competitive advantage.
In preparing to release the accessibility tools, training courses and resource guide, Microsoft worked closely with pilot-program participants in a variety of countries, including organizations such as Hilton Worldwide, Lloyds Bank in the United Kingdom and Humana Inc. in the United States; government entities such as the U.S. General Services Administration, the National Information Agency in Korea and the City of Constanta, Romania; and NGOs such as Vision Australia. These organizations offered input and feedback to help ensure the materials would meet the needs and expectations of corporations, governments and NGOs worldwide.
“Accessible technology makes it possible for many people to use computers and the Internet who otherwise could not and enables anyone to personalize their computer experiences to help meet their needs and preferences,” said Damien McCormack, national manager of Online Accessibility for Vision Australia. “This training from Microsoft complements and supports our efforts to promote accessibility in the community. With many services going online, organizations ensuring that their services are accessible to the largest number of people possible is just good business.”
How Accessibility Benefits Consumers
Accessible technology is a necessity for a growing number of people worldwide — from people with disabilities or age-related difficulties to those who need temporary assistance because of injury, environmental conditions or other circumstances. Accessible technology makes it easier for people with a wide range of abilities to see, hear and use computers and other devices, and enables them to access government services and information, secure and retain employment, and increase or maintain their productivity for as long as they choose to keep working.
According to the United Nations Convention on Persons with Disabilities, disability affects between 15 percent and 20 percent of the population in every country worldwide, and the incidence of disability in industrialized nations is increasing as their populations get older. A Forrester Research Inc. study commissioned by Microsoft found that 57 percent of working-age computer users (18–64 years old) would likely benefit from using accessible technology because of difficulties and impairments that may affect computer use. As the population continues to age, Forrester noted, the number of computer users in the 65–74 age range will increase significantly, as will the number of people who would benefit from using accessible technology.
“By making accessibility an integral part of their development process, many organizations worldwide can expand their customer base, improve and empower their workforce, and increase their competitive edge,” Kearney said. “By making this accessibility training available to developers free of charge, Microsoft is not only helping its partners, it is providing resources that have the potential to strengthen the entire industry.”
Microsoft Accessibility Tools & Training and the Accessibility Resource Guide can be viewed and downloaded from the Microsoft Developer Center website at http://msdn.microsoft.com/accessibility.