Building an Accessibility Culture with Copilot for Microsoft 365

Organizations across the U.S. recognize the criticality of accessibility for both consumers and employees. This concern dates to the early 2000s, when several well-known brands were targeted by lawsuits that ultimately changed how e-commerce works. Yet today, companies are still dealing with the evolving landscape of accessible technology and the inherent challenges of providing the right types of accessible tools to their employees, as suggested by a recent report from UsableNet. On April 24, 2024, the U.S. Department of Justice issued its final rule updating regulations for Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including specific requirements to ensure that web content and mobile applications are accessible to people with disabilities.

“In today’s digital world, leading organizations are doing important work to provide equal access and opportunity to people with diverse abilities,” said Susan Haseley, a Managing Director who leads Protiviti’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. “We support professionals with disabilities with a community of shared affinity, reasonable accommodations, accessibility and, most importantly a work environment that promotes open communication that embraces and hears the needs of employees and acts upon them.”

While accessibility innovations have matured as tools like screen readers, speech-to-text, braille keyboards and more have become commonplace, and companies have become better educated about how to support disabled employees, we expect to see further acceleration in this space as AI tools are able to extend capabilities already deployed as a part of more traditional accessibility tools.

Improving accessibility with Copilot for Microsoft 365

At the same time, Copilot for Microsoft 365 has become a very hot topic at companies across the globe. We have worked with both large and small companies, where conversations in both the boardroom and the IT break room are trying to understand the roles and use cases for this new technology. We believe Copilot for Microsoft 365 can further level the playing field for disabled.

While we often think of disability as physical, disabilities may impair cognitive functioning. Take, for example, a team member who struggles with Executive Functioning Disorder (EFD). EFD, among other things, impairs an individual’s ability to organize and act systematically on action items. Co-pilot prompts such as, “prepare me for today’s meetings,” or “summarize the action items from this call,” distill large quantities of unstructured data into structured and consumable action.

For those with dyslexia, Copilot can draft an email to quickly share thoughts, overcoming the timely process of dictating word for word. As Copilot learns the user’s tone, the tool can expand thoughts the user wishes to express while simultaneously creating, spell checking and proofing. Copilot will take the thought via audio and form the email in the user’s tone while providing accepted grammar and spelling.
For those with vision disability or mobility disability, Copilot pairs adaptive accessories and quickly creates a report in Word based on company information accessible in the tool. The word document can then easily be used to create a PowerPoint presentation with very little visual or mobility usage.

Microsoft created Copilot for Microsoft 365 with representation from the disability community (Microsoft Accessibility Technology team). The Microsoft Copilot and AI teams worked together on the large language model (LLM) for disability inclusion and representation in the models and the Microsoft Accessibility Technology team continues to drive accessibility and survey the disabled to ensure inclusivity in both Copilot and the up-front LLM training to avoid LLM biases, (i.e., apologizing for someone being disabled).

Copilot also focused on the tools and features that Windows has built over the years to address the needs of this population including new accessibility features that are debuting rapidly. Recent enhancements include:

  • Launch live captions
  • Launch narrator
  • Launch screen magnifier
  • Open voice access page
  • Open text size page
  • Open contrast themes page
  • Launch voice input
  • Voice commands and dictation

We can expect to see more accessibility-focused features introduced, some of which will be focused on specific Office applications such as Word and Power Point. Recently, Microsoft announced enhancements to its already built-in Accessibility Assistant in Word, Outlook and PowerPoint. The new features build on existing abilities to diagnose accessibility issues in documents, e-mails and presentations.

Protiviti is an exclusive Jump Start partner for Copilot for Microsoft and has been dedicated to meeting the diverse needs of our clients and their customers and employees. Protiviti won the Microsoft US Partner Award for Diversity and Inclusion in 2019 and our mission to sustain that work continues today. Our offerings support organizations embracing the future of work with an understanding of the value of inclusive development (Copilot for Microsoft 365 Blueprint).

Other resources:

To learn more about our Microsoft solutions, contact us.

Patrick Anderson

Managing Director
Technology Strategy and Architecture

Maggie Swearingen

Technology Consulting

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