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Meet Eva, my 16-year-old daughter. I have been working in the technology sector for over 15 years and until recently if you’d asked her what I did for a living, she would have told you that I do something in marketing with Microsoft. ‘A thing called unified communications and some voice stuff’. These days, she’d still be light on the detail but would also tell you that I am passionate about Accessibility and Inclusion.

The importance of accessible and inclusive content

Last year I shared details with Eva about a Microsoft course on Accessibility Fundamentals I’d completed. Amongst other things, it covered inclusive content. I told her about simple things she could do too to ensure content she creates for school projects is accessible for everyone. She was enlightened by this and very inquisitive about the wider impact our efforts can have on assistive technology users.

Using her own time and effort she ordered herself a sign language book. I had no idea she’d ordered it, despite her using my online account. Clearly, I must pay more attention to these things! I was duly astonished when not long after she introduced herself to me, flawlessly, using only sign language.

Adapting to a hidden disability

I have a hidden disability myself and Eva often supports me, when I need it. What’s interesting about her behaviour is her lack of awareness about the support she provides me. This is something that has never been more apparent than it is during this pandemic. I have very poor hearing and I manage noisy environments by lip-reading. One by-product of the pandemic, with the introduction of mandatory facemasks, is that this has not been possible. It’s very hard to lip-read when you can’t see someone’s lips!

I was in a coffee shop recently, trying to order a drink. The person at the counter was wearing a mask and was stood behind an acrylic screen. With the coffee machines also in full swing, it was very difficult to hear the questions coming my way. Eva had already sat down but when she saw me tilting my good ear towards the screen, she jumped up totally unprompted. Looking at the assistant, she politely said: ‘My mum can’t hear you. Can I help?’

Awareness and education are paramount

Why is this relevant? Because it’s awareness that is the starting point that can prompt us to behave more considerately and adopt more inclusive behaviour. Eva is particularly aware of my disability and supports me, without hesitation. Now after seeing how the content she creates for her school projects can be more inclusive for a multitude of disabilities, she’s enthusiastic to continue. She wants to support everyone and ensure all those reading her documents and watching videos can enjoy them equally.

Awareness and education are paramount to starting your journey to become a more inclusive organization. By educating everyone within your organization about the tools and functionality available to create accessible and inclusive content, you can embed these values into your corporate culture. Understanding needs is vital and – using Eva as an example – when people are exposed to disabilities and/or understand them, they are more likely to behave with Accessibility and Inclusion values in mind. This can then flow naturally into how they plan and deliver effortless experiences for everyone.

Eva had already been exposed to my day-to-day disability struggles, but the Microsoft course raised her awareness of the efforts people can make to support people with all types of assistive needs.

The tools and features are there within Teams

During the pandemic, many organizations rolled out Microsoft Teams as quickly as they could. Whether using Teams for calling or meetings or Live events, the tools are there and available to support users with a wide range of accessible and inclusive features. These are especially important for those that may be working remotely and struggling working outside of an office environment.

With greater awareness comes greater positive change

Microsoft Teams was vital in enabling business continuity at the start of the crisis. It now has a fundamental part to play as organizations plan their return to the office while supporting hybrid ways of working. Do be sure to consider the simple things you can do to educate all the users in your organization. The vast array of features within Teams and the wider Office 365 applications can make a huge difference.

It also reflects on those you do with business with, including your clients and suppliers. As people see and appreciate your organization’s approach to accessibility and inclusion, you’ll open their eyes to all the positive outcomes and opportunities. With greater awareness, we can achieve greater positive change.