Microsoft announces philanthropic initiative to improve digital access

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Friday, 18 December 2015 12:19pm

Microsoft has announced an increased commitment to digital accessibility through Microsoft Philanthropies, an organisation within the company aiming to boost the global economy by providing the benefits of technology and access to more people around the world.

Young child using a Windows-based laptop

The President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, announced in a blog post that the tech giant will increase focus on ways in which the organisation can contribute to solving issues for people who benefit most from technology, including people with disabilities.

Microsoft Philanthropies will focus on providing access to people in areas of poverty and remote or displaced communities, as well as improving education to encourage participation in opportunities created via economic growth. The announcement notes that “accessibility remains a key challenge, with too many people with disabilities encountering barriers to using essential new technologies... Meeting the greatest need requires greater action. And, a recognition that empowerment begins with inclusion.”

The organisation aims to invest in inclusion programs and partnerships to increase digital access to more people, increase connectivity to public cloud computing systems to deliver digital skills and training, and boost computer science education internationally over the next three years.

Furthermore, Microsoft will also invest in non-profit programs alongside their Affordable Access Initiative, which works with businesses to expand online access and cloud services, amongst other social efforts such as the Upgrade Your World campaign, which offered $10 million USD to assist non-profits improve access in their communities.

Media Access Australia’s upcoming Affordable Access Project, which will be launched in 2016, also aims to increase access to technology by helping people make informed choices about accessible, cost-effective platform/software/device combinations. The project is managed by Director of Digital Accessibility, Dr Scott Hollier and is funded by a grant from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network.

Dr Hollier notes that “Microsoft have been pioneers in providing accessibility features in their popular products such as Windows, so it’s encouraging to see that they are continuing the accessibility journey in this way.

“While it’s great to see that Microsoft is continuing to contribute to accessibility more broadly through education, it’s hoped that this increase in focus will also help improve accessibility internally in its own products such as improvements to its Narrator screen reader and broader support on its mobile platform.”

Update: Microsoft have also recently announced a partnership with the American Council of the Blind (ACB) to advance efforts towards creating accessible information technologies. ACB and Microsoft will work together to enable planned updates to various products which better meet the needs of people who are blind or vision impaired. The full announcement can be read via the Microsoft News Center website.

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