This is the first in a series of blogs about Accessibility and why it matters to us at #TeamHable

We will be sharing our experiences as we learn about the amazing range of tools in Office 365 and Windows 10 that support independence and equality for all users. Accessibility matters because rather than dividing people, it brings us all together…..

I was first introduced to how technology could impact learning for people of all abilities when I was working on the Building Schools for the Future programme in the 2000s. This ambitious programme aimed to rebuild many of the schools in the country with a focus that was learner-led and ICT-enabled.

One of the schools I was lucky enough to work with was the fabulous Talbot School in Sheffield – a specialist and, in every sense of the word, a special school, educating  young people aged 11-19 with a wide range of needs including Severe and Complex learning difficulties, Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties.

I discovered that, for many of these pupils, they were learning how to be reactive to their environment and needed opportunities to have an impact on the world around them.  I met a young girl, Marie, who had no movement below her neck and I watched her playing a beautiful fractal game, just by tapping her head on the assistive switch control on the back of her wheelchair. The sheer joy in her eyes was something I will never forget. Her teacher told me this was the first time in her life that she had been able to make something happen, independently. She was able to choose the colours and the patterns that she wanted, not have them chosen for her.  Just think about that for a moment: she had reached the age of 13 and up to that point, had never been able to do anything independently. Had never been able to cause something to have an effect, and now she could, thanks to technology. That’s when I started seeing technology not as an end in itself, but as a means of opening up the world to everyone.

Some 20 years on, I am delighted to be heading up our approach to Accessibility at Hable. Things have moved apace since then. The tools that are available now would have blown my mind back then! And they just keep on getting better and better. Marie, for example, is now able to interact and communicate just using her eyes – Eye Control a feature in  Windows 10 empowering people with disabilities to operate an onscreen mouse, keyboard, and text-to-speech experience using only their eyes.

Whether we are one of the 1 billion people who have defined disabilities, or whether we are temporarily or situationally ‘disabled’ – be that a broken arm or finding ourselves in another country where we don’t speak the language- “there is no limit to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of all those who use it”. [1] The developments that keep on happening and the ever-increasing built-in accessibility features in Microsoft Technologies impact all of us.  For example, Learning Tools [2]  was initially designed to improve the reading and writing experience for people with dyslexia yet it actually makes reading and writing more accessible to all of us, even useful for a bit of proof reading when you just can’t see your mistakes!

So please follow this blog and join us on our learning journey – where we’ll be sharing our experiences in Hable, working with businesses, universities, government departments and schools to empower everyone to use today’s technology to achieve even more.  We’ll let you know about the latest updates, unpick some of the challenges and hopefully discover how an understanding and awareness of these tools can make life better for us all.

There is no limit to what people can achieve when technology reflects the diversity of it’s users and is accessible to all

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

[1] This is Microsoft’s definitive overview of their accessibility tools – worth bookmarking as it is a very useful reference point and is kept up to date with all the latest features.

[2]  Read aloud, line focus, picture dictionary and translation – just some of the built in learning tools available as part of Office 365 and Windows 10.