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6th European eAccessibility Forum
Putting eAccessibility at the core of information systems

26/03/2012, 9:00 - 18:00
Cité des sciences et de l'industrie, Paris

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Inclusive Innovation in the design of mainstream ICT products

Robert Sinclair (USA)
Rob.Sinclair (at) microsoft.com

Speaker's information

Robert Sinclair photo

Robert Sinclair is Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft, responsible for the company's worldwide strategy to develop software and services that make it easier for people of all ages and abilities to see, hear, and use their computers. He believes that addressing the needs of people with a wide range of abilities is the key to transforming and improving the way everyone interacts with our increasingly digital world.

"The future lies in a new generation of technology that automatically adapts to a person’s individual needs, preferences, and immediate surroundings, to create an optimal user experience", Rob Sinclair says.




Warning : The short papers of this conference have been prepared by BrailleNet who accept any responsibility for them. But presentation materials provided for download (full-papers or slides) have been provided by the authors themselves. . Please also see the video for the full presentation. Links are provided below.

In this presentation, Rob discusses the importance of Inclusive Innovation—a call to action for business leaders and technologists to thoughtfully design and introduce new products into the market in a way that avoids marginalizing the aging or disability communities.

As we examine the technology trends over the past ten to fifteen years, we can easily see that the digital world around us is becoming increasingly complex. In the past five years we have seen an acceleration of new devices and technologies enter the market, and we see that accessibility is not keeping pace with these trends. This is partly due to the fact that the community of accessibility practitioners is overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of standards work, public policy activities, new operating systems from Apple, Google and Microsoft, and the rapid growth of web-based applications and apps for smartphones. Accessibility is an increasingly complex pursuit, and we need better global strategies to achieve the level of digital inclusion required in our new digitally connected societies.

In this presentation, I will propose two related concepts and areas of investment. The first is the need to think more broadly about the way we design, build, deploy and support new products and services. I refer to this more holistic approach as, inclusive innovation. The second is the need to transform accessibility into an international profession, similar to privacy and security.

In this conversation, I explain what is needed to pursue inclusive innovation. I also review some of the symptoms that indicate our challenges in accessibility extend well beyond technical infrastructure and design methodology. After exploring some potential root causes, I conclude with a recommended course of action to address the challenges we face today and those we will face tomorrow.

Inclusive Innovation

There are a number of labels for design methodologies that begin with a focus on the needs of the customer. These include user-centric design, design for all, universal design and inclusive design. The basic premise is sound, but most people apply them only to the design of the intended product or structure. Inclusive Innovation builds on these design methodologies by promoting the need for related considerations which reduce the cognitive load, improve customer adoption, and simplify the modern, digitally driven lifestyle. This is in contrast to our current reality of an increasingly complex, technologically focused lifestyle. Inclusive Innovation is comprised of these key elements:

The first element is a well-established design methodology, and the remaining three are easily achieved if an organization has the appropriate talent and expertise. Before discussing that further, let us consider the results of the current approach to accessibility.

State of Accessibility Today

As we look at trends around the world, we see some encouraging signs of progress. Microsoft’s integration of speech recognition in Windows Vista enabled people with no use of their hands or arms to use a PC at no additional cost. Apple’s introduction of the VoiceOver screen reader into MacOS and iOS changed the blind and low-vision communities’ expectations for out-of-the-box accessibility in consumer electronics. IBM led the creation and standardization of ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) which is helping improve accessibility of web sites around the world. Microsoft’s revolutionary Kinect peripheral for the Xbox and PC is changing the way people experience entertainment. It also has shown great promise for children with Autism. These are only a few examples of progress in recent years, and yet there are many more examples that indicate we, as a global society, are far from achieving digital inclusion.

The next question is what are the underlying causes of these outcomes and how can they be addressed?

Potential Root Cause

Based on a review of the common accessibility challenges from the past twenty years, we believe these symptoms are a result of:

The Missing Element

While there is no single investment that will solve the world’s accessibility challenges, there is one piece clearly missing from our global approach. Accessibility is a highly complex domain that is currently comprised of a self-organized community of deeply dedicated, largely self-taught practitioners. It is truly impressive to realize what they have achieved during the past twenty-five years, but the time has come for accessibility to transcend its origin and become an internationally recognized profession. This transition has helped security and privacy rapidly evolve over the past decade into valued bodies of expertise in enterprise organizations, and it is what we need to make accessibility a scalable, repeatable internationally recognized professional pursuit.

International Society of Accessibility Professionals

A society of professionals could invest in the following services:


Without an international community of trained accessibility experts, it will be extremely difficult to pursue the goals of Inclusive Innovation. To do that, we need to have experts throughout companies, organizations and governments who understand accessibility well enough to apply it to their particular job function: business leader, product designer, software engineer, technical writer, customer support specialist, etc. Imagine an organization with accessibility expertise disseminated throughout, applying the principles of inclusive design, carefully deciding how to deploy their product and support it in a manner that eases their customers’ adoption and usage – regardless of their age or ability. These outcomes are possible but will require broad-reaching international collaboration and dedicated resources to bring all of these pieces together.




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