The Leader Magazine

DEC 2018

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If you don't use a wheelchair, you might not know that this degree of accessibility is not the norm. Most companies comply with accessibility legislation or code, mandated across most of the world via standards like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S. But in many cases, the building code does not go far enough to be inclusive to the needs of everyone. In recent years, a transformation in the Microsoft company culture has compelled us to reach higher in the areas of inclusivity and accessibility. Inclusion lies at the heart of the mission statement Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella introduced three years ago: To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. For most of the 20th century, people defined disability as the result of an individual's condition. The problem was with the person. Today, we know that disability happens at the points of interaction between a person and their environment. Physical, cognitive, and social exclusion are the result of a mismatch between what a person wants to achieve and an environment that does not support them. This definition, first adopted by the World Health Organization, presents a solvable design, business, and social problem. We have learned that empowering human beings across a diverse spectrum is not only the right thing for companies to do; it's good for business. Why go the extra mile for accessibility? If companies don't have facilities that support a diverse population, they miss out on the widest possible talent pool. Take physical disability, a category of human diversity that might be bigger than you think. There are a billion people on the planet with a disability, and some 70 percent of these disabilities are invisible. Accommodating this much of the potential workforce – not to mention customers and visitors – is simply sound business sense. But how does a company accommodate individuals with disabilities if it doesn't know who they are? That's a challenge – and one that Microsoft has met by working with its Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs (CELA) department to establish a partnership with an advisory group of employees who have disabilities. That community then advises designers on the second most formidable challenge: how to most meaningfully address their needs. Our partnership with these advisors has helped improve our empathy and understanding of the employee experience, as when the built environment gets in the way of someone doing their job at Microsoft. Sometimes these partners will uncover an area where design does not serve everyone – as they found near that reception desk in Building 92, where lobby tables weren't high enough to allow people in wheelchairs to work comfortably while waiting for appointments. Other times they help to design or test furniture and ideas in Microsoft's workplace research lab, the Hive. In one such test, we created cardboard replicas of desks and modular rooms, which employees who use wheelchairs tested for height, reach, and comfort. Numerous design and layout decisions within Microsoft have been informed by the knowledge only those who live with a disability can impart. Designers remodeling the cafés on the main campus were preparing to feature digital ordering at point-of-sale, where people with vision impairments can order at a screen reader that conveys information audibly. But before that could be used, employee advisors noted that clear travel paths needed to be established through the queue-clogged floorspace. the lea D er December 2018 11

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