Digital inclusion a key to government modernization

This article is sponsored by Microsoft

By Dean Halstead; Director, Cloud Collaboration and Accessibility, Microsoft U.S. Federal

As federal agencies modernize their enterprises, they must ensure that their technology and communications are accessible to all. By some estimates there are more than 1 billion people in the world who have a disability, whether permanent or temporary, including visual, mobility, hearing, cognitive, speech and neural. So, as agencies look to modernize through information technology for mobility, security, compliance and agility, they can also look to Microsoft to help support accessibility.

In the past, many federal employees with disabilities felt that accessibility in technology was a “bolt-on” instead of a “built-in.” Today, the high-tech industry is using an inclusive design approach to create new, accessible cloud services. Microsoft is raising the bar by empowering agencies with modern solutions that serve all employees and citizens. Our intent is to make digital accessibility and inclusion just as important as other government initiatives, such as mobility, security, compliance, efficiency, cost savings and productivity. By doing so, there is a significant side benefit for our government customers: attracting a huge untapped pool of talent.

Accessibility in America

The Council for Disability Awareness puts the number of Americans with disabilities at more than 37 million—about 12 percent of our total population.  Many of these people possess critical skills that could be brought to bear against technical and cybersecurity-related challenges. As such, it’s critical for federal agencies to address accessibility as they continue to modernize.

For those not familiar with accessibility requirements, there are technical guidelines included in U.S. regulations, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act for electronic information and Section 255 of the Communications Act for communications. These requirements were updated in the Revised 508 Standards to align with modern technology and focus on content creation. European procurement requirements for accessibility also have been updated to be consistent with the Access Board’s rule. These harmonized standards not only simplify compliance, they allow worldwide government agencies to digitally transform and take full advantage of the cloud.

The challenge and advantages of accessibility

Making IT and communications available to everyone is not necessarily simple. Agencies must modernize their IT while adapting to rapidly evolving technology, including remote access, mobile computing, the use of personal devices on the job, and integrating Internet of Things solutions. They also must meet the expectations of a new generation of workers who have grown up as “digital natives.” Doing this securely while complying with requirements for accessibility can be less of a challenge by leveraging cloud technologies that are design for increased security, compliance, mobility and accessibility. Also, with cloud solutions, features for new and developing accessibility standards can be rolled out in a timely manner.  Thus, the advantages of accessibility far outweigh the challenges, for example:

  • Implementing solutions that are inclusive by design can help retain highly valuable institutional knowledge of your senior professionals.
  • Accessibility also can help agencies deliver enhanced services and engage citizens. A United Nations study found that organizations employing persons with disabilities are better equipped to understand and support the citizens they serve.
  • Implementing inclusive based designs by definition, make your mobile workforce more productive. For example, the same design for a user with blindness will enable any mobile user to work when the sun brightness overpowers the mobile screen.
  • Purchasing and developing accessible technology can improve productivity and make agencies more competitive in a tight job market. Whether an organization aspires to retain experienced employees or attract millennials, accessible solutions like Microsoft 365 can help.

Enhancing inclusion and workplace productivity

We believe our approach to accessibility can help government agencies enhance inclusion and workplace productivity. For example:

  • Microsoft 365, which provides a modern environment for collaboration and teamwork, enables employees to be more productive and secure, and helps attract and retain a new generation of talent. This scalable cloud solution, which includes Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility + Security, is helping agencies comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act.
  • Microsoft leverages the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Trusted Tester process with certified accessibility testing which can help reduce your agencies testing requirements.
  • Our Office Accessibility Center offers support resources for people with disabilities, including training, templates, updates, technology and tools for creating accessible content, including:
    • The Disability Answer Desk, where customers with disabilities can receive support with product issues, accessibility questions, and the use of assistive technology for Microsoft Office and Windows.
    • The Enterprise Disability Answer Desk for organizations, which can help enterprise customers better understand product conformance with U.S. regulations as well as receive answers to specific questions about accessibility and assistive technology.
  • Microsoft also publishes conformance reports on how our products meet key information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility requirements for S. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) and EN 301 549 procurement requirements.

So regardless of your agency’s mission, Microsoft can support modernization and accessibility in the cloud and offers cloud services that are designed to meet DoD Security Requirements Guide (SRG) for L2, L4, and L5 requirements, aligned with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and compliant with FISMA, FedRAMP, ITAR, HIPPA and IRS 1075. See full list of accreditations on our Trust Center.

Microsoft is committed to helping our government customers modernize with the cloud, comply with regulatory requirements, create an inclusive environment, and take advantage of the vast pool of skills and experience offered by workers with disabilities. By building accessibility into our trusted cloud, and by committing to building for accessibility into the future, we endeavor to empower governments to achieve more, especially for citizens with disabilities.

Please learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to accessibility at: