MARY MELTON: That’s Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s chief accessibility officer since 2016. Jenny misplaced her listening to totally as an grownup. Since then, she has been on a mission to make life simpler for individuals with disabilities. She and her crew have rolled out options just like the adaptive Xbox controller for avid gamers with restricted means and reside captioning on Microsoft Groups. On this episode, Jenny shares with us her private story, why accessibility issues to everybody, what enterprise leaders can do to empower their groups, and the way AI may assist alongside the best way. Right here’s my dialog with Jenny.
MARY MELTON: Hello, Jenny. Thanks a lot for becoming a member of us right now on WorkLab.
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Thanks for having me.
MARY MELTON: Are you able to inform us about your story as an individual with disabilities?
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: So sure, I reside with disabilities. There’s a journey of incapacity id that all of us undergo, and I went by mine as an individual with declining listening to, getting a music diploma, after which going into IT, and I didn’t have that sense of empowerment with my incapacity. And so I realized in a short time it was simpler on the time to cover it and never ask for what I wanted to achieve success, and bluntly realized that that was the arduous path. Once I got here to Microsoft, I took the better path, which was seeing my incapacity for what it’s—part of my human—and asking for what I wanted to achieve success. So I’ve undoubtedly realized rather a lot through the years and have plenty of empathy for individuals, regardless of the place they’re on that journey. Most individuals with disabilities come to this gig by accident, damage, and sickness. Most usually are not born with, about 5 % are born with. It’s one heck of a trip. However I’m very happy with who I’m, together with my disabilities. And I’m happy with utilizing the phrase. I’m a deaf, disabled girl, and I’m additionally a mother, a spouse, a canine mother, a stepmom. And I work in company America.
MARY MELTON: Effectively, the numbers are fairly excessive, Jenny, and I really take a look at the statistics: greater than 1 billion individuals reside with disabilities. So we’re taking a look at one in eight individuals on the earth live with some sort of incapacity, and 70 % of these usually are not instantly obvious.
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: The numbers and the metrics that all of us lean on is that 1 billion, which got here from the World Well being Group in 2010. And right here’s the realism: We’ve simply gone by a mass disabling occasion. A pandemic is such. We additionally noticed as a consequence—and this was occurring earlier than the pandemic, not to mention throughout and after—sure areas bluntly exponentially rising. Psychological well being being a type of. And so understanding that true metric, I feel we’re going to be taught rather a lot in years and a long time to return. And I sit up for studying from the scientists in entrance of it.
MARY MELTON: Yeah, I really feel like even the dialog round this has opened up tremendously. One of many places of work I work with, there’s a channel now that’s dedicated to neurodiversity. I’m the mother of a neurodiverse son, and it actually heartens me to consider how this dialog goes to alter generationally, however the way it’s altering proper now, that that is one thing that’s extra brazenly mentioned in workplaces.
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Effectively, I like listening to that you’ve the neurodiversity channel. I feel these communities are important. There’s one thing very highly effective about bringing collectively individuals to speak about their expertise, to be taught from others, to get finest practices, to share when issues aren’t going proper. I lean on the group for that collective wealth and assist. It’s been instrumental to my journey, however I feel extra importantly, it’s been instrumental to plenty of members in our incapacity group. And I feel in case you spoke to any firm, huge or small, figuring out somebody that has comparable experiences, significantly staff with disabilities, but in addition carers and oldsters and ensuring they’ve the proper communities to coalesce in as properly is important. And I really suppose as we went into the pandemic, these communities grew to become important.
MARY MELTON: Yeah, completely. Broadly talking, once we speak about accessibility at work, what are we speaking about actually? Is it neurodiversity packages? Is it guaranteeing that elevators and ramps are on every ground, which can be, at this level, primary? Is it about making lodging or having particular instruments and tools in place? Is all of it of these issues?
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Sure. Accessibility just isn’t one factor. What we’re studying is that, as people, we don’t are available singular, attractive packages. You take a look at what a person may have in a office, and it varies. Accessibility is the means, whether or not it’s bodily, digital, or a mix of, not to mention finest observe language, etiquette—all of it goes to create a piece surroundings the place any particular person could be profitable and unlock expertise and functionality that may assist you as an organization ship extra. That may be a ramp, in its easiest kind. That’s ensuring that you’ve captioning on a video on this podcast. It’s ensuring that you’ve data of what language to make use of. So that you’re listening rigorously to that individual, how they wish to be referred to, and also you’re asking questions the place acceptable. All of that and the above, in order that we are able to empower inclusion, fairness—the entire attractive issues that we must always have as people.
MARY MELTON: What do you suppose remains to be misunderstood by enterprise leaders about individuals with disabilities within the office?
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: There’s some frequent misconceptions that I hear every single day, each week. I had somebody say this to me this week: Effectively, I don’t have any disabled individuals in my firm. You completely do. It’s whether or not or not they really really feel secure sufficient to establish to you as such. And one, simply transient, illustration of that, once I had the wonderful alternative to rent my crew seven years in the past, I knew that I had 50 % incapacity based mostly on what individuals had informed me by interview course of. A yr later, that quantity was 95. And that’s by making a dialog. One other frequent false impression is that “I’m certain it’s accessible.” In the event you don’t know if it’s accessible, it’s not. Don’t make these presumptions. There are some very fast and simple issues you are able to do to validate that, and don’t suppose that is arduous. There are instruments and plenty and many wonderful individuals on the market to assist. Presumption could be your worst enemy right here. Test the specialists. That’s the place individuals with disabilities could be an unbelievable asset to your organization. You understand, usually I’ll shoot emails like, Hey, does this give you the results you want? And I’m simply ensuring it’s good. So there’s plenty of others, however I feel it’s all the time—examine your bias.
MARY MELTON: So are you seeing enterprise leaders’ openness to this dialog or realization that they should make modifications within the office?
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Effectively, one, you already know, simply to acknowledge, we’re nonetheless studying. So, one, I feel we’ve got to remind ourselves of that each single day, as a result of accessibility is transferring very quick proper now. The wealth of alternative, significantly as we take a look at AI and this generative AI chapter we’re in, is thrilling. So, you already know, I don’t suppose we’ve even captured an oz of that. If I look outdoors, and chatting with the wonderful people I do know in corporations, not simply right here within the States however in Europe and Australia and past, sure, I’m seeing it mature. I’m seeing much more funding occurring. Recognizing that incapacity inclusion should be within the variety spectrum, and in addition recognizing that accessibility is a core elementary proper. I’m seeing that. However I’ll say that there’s much more must speed up it. I don’t suppose we’re maintaining with the charges of incapacity in any respect.
MARY MELTON: Prior to now, you’ve stated one thing about being conscious of the ROI entice, which is enterprise leaders desirous to justify the price of an accessible product that possibly they suppose will solely work for a small fraction of its buyer base or of its workforce. And I’d love so that you can discuss a bit bit extra about that entice and assist us body up why inclusive design is a win actually for everybody.
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Yeah, I exploit the phrase “ROI entice,” and my intent with utilizing that was to explain a scenario that I’ve seen play out a number of instances, the place accessibility has been related to a incapacity demographic, however then used to de-prioritize funding. And so in case you are seeking to spend money on a function that may empower somebody who’s blind and then you definitely go and take a look at the demographics for any given nation, and there’s heaps which might be out there, and also you come again and—I’m making up these numbers, however—you discover out that to your explicit space there are one level one thing % of the inhabitants that may profit from this explicit gig. Effectively, there’s two methods of taking a look at that quantity. A technique is saying, Nice, that’s superior, I’m going to get 1 %. And truly, if I make investments on this function, possibly it’s going to develop functionality that might really empower a much wider section of human. And we see that point over time, by the best way. Seeing AI is an efficient instance of that, the place you’ll be able to take an image of some textual content and you will get it learn out loud to you, after which really we discovered that neurodiverse discover that extremely helpful. So as a substitute of it being 1 %, it immediately turns into a further %. And then you definitely discover, oh my gosh, really it’s good to get issues learn out to me in audio in a darkened room or in a restaurant. Who wouldn’t need this? And immediately it’s not 10 %, it’s 50 %. And that, bluntly, is the facility of accessibility. You simply take into consideration speaking books had been designed for the blind. However my husband lies subsequent to me, listening to his books as I’m studying mine. That’s the optimistic use. The detrimental use is the place that quantity, 1 %, is like, oh, not value it, let’s go. That in itself is a little bit of a entice since you’re lacking out on all of that potential upside and also you’re not doing that extrapolation of how an innovation, and designing for a function for an individual, might even have extra profound impacts past the group that you simply’re designing for.
MARY MELTON: That’s such a good way to consider it. What are another first steps for somebody who’s simply considering, Effectively, the place do I, the place do I even begin? Is it beginning on the hiring stage? Is it assessing present staff? The place do you suggest for leaders to go to first?
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: We, like many corporations, have revealed coaching on accessibility and incapacity etiquette. Each Microsoft worker has to take necessary coaching on accessibility after they be part of the corporate. And why can we do this? We do this as a result of we need to uplevel the dialog as individuals are available, and create that frequent floor the place individuals can speak about incapacity they usually really feel assured and secure in doing so. After which we educate individuals a few of the instruments. Know that accessibility is in each single factor that you’ve, and play with the options that there are. And I’ll let you know, that we wrap right into a 20-minute digital on-line coaching that’s simply on demand. However simply 20 minutes to get going. I’m fairly certain everybody can do this.
MARY MELTON: That’s such a fantastic concept, and it’s such a easy factor to ask, particularly for if you’re assembly others for the primary time, which occurs rather a lot in conferences. Stepping away from a enterprise context rapidly, what are you able to inform us concerning the work your crew has accomplished to make gaming extra inclusive?
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Effectively, the very first thing to state is that this isn’t me. That is the village of parents which might be engaged on accessibility in each single a part of Microsoft, and there are numerous companions and lots of friends. So the aim is that expertise is simple to search out, simple to make use of. It’s inexpensive, it’s discoverable, and it empowers you proper the place you’re. So in Home windows, one of many enjoyable issues with Home windows 11 was we had been in a position to put all of accessibility within the backside proper of your display screen. It’s proper there. My favourite is reside captions, which was a function that was designed by Swetha [Machanavajhala], who’s one in every of our deaf engineers, and I can simply flip it on. I can filter profanity, which issues. A deaf individual shouldn’t have issues filtered out for them until they want it, and I don’t must have Wi-Fi connectivity, it may be offline as properly. Easy issues like which might be simply extremely necessary. And then you definitely transfer to Workplace, the place you’ve received options inbuilt—Dictate and the brand new one, which is Accessibility Assistant, which implies that as you’re constructing your Phrase doc, your PowerPoint, it’s going to information you on learn how to make that accessible: recommend the colours that work; recommend the image descriptions and the choice textual content, which is important for the blind; assist you with captions. I need you to have the ability to stroll within the room, having run the accessibility checker and utilizing the assistant, you run your PowerPoint, and regardless of whether or not you already know if somebody in that room is disabled or not, you already know it’s going to be an inclusive assembly. I’d nonetheless recommend you ask, does anybody want something? Actually necessary in the beginning. However expertise can assist you to do this. However I’ve received an actual huge candy spot for gaming, so I like what gaming is doing and I’m actually happy with that crew and what they do every single day, from the adaptive controller to options that even do lovely issues like assist handle triggers for psychological well being. I’ve received to like even a flippant one, however I hate spiders with a ardour. I can now get warnings when there are specific issues. And that’s, you already know, very minor, however a few of these are actually necessary. I nonetheless need to have the ability to play a few of these grotesque video games, however you may not be a fan of a few of the impacts of them. You may get set off warnings. It’s digging into the wants of avid gamers on the market, that psychological well being is a giant one.
MARY MELTON: One I had not thought-about earlier than researching this was how the Blur background, that’s one thing that I feel lots of people use as a result of they’re actually embarrassed as a result of their desk is a large number, proper? Or who is aware of what’s occurring behind them. However one thing that may be actually helpful is for individuals who have bother with visible distractions.
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Background on Blur was once more a deaf engineer attempting to determine learn how to make it simpler to comply with lip studying. That was really the unique state of affairs, and actually what they did was scale back the entire thing so you might solely see the face. And one demo, which by the best way, was in a short time, we moved on from, was solely seeing the mouth. That was the unique state of affairs. Then in take a look at, you discover out, oh my gosh, that is nice for ADD, that is nice for autism, that is nice for neurodiversity. And once more, it was a stupendous instance of the place the implications had been that it helps everybody.
MARY MELTON: I’m excited by what you stated on the Microsoft Means Summit, if you spoke about AI and stated that it has the potential to be a sport changer. There’s been super breakthroughs in current months. For individuals with disabilities, what do you see because the potential there? I imply, I alluded earlier, I’ve a son who has autism, and I’m fascinated about, you already know, he’s launching into faculty and fascinated about, how completely different is that this street going to be for him with the appearance of AI and alternatives that come up?
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: I see monumental potential with AI. However we additionally need to make it possible for we’re doing it in a grounded means, ensuring that the info that we lean on to energy AI is incapacity consultant. It consists of footage and pictures that matter to individuals with disabilities, whether or not that’s pictures of canes, listening to aids, wheelchairs. It’s received to be in there so to be taught from it and you’ll present clever outcomes. And then you definitely’ve additionally received to make it possible for any software that leans on AI can also be accessible as we undergo this very popular and quick innovation curve, which goes to proceed. If we take a look at generative AI. So the partnership that we’ve got with OpenAI, and the way we’re pulling that into Azure at Microsoft, and what does that imply for disabled communities? I feel what we all know right now might be tip of the iceberg to what we’ll know in six, not to mention 12, months from now. Simply take a look at the potential of Copilot as a principal. This isn’t doing it for you, that is working with you to make it faster and simpler to write down a doc, provide you with an overview that then you’ll be able to edit, you’ll be able to personalize, you can also make your individual. That’s received profound implications. I even have an autistic kiddo, and we’ve been simply taking part in with it to see the way it might assist with a few of her research. And I imply, one, she’s had wild enjoyable with it, creating poems within the model of Dr. Seuss, however it’s additionally helped her to construction her ideas. However I feel the opposite profound one we’re studying from is Be My Eyes, which is a partnership with OpenAI and a small, wonderful firm that gives a free app to blind-low imaginative and prescient, the place you name a sighted volunteer that can assist you discover issues, or with a job. So, hey, are you able to assist me discover my keys? And that volunteer then can assist you visually. Effectively, they added GPT-4 in there, and as a substitute of calling, take an image, and it’s rapidly figuring out the place these keys are, with out the necessity to make a name. I feel on the core of it, this AI, if accomplished proper and if we’re accountable, it will probably assist save time, it will probably empower duties, it will probably empower independence, and achieve this in a fast, inexpensive means. However once more, we’re studying, we’re studying sizzling and we’re studying quick.
MARY MELTON: How do you see it rising productiveness?
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Effectively I’m seeing it already. To be blunt, I’ve all the time used Bing. I used to be a part of the unique Bing crew many, a few years in the past earlier than I flipped into accessibility. And I’m usually researching what’s occurring on the earth on various things. Bing has grow to be my sidekick in determining a few of that. It’s saving me hours of time. And usually, if you consider that course of, I’d be opening up completely different tabs, I’d be looking out, I’d be clicking by to these URLs. I’d be in search of the related bits on the pages. I’d be copying and pasting these right into a Phrase doc or Notepad or one thing so I might put them right into a PowerPoint or I might put them into some speaking or an e-mail that I might ship to my crew. Take into consideration the variety of clicks that’s. Now take into consideration that state of affairs from a pair members of my crew who’ve muscular dystrophy, the place these clicks take extra time utilizing assistive expertise that empowers them every single day. Out of the blue you may have an equalizer, the place we’re each going to at least one web page, placing in the identical search gig. It turns into a sport changer, and you’ve got this compounding impact of it saving time throughout. So we have to preserve exploring that state of affairs. We have to preserve pushing that ahead.
MARY MELTON: Effectively, thanks a lot, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft. This was an exquisite dialog—you gave us rather a lot to consider and rather a lot to be longing for.
JENNY LAY-FLURRIE: Thanks for the time.
MARY MELTON: Thanks once more to Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft. And that’s it for this episode of WorkLab, the podcast from Microsoft. Please subscribe and examine again for the subsequent episode, the place we can be speaking with Jared Spataro, who heads up fashionable work and enterprise purposes at Microsoft. In the event you’ve received a query you’d wish to pose to leaders, drop us an e-mail at email@example.com, and take a look at the WorkLab digital publication, the place you’ll discover transcripts of all of our episodes, together with considerate tales that discover the best way we work right now. You’ll find all of it at Microsoft.com/WorkLab. As for this podcast, please fee us, evaluate, and comply with us wherever you hear. It helps us out rather a lot. The WorkLab podcast is a spot for specialists to share their insights and opinions. As college students of the way forward for work, Microsoft values inputs from a various set of voices. That stated, the opinions and findings of our visitors are their very own, they usually could not essentially mirror Microsoft’s personal analysis or positions. WorkLab is produced by Microsoft with Godfrey Dadich Companions and Affordable Quantity. I’m your host, Mary Melton, and my co-host is Elise Hu. Sharon Kallander and Matthew Duncan produce this podcast. Jessica Voelker is the WorkLab editor. Thanks a lot for listening.