In September, tech giant Microsoft launched the Microsoft Enabler Program, an initiative aimed at removing barriers in Asia and Pacific workplaces and providing a more diverse practice. For participants in the program, the benefits are clear — more diversity means a significantly deeper talent pool.
"Inclusive organizations outperform their peers and attract and keep top talent, and we have seen how inclusion drives innovation," said Vivek Puthucode, Chief Partner Officer at Microsoft in Asia Pacific, in a press release announcing the program.
United Nations ESCAP estimates (PDF) that disability-inclusive employment could lead to a 1–7 percent rise in GDP throughout the Asia and Pacific regions, noting that the range "may still be an underestimate," as it doesn’t account for lost productivity from caregivers of persons with disabilities who face reduced opportunities as a result of the current labor market.
The program intends to change that market — and help employers realize some of the substantial benefits of a more inclusive approach. Participating organizations will receive training from non-profit organizations and will in turn provide "shadowing, internships, mentoring and opportunities in tech jobs" for people with disabilities.
For employers, inclusiveness should always be a priority
People with disabilities constitute an enormous portion of the world’s workforce. Per the World Health Organization (WHO), about 15 percent of people worldwide live with some form of disability. New technologies can help many people with disabilities build careers.
Digital accessibility is, of course, a key component of workplace inclusiveness — a fact that Microsoft isn’t ignoring with the Microsoft Enabler Program. Participating employer partners will complete Microsoft’s Accessibility Fundamentals, an online course that teaches inclusive design principles. The program discusses key aspects of digital accessibility, including the importance of providing text alternatives for graphics and building with an accessible mindset.
"To be inclusive means to embrace disability from the very beginning: from the earliest planning stages of a product, to its launch, to its latest updates," the program notes. "Accessibility should always be built in rather than bolted on. If accessibility is an afterthought, changes may be rushed or viewed as a low priority, which could result in people with disabilities having an inferior experience and feeling excluded."
The program’s principles are in line with — and in some cases, possibly restated from — the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which encourage webmasters to create content that is "Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust," (the POUR principles). Building towards accessibility from the first stages of development allows for these principles to be incorporated throughout digital content, improving accessibility in a wide range of scenarios.
For employers, the clear takeaway is one of the foundational aspects of inclusivity: Accessibility needs to be a priority. Whether expanding a workforce or building a site that is usable for a broader audience, organizations need to incorporate inclusive practices into every aspect of planning, design, and execution.
Initiatives like the Microsoft Enabler Program focus on this top-level approach to affect cultural changes in business practices — by considering people with disabilities at every level, participants in these programs can truly broaden access and eliminate barriers. That’s the type of change that pays off in the long run for employers, employees, and consumers.
Ultimately, everyone benefits from accessibility. These types of initiatives are critical in realizing those benefits.