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The Microsoft Ability Summit in Review


abilities summit header

As many of you are aware, I have been dealing with a progressive version of ALS which is affecting my hands and arms and thus my ability to type. Throughout this process I have been writing about the technology that has allowed me to keep working. I really started to dig in and embrace the work that Microsoft is doing in the accessibility space. As I was looking around at what they were doing I stumbled across last year’s Ability Summit. It was interesting because in this Summit they announced the release of some of the Surface accessibility tools as well as Voice Access both of which I will be using a lot of. I have been using Voice Access since it was released in preview in the middle of last year. I plan to write about my experience with Voice Access after the next update of the product which was dropped in preview late February and I hope to have the update soon. My hope is that a number of the issues I’ve been dealing with in the product will be resolved by then.

Picture of Microsoft Adaptive Accessories
Microsoft Adaptive Accessories

Moving on to the Summit. When I came across the Summit in YouTube I was really impressed with the overall approach as well as content and conversations that were part of the event. This year’s Summit took place on March 8th. I took the time to watch much of the conference with my wife to see what new and great things are coming from Microsoft to further enable those of us with disabilities to work in a Microsoft and Windows environment. I was not disappointed! The conference had a number of sessions where they talk about how various individuals are impacting their workplaces as well as reflecting on the life of one of the foremost disability advocates in the country, Judy Heumann.

Along the way, there were a few things that they announced or talked about that excited me. The first of course was that Voice Access was fully released in February. While I haven’t received the update yet I’m looking forward to getting that and reviewing it in a different post. They also showed how Microsoft 365 including the Office tools and Teams have continued to embrace accessibility for people with all types of disabilities. One of the neat things they demonstrated was there’s now an accessibility checker in Word for example that will allow you to see if the formatting you have chosen in your document is accessible or not. I look forward to seeing the continued improvements on this as it brings awareness to those of us who don’t struggle with some of those same issues and shows us how to build documents that are considered fully accessible.

GitHub Next logo
GitHub Next

One of the tools I’m most interested in is Hey GitHub! Beyond even GitHub Copilot, you now have the ability to use voice commands to build code. While this is still in the early stages it is an awesome concept. I of course will be looking at how I could potentially use this to build out some SQL code so I can continue to demo.

There was also a lot of conversation around the impact of AI on our ability to be more productive. This includes the various AI capabilities such as support writing code in Visual Studio and creating summaries of meetings with ChatGPT. I hope to put some of these new findings to good use.

I have been using the public version of ChatGPT to build LinkedIn summaries of blog posts so I don’t have to type them up myself. It has been a cool experience watching the AI build the summary.

If you or your company is looking for insights into how Microsoft as well as other companies are tackling the tough questions around accessibility, I encourage you to check out the various sessions from the Ability Summit. This is a great opportunity to embrace a group of individuals we have a lot to contribute all they need is the opportunity! I want to say a huge thank you to the Microsoft team who have put together this conference and continued to make accessibility a key part of the tools they provide to us.

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