Michael  Gillett 

Michael Gillett leads the Microsoft UK Partner team’s accessibility work, championing digital inclusion among partners. As a Senior Partner Technology Manager, he engages closely with software developers to introduce cutting-edge technologies into the marketplace. His current focus is on fostering the development of responsible AI products and steering ISV partners towards a new age of AI innovation. With a history of leadership in software engineering and product management, Michael is also recognised for authoring the inaugural book on feature management with LaunchDarkly.

Inclusive by Design: The Intersection of AI and Accessibility

In this talk, Michael shares Microsoft’s transformative journey and commitment to accessibility and how AI is shaping a more inclusive future. This talk traces Microsoft’s accessibility evolution, highlight current initiatives, and focus on AI’s role in enhancing accessibility. Discover how AI is not just a tool but a partner in creating inclusive technology.

Hi everyone, great to be here.  First time being at Camp Digital.  Really, really exciting.  What a great time to be talking about AI and the opportunities that we have.  I work within Microsoft UK, with our partner organisations that build software, which at the minute tends to be - how are we going to use AI in impactful and valuable ways and also within our partner organisation in the UK I run our diversity, inclusion and accessibility team.  This is a fantastic event for me to talk about where those things intersect and what are the opportunities we are already seeing with this powerful technology?  I want to start with just talking a little bit about Microsoft, our mission and the journey we have gone on, as an organisation around accessibility and innovation and where these AI and accessibility now get to come together.  The mission of Microsoft is to empower every individual and organisation on the planet to achieve more.  And actually recently, the CEO, Satya Nadella, shared this quote which I really like, because I think it speaks to the fact that if we are looking to build technology, it should be there for the benefit of everyone, including the planet itself.  That then can be transferred into the idea of how are we inclusive with the way we build the products and technologies that we do?  How are we out there protecting the fundamental human rights that we should be doing?    How are we doing it in a sustainable way?  And importantly, how are we trusted by everyone?  If we are going to do this t only works if we take everyone's trust.  You can take time to read that if you want to. today I'm dwelling on the inclusive side of things.  And taking a look at what is Microsoft's view of accessibility.  We know right now there is over 1 billion people on the planet with a form of disability.  And actually, it is important, when Microsoft engineers and are looking at the products we build, we aware that a disability can be permanent, temporary or situational.  And that we all have experience ourselves or know of people close to us, who have forms of disability and so we need to be making sure that the technology that we are building is accessible to everyone.  And there are a number of reasons why that is so important.  Perhaps the most important is that Microsoft view access to technology as a fundamental human right.  It is interesting that we think about the impacts of the pandemic and the mass acceleration we saw to digitise services.  Working from home, that hybrid way of working, that was in the space of months, the equivalent to at least five years of digital transformation.  I'm sure you are all fairly familiar with Teams and how that just ramped up over that time.  Think of healthcare and education, how much did they change the way they used technology?  How many services have become more digital I-first?  We heard from Lou around the idea of digital services, in some cases, being digitize exclusively digital.  That might be wrong as well, is that truly accessible?  And so, it is important that when we are thinking about this rapid move to digitise an online service and product, is it always accessible?  Well, the answer is, no it is not.  The World Health Organisation has this term around the "disability divide" and what they have discovered is that the disability divide is growing.  Which is alarming, because if we are rapidly moving to an online digital service delivery, and all of our products are moving that way, why is it that it is not more accessible to people?  Why is it that we are leaving people behind?  That is because all too often it is easy to focus on the majority and forget about those people who need to access technology in different ways.  There is definitely gaps within education as well, which is a big, big problem.  But what is really interesting with this, is that actually, accessibility is an opportunity.  If we think about the numbers involved here, we know that there is over 1 billion people on the planet with access needs.  And that number continues to grow and by 2050, it is estimated it will be 1.3 billion people.  But weirdly, only 4% of businesses really consider how they have a strategy for building accessible and inclusive technologies and services.  There was a survey, a report done in 2018 by Accenture, they found that those organisations that are within that 4%, that really do think about the strategy and provision that they make for inclusive and accessible technology, that actually those organisations have higher revenue, they have a better net income and they have higher margins.  So, it is actually better business, when you consider a well-rounded and inclusive strategy.  Now, that might be down to the organisation pursuing that, having a more open, inclusive mindset.  But equally the products they build means it's more appealing to more people and the numbers there really do speak for themselves.  And it's that kind of context, that kind of view, the mission that Microsoft has, that I just want it give an overview of the journey that Microsoft has gone on.  We have not always been great at this.  The very first thing that we did was in 1994 we introduced sticky keys to windows, and over a series of years there, we added more technical accessibility features, predominant to Windows.  Alongside that technical progression, there was also a view of the people within the organisation.  How do we do more within Microsoft to support people with different access needs?  And so, in 2008 we had set up an employee resource group around disability.  In 2010 we ran our first Ability Summit, which has gone on to be a regular event within Microsoft's calendar day-to-day and it is a really, really fantastic event; showing all kinds of best-practice, the latest thinking and innovations around accessibility.  But it really changed in 2015 when there was a new company mission brought in, to empower every individual and organisation within the planet to achieve more, brought in by Satya Nadella and since then people have really come together and we have seen real progress.  The way in which we can build the best products and services is when you have the well-rounded view of everyone involved in an organisation to talk about their own experience and what do they expect and need from technology and the products and the way that the organisation works?  And you can see, since then, we have actually accelerated considerably the things we do and the things we put out there, within our £and the way that we as an organisation work.  Up until 2022, when we have got the inclusive tech lab.  I will mention that again.  And you will see an acceleration from that point onwards as well.  The way in which Microsoft has worked to raise the bar around accessibility is around four pillars.  These are things that we have been able to recognise as we have gone on this journey over the past few years.  The first is technology, the second is the people within the organisation, the third is policy and the fourth one is partnership.  Now, I'm going to go over three of these quite quickly to share what we are doing at Microsoft surrounding, the technology one is where the AI bit comes in and I will spend the rest of the talk on.  Looking at people, there are a few things, I have been at a few different accessibility events over the last few years.  And it's been interesting that sometimes the point I'm about to make, it is a little bit controversial, I think it is a great thing, which is that at Microsoft, accessibility training is mandatory.  Everyone, the 220,000 people around the globe of Microsoft will go on accessibility training and we make a load of the content we do available on Microsoft Learn for everyone to go and learn that accessibility course, which is really, really good.  It is really, really valuable and what it does, it means everyone approaches it from the same place and it takes away from the unease and discomfort some people might have around talking about accessibility.  Another one is the way in which Microsoft does hiring.  Which is to be inclusive.  And the thing I want to call out here, that I really like, is that there is a global centralised budget for hiring.  If a candidate has needs for work, it isn't up to the hiring manager to decide whether they can afford to hire that person because of their access needs.  I think there are really valuable things here.  On partnership, I want to touch on a couple of things.  One is that Microsoft obviously has lots of accessibility features within the products we have.  They are not always obvious or clear how to access them and make use of them.  But we want to be better at that.  That is where we have our Disability Answer Desk.  It is a support service for anyone, any customer to contact and ask:  We have this scenario, how do your products help someone in that case?  And we have had, as the numbers say on the slide over 1 .5 million calls since 2012, which is fantastic and shows the need for this service.  More recently we have also added an Enterprise Disability Answer Desk, we call it DAD, which I find a little odd - speak to DAD.

Make sure you take this away for your organisation, it is very valuable.  Another is accessibility resources.  There is a lot of work that goes on within Microsoft to understand how can we best build products and service that is are accessible to everyone and there is a whole load of resources.  If you go to Microsoft.com/accessibility/resources, you can access a load of valuable tools, case studies and examples.  So again, something to take away and bring back.  Finally on the partnership piece, the Horizon Methodology.  Terminology we have used for the last cup of years, if you are aware of Hector Minto, who does a lot of work in this area, he talks a lot of sense.  But this starts at the adoption phase, Horizon 1, when an organisation starts creating an employee resource group-type set-up and then Horizon 2 is where they build better, more accessible, more inclusive processes within their organisation.  That might be a hiring process.  It might not to be do with the products and services they offer.  Maybe it is just internal stuff.  The final one is Horizon 3, where they are really innovating and thinking about that end user.  It might be internal but often it is the end customer in the scenario, when they start bringing innovative new ways of thinking to what they are offering that makes sure they are accessible to the customers, to make sure that they really can utilise everything that that organisation is offering.  On policy, I will touch on this very, very quickly:  You will see Microsoft show up when it comes to policy review and sharing what is best practice to help drive that accessible technology approach.  It is so important that it is not just us as an organisation that we see this happening, but it needs to be there in regulation as well.  So then, looking at the technology and where does AI fit within this whole narrative, well, obviously we have this real opportunity with generative AI to do things differently.  A lot of my day job is to work with software makers in the UK to explore how we can use AI.  I know Lou showed her desire path picture and at times I have also shared the when talking about AI.  I think AI actually really does get to us where we want to be much quicker.  We have probably all spend many years using the Office suite of products.  We have had to learn them.  We might have forgotten when we learned them but we have had to learn them.  All we ever really wanted to do was get that Power Point deck done, the e-mail written and document put together.  We have spent time putting that stuff together when really the valuable things with conveying its message, sharing the information and doing the critical analysis work and then presenting that to someone.  AI helps us get to that end goal so much quicker.  You think of Copilot in Microsoft 365.  You can ask it to give you the first draft, run numbers in Power BI.  We don't have to learn the tools to the same level that we have had to in the past, rather we get AI to go and get us.  Maybe 80% or 90% to the way we want it to be.  It saves our time to focus on valuable assets of our job, I don't think spending a lot of time writing e-mails is what we would class as the valuable aspect of our job.  Something that we need to do. When it comes to the AI piece and where we can use that within accessibility, that is where the inclusive tech lab has been quite instrumental, within Microsoft and equally outside of Microsoft.  What organisations out there are doing, with amazing things, focussed on accessibility and where can Microsoft's AI technology really help there.  That is where I want to spend the next few slides going over some of the things you will see in our products and then what else is going on within our partner organisations.  But when we think about AI, it is important to remember and understand when Microsoft talk about AI, we are viewing it as responsibility AI.  Now, this is an ongoing process and at the minute, this is where we think we should be focussing our efforts to make sure that the AI that we are building is responsible and we see it within six pillars.  Which you can see there.  It is fairness.  It is reliability and safety.  It has privacy and security there.  It is inclusive.  It's got transparency and it is accountable.  Without those things, AI isn't there to serve everyone and empower everyone.  If it is not accountable and transparent, it is just a bit of a black box, where people can go - the AI did that.  It shouldn't be the AI does anything on its own, it should be there to help us and we remain accountable for what it is giving the output of.  We are the ones accountable for running the decisions on top of that.  Of course, it needs to be reliable and safe.  It should do what we expect it to do and we should be able to trust it.  And it shouldn't abuse the privacy and security that people come to expect from what Microsoft Office.  These are key tenants of any product or service that Microsoft is building, when you think about that from an accessibility perspective, well inclusiveness is what we would expect as well and we expect to be able to innovate there and to treat the data that we have in a responsible way.  And so actually, accessible AI and responsible AI, they kind of go hand-in-hand which is really, really powerful.  And when we think about the journey that tech has been going on, you can see this timeline.  Actually, I caught up with Hector last week, and this is some of the latest view of where are things today and where are we going in the next few years.  Well, you can see that voice is kind of where we are at, at the minute.  I didn't really mean to make my voice louder when I did that.  It just happened!  Voice is perhaps the next paradigm opportunity for where we will primarily be interfacing with technology.  We have seen it for a little while about home speakers.  But generative AI is making that even more powerful because the computer, technology, understands our intent for the first time.  But when we think about what happens with technology and disability and how can we access that technology, again this is where we are seeing AI really, really come into its own at this point.  There has been great innovations over decades around making sure that technology is accessible.  Some of which we now rely on with the latest AI features.  So, if ever you have turned on transcription in Teams, which if you haven't done, I would really encourage you to do so.  Copilot in Teams relies on that transcription.  Now that has been in Teams far longer than Copilot has existed as an accessibility feature but that is the same with closed captioning and captions in general.  Those are features from an accessibility perspective which are now really allowing innovation to happen.  And it is often the way that technology that starts off first for accessibility, goes on to become mainstream and become really, really powerful in the years to come.  Much like I'm going to demonstrate now is the ability that in most of the Microsoft apps now, you will have the ability, and sometimes it is automatic for alt text to be added to images.  Alt text isn't new on images but what we are doing now is - actually let's make it automatic.  Let's make a document with images more accessible to everyone, for screen readers to understand and describe what it is with the alt text.  It is extremely useful and we are going to come back to this in just a moment.  What we are seeing with AI, is the LLM, the large language model d may be the unlocking features of generative AI.  When you couple it with speech recognition and image recognition, we see the real ability for technology to amplify our own capability.  As I say, it might be the first time that the computer understands our intent, rather than us needing to learn the tools and systems that we have built on the technology.  What that is actually offering us are some new experiences.  So, you can kind of broadly view this as a type of interrogation.  You can go and ask Copilot a load of questions and really challenge it.  But you can also then use it to help edit.  You think about this in the context of accessibility, these are really powerful but they are really useful anyway.  I I'm not great accessibility feature at the start of a Teams meeting taking note of who everyone is, what organisation they are from.  I start making notes and then not listening to the next person who introduces themself.  A powerful Copilot prompt I like to use is once everyone has finished doing their introductions, I will ask it to give me a summary of who everyone is in the meeting.  I don't have to be distracted so much now, I will ask Copilot to give me a recap of anything I might have missed, it is powerful.  You can see some of the of the other types of use here that really makes the computer far more useful to everyone, and is a hugely impactful way of democratising the technology that we all have access to now.  I love the ways that we get to do a first draft or do image creation, sometimes I have things in my mind which I can't put down on paper very well.  I just Chuck my verbal diarrhoea into the Copilot prompt box and it comes out with something more valuable and constructive.  When where we see the use cases showing up, as I have said already, we have live captions, they are becoming better and better and more accurate.  We have content reading, which is great for neurodivergent and visibility-impaired individuals.  Translation, that is not a new use of tech.  But we are seeing that become far more accurate.  What about real-time translation?  Does it allow us to have conversations in real time in two different languages?  That is really, really powerful.  We have the ability to use voice far more reliably than we have ever been able to before and then we can use tech to describe images.  Each one of these is a fantastic use case.  What becomes really, really powerful is when these things start being combined together.  So, I have a couple of examples to go through, where they are really coming together.  We have been running various Early Access Programmes to these features and technologies with the products we have and we are finding fantastic results here.  When we have been building the AI experiences, the accessibility team at Microsoft has been involved in all of those, which is why we are seeing such great outcomes against these kind of three areas, that it does actually meet POUR.  That we are seeing new a11y experiences.  Those things can be made more accessible easily, so it is an accessible way to access this really powerful technology and it makes existing experiences more useful.  And so, this is a fantastic technology, not just in the realm of accessibility.  So, for example, where we see the tech AI and accessibility come together, there's predictions.  That might not be new but it becomes more accurate with the latest advances in AI.  You can dictate using voice and have that interaction with Windows, just using your voice.  Again, that has become more reliable with what we are seeing.  But if you think about now the ability to not have just a reliable voice input but the ability to dictate to an AI that understands your intent, you can ask it far more than we have ever been able to do before.  We don't have to know the individual command to speak to the computer to get it to do what we want.  It understands maybe slightly more fluffy, slightly less accurate language we are using, naturally, to get what we within the done.  We have editor features.  Again, it is infused with AI to understand what it is we are trying to say.  Can that be said more succinctly, more professionally.  More of a casual style.  The idea of style not just poor grammar rules is powerful that we convey in the way we want to convey that message.  Then we can also get different lengths, content done, which, if you are trying it make a point really, really quickly, you want it to be succinct.  Sometimes you might want a more thorough explanation of something, and so by being able to change the style, the length, the mode in which someone is going to receive this content, you can be accessible to the recipient if the way you are creating that content.  And as a way of a bit of a story, I guess, I'm a developer by background and I know how dangerous live demos are, so I have some screen shots and videos to show you.  But this kind of example of being able to write - how to get to the BT Tower from Buckingham Palace.  You could put into a search engine.  You will get some results but not necessarily the right result you are after.  You could type it in.  You could use voice to say it and you could use prediction to get the next word you wanted there.  Then you get a response back and it'll give you the citations.  Maybe you can click on that and you can see what it is and just check that the BT Tower is the BT Tower you are expecting from the Copilot and then you could use screen reader to read that, the best way and in an accessible way that you need it to be presented.  Then you could also have it be read aloud.  This is all infused with AI.  Some of it is not so apparent but it is there.  It makes this whole journey very, very easy for anyone to get out of it the wealth of information and the power of the technology which we have able to us.  Then I just wanted to touch on Copilot.  Copilot in Microsoft 365 and it is a demonstration of some of the things I have spoken about in terms of being able to write a document in Word.  You can do it in lines.  As you are going, you can ask it some prompts.  Maybe you need a table of content.  An index, maybe you need more information.  You don't like something, select it, tell Copilot to rewrite, make it more professional, cover additional points, it'll do all of that. Look how quickly it can create a lengthy Word document.  It is your first draft.  It might not be the final thing, you probably should look at it and make sure you are happy with what it is saying there, but how much time has that saved and how easy is it, to do this?  You can also use it in Edge.  Now you can get summaries for the content you are seeing in the browser, summaries of PDFs.  One of the examples earlier:  What if there is content that hasn't been presented in an accessible way but you can get Copilot to summarise it for you?  The Copilot response will be in an accessible manner.  So, we can close that disability divide with this technology, because things that weren't created in an accessible way, can now be accessed in the way that is we need.  So, going become to the alt text example, this is the type of description we can now get for alt text images.  When we put this image through the latest GPT models, those LLMs.  We can get a very detailed description.  The first alt text was useful but this is far more powerful.  For someone who is visually impaired.  To be able to get this understanding of an image and to have that happen in Microsoft products for free, it just happens, we are really at this opportunity where technology and doing things in an accessible way isn't a barrier.  It's actually so easy and it is beneficial to everyone to get these descriptions, to get this content in the right, accessible manner for the recipient to be able to learn and understand in the way that we would expect them to be able to.  I wanted it share a tip about prompting, in case you are unaware, but this is where GCSEs do come in handy.  If you think of it in four ways, you have goal, context, source and expectations.  When you think about that whenever you write a prompt, you will get the most out of the AI experience.  I thought it was a useful thing to just share.  It is not completely in the realm of be accessibility but it is a very useful thing to be aware of when using AI.  There are a number of people within Microsoft who use Copilot and they have done a fantastic series of videos around how they have particular access needs with technology.  And they talk about the way in which Copilot supports them and helps them get the most out of the technology that they use.  I will show one video.  It is only a minute long.  But you can find a whole play list of these on YouTube, if you go to AKA.MF/thisismycopilot.  They are a fantastic set of videos to really show the real-world examples that people have, with using AI and Copilot in the context of accessibility.

>>: Hi, I'm Adam, based in Melbourne, Australia, but originally an Irish native.  It makes so much more sense now as to why every time I go and use XL and a table specifically, it feels like I'm learning it for the first time, every time.


So, what I want to show you is how I'm able to use Copilot to be able to get me to a draft version that is so much easier for me then to be able to edit, to create exactly what I need, remember than having to learn it all again.  Let's ask Copilot to create a D&I report that will show gender by country, in the countries that we operate in.  As you can see, it has now created that.  So much easier now for me to be able add to that, the ethnicity and put it where I need it, so I get the outcome that I need to be able to compare for the two.  This is my Copilot.  How can yours help you?  It is a really good example.  As I say, there are many other examples.  I do think it is worth just seeing how Copilot helps meet different scenarios and we are learning this at Microsoft.  We are learning how to build these responsible AIs and learning how to build them in an accessible way and learning how we get the most from the technology and we would love your own stories and feedback about how you are finding Copilot to support you in the work you do.  Looking now at some of the partner organisations that we have, I want to dwell a little bit on Seeing AI, which is built internally, it is a stand-alone app, an experience and it has been out for a while but enriched with the latest GPTs.  I want it show this video.  I think it is really power envelope a different way that AI can be used from an accessibility perspective.

>>: I lost my sight when I was seven.


 (Captions on screen)


Shakib listens to a description on his phone.



MICHAEL: So, another really powerful example showing the opportunity that we have with this technology, to really make the world around us accessible to everyone.  And I think we are going to see some amazing innovations, probably over the next few months, certainly over the next few years, where this technology can really transform lives for everyone, especially those who want to better access the world.  This is really powerful stuff.  The final one is another app called Be My Eyes, again, a really, really powerful use case for this generative AI.  The way that it can analyse still images, live video, the whole lot and describe it in a way that is accessible to the individual. 


[captions on the screen]


>>: Would you like me to read out specific options?

MICHAEL: So, we are seeing multi-modal GPT, LLMs.  We are seeing the ability to bring together different use cases, voice-to-text, text-to-voice, translation, scanning images, video, it all comes together in these fantastic ways, which is really, really amazing to think of what has only been available for the last 18 months or so, and we are seeing these fantastic experiences.  What does the future hold?  And actually, going back to the disability Answer Desk, we have incorporated some of the functionality from Be My Eyes into that answer desk, we want to make sure the products and service that is Microsoft have, can make use of the fantastic observations others are bringing as well.  So, when I say that we really want to know your own experiences, what are the   challenges you might have, please do let us know, we want to partner and develop these to make sure that the technology that is available is available to everyone, where and how they need it.  One final thing that I think is just useful, it's not AI but it is the accessibility assistant application within the applications.  I am sure you are familiar with the spell checker.  The accessibility assistant can be thought on in the same way.  It'll automatically let you know if what you have created in an Office app is not automatically accessible.  You can think about the colour between the text and background, the font size.  Things that some people take for granted.  But for others, they cannot actually then read what you are trying to share.  So, we have this coming soon by default in Office apps which will be a powerful way it to make sure the recipient can get out the information you are trying to convey. The ability to create content this the length, mode and style you want, making sure the recipient is going to be able to access that in the way that they need, it is a really, really powerful opportunity to use technology to really empower everyone to achieve more.  Thank you.