May 22, 2020 - Technology

Big Tech makes fresh accessibility strides

Microsoft chief accessibility officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie

Microsoft chief accessibility officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie. Photo: Microsoft

Google pledged to make wheelchair accessibility more prominent within Maps, while Microsoft is publicly sharing the knowhow it has accumulated developing products like the Xbox adaptive controller, Seeing AI and other accessible technology.

Why it matters: The moves came as the industry commemorated Global Accessibility Awareness Day on Thursday. The World Health Organization estimates that only one in 10 people with disabilities globally has the access they need to assistive technologies and products.


  • Google, in addition to more prominent labeling of wheelchair-accessible routes with Maps, announced Action Blocks, an Android application designed for those with various cognitive disabilities. Action Blocks allows users to combine multi-step actions into one customizable button, making it easier to manage complex tasks.
  • Microsoft is releasing publicly what it calls the Accessibility Evolution Model, its blueprint for building accessibility into its products, and adding some accessibility enhancements to Windows 10. The software maker also announced a partnership with the Special Olympics to hold a virtual video gaming event next week.
  • Apple used the day to highlight many of the accessibility apps within its ecosystems as well as to call out some of its own efforts.
  • Samsung also announced new accessibility features, tapping Bixby Vision, the visual component of its AI assistant, to help identify objects and read words to those with visual impairments.

My thought bubble: Improvements in tech to make them more accessible to all are worthwhile in themselves, but there are often side benefits too.

  • Captions for those with hearing impairments help train voice recognition systems and also make it easier for users to see videos without having to turn on their sound.
  • Cursor control for the iPad began as an accessibility feature but eventually turned into full trackpad support for all consumers.
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