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7.5 min to readDigital WorkplaceThought Leadership

Can Microsoft 365 drive digital inclusion?

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Peadar O'SullivanSenior Consultant
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What if we told you that up to 15 percent of your workforce may not be getting the support they need to thrive?

It may surprise you to learn that people with disabilities account for over 15 percent of the world’s population - that’s over a billion people! In today’s competitive business environment, talented workers are in especially high demand. If your organization does not provide the tools that workers with disabilities need in order to perform their best work, your business is undoubtedly missing out on a giant pool of talent that could transform your organization.

Businesses need to value the unique skills that every worker brings to the table in a proactive way – and in the modern world, we now have the technology that can help employees make the most of these skills. However, don’t wait for the employee to ask for your help. Be proactive and make deliberate attempts to include them or you may miss out on their expertise when it’s needed the most. Mainstream technology vendors like Microsoft provide solutions and options that help employers realize the full potential of a work environment that is not only inclusive, but welcoming towards workers with disabilities. This has been proven by their consistent, ongoing commitment to provide new ease of access features. Let’s look at a few ways that your organization can utilize Microsoft 365 for greater accessibility.

Making Microsoft 365 more accessible

Microsoft 365 comes equipped with a range of accessibility options that can help people with disabilities work more effectively. Most of these options can be set as defaults by the IT team on an employee’s first day of work or can be easily assigned to the relevant team members.

However, keep in mind that encouraging employees to use accessible options isn’t always easy, which is why accessibility and etiquette guides are becoming increasingly popular. If you experience resistance to adoption, Microsoft expert for help. Let’s go into detail about the accessibility options offered by PowerPoint, Word, and Excel in particular.

Accessibility in Microsoft PowerPoint

PowerPoint offers several different accessibility options to help people with disabilities listen to and create their own presentations. There are three primary options that help with this: Accessible templates, alternative text, and live captions.

Accessible templates can flip between a visually-oriented or text-oriented slide display. Simply search for “accessible” when creating a new PowerPoint and choose a template from the selection. Then, navigate to 'view'. Look to the left corner of the ribbon, and you’ll see two options: 'Normal', or 'Outline View'. By selecting 'Outline View', creators can see a text-based preview of their slides instead of a small image. This is great for people who use screen readers or have low vision.

In addition, people who rely on screen readers should always be able to tell what an image is by reading its alternative text, better known as "alt text”. To help, simply right click on an image and select 'Edit Alt Text' from the menu that pops up. A box will appear where you can type a short description of the image. If you have a lot of images, don’t worry! There’s an option for Microsoft to auto-generate alt text for an image. Simply look below the text box and click 'Generate a description for me'. Once it has been proof-read for accuracy, it will be easier for individuals with screen readers to understand the purpose of the image.

If you plan to give a presentation, take a moment to turn on live captions. Individuals that are hard of hearing, are multilingual, or just have trouble with auditory processing may struggle to follow along with your presentation when you go off-script. Adding AI-generated captions to your presentation is an easy, non-intrusive way to bridge this gap. To enable this setting, click 'Slide Show' on the ribbon, look to the right, and click 'Captions and Subtitles'. Once you check 'Always enable subtitles', Microsoft PowerPoint will follow along with real-time captions every time you present.

Accessibility in Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word comes with several inherent and optional features that will improve its accessibility for your workforce. However, to create the most inclusive documents possible, ask your employees to be mindful of people who cannot distinguish certain colors or read especially small text. Additionally, make sure that they always create descriptive anchor text for every hyperlink – to someone with a screen reader, listening to a particularly long URL be read out letter-by-letter can be an extremely taxing experience.

Ask your employees to create all outward-facing documents with default headings only. These headings provide plenty of color contrast while being an appropriate size, helping people read the text clearly. In addition, tell employees who have trouble using a mouse to hold “Alt” so they can select these approved headings using only their keyboard.

Finally, make sure every employee knows about 'Check Accessibility' under the 'Review' tab. This feature will scan documents and find areas that may make it difficult for a disabled individual to read your document. It will point out areas that are missing alt text or where text contrast is not suitable and find hyperlinks that need the proper anchor text.

You'd be amazed at what you might already have on the PC you've got. Increasingly, you've got people with physical disabilities, people who are neurodiverse and the technology will support people to be more productive and enjoy work.
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Hector Minto

Senior Technology Evangelist, Microsoft

Accessibility features in Microsoft 365

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Final thoughts

Thankfully, mainstream software vendors have taken measures to ensure that their technology is accessible by all members of your organization. The best digitally inclusive organizations make sure their workforce knows that they’re willing to do what it takes to make the workplace as accessible as possible.

Remember, your disabled team members should not be burdened with the weight of making themselves heard. Instead, combine forces between your HR and IT teams to tackle their concerns proactively. HR can drive the framework, identify any barriers to access, and encourage the organizational shift towards inclusiveness. On the other side, IT can find and apply the settings that are necessary to make these programs work for their coworkers with disabilities.

If your organization is having trouble leading the charge in creating this widespread change, consider accelerating the adoption of inclusive practices via SoftwareOne’s 365Simplehttp:.

With the right tools and the right working environment, people with disabilities will not only provide their coworkers with an entirely new perspective on how to overcome adversity – they will enjoy a more impactful, influential place within your organization.

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Encourage adoption of digitally inclusive practices across your organization

Watch our recorded Accessibility & Digital Inclusion Virtual Summit to learn how to help employees with disabilities prosper through technological and organizational change.

Encourage adoption of digitally inclusive practices across your organization

Watch our recorded Accessibility & Digital Inclusion Virtual Summit to learn how to help employees with disabilities prosper through technological and organizational change.


A man in a pink shirt is standing in front of a white background.

Peadar O'Sullivan
Senior Consultant

Digital Workplace