Innovation – Empowering People’s Lives Through Shared Experiences

Microsoft President talks about Louis Braille, Jacobus tenBroek and the importance of people like Anne Taylor to the tech industry

September 12, 2019

By David Brun, Director, Gateway Navigation CCC Ltd.

(note: thank you to the Braille Monitor for content used in this article)

Sometimes we forget to be grateful for what we have. This point was recently brought home to me during a presentation at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Convention held in Las Vegas earlier this Summer. It made me take stock of the seamless accessibility I enjoy daily using Microsoft products. While I struggle at times to access other developer’s applications and websites. I had fallen into the trap of familiarity breeding indifference and was brought back to the real world around the work and effort being undertaken by accessibility and inclusion leaders like Microsoft.

So, when Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer, took the stage at the General Session of the NFB Convention. I got more than just a talk about tech. here is what he had to say.

He started by mentioning Louis Braille harnessing the technology of his day to create a code through which the blind could efficiently read and write. He talked about Canadian born Jacobus tenBroek making his own significant academic and societal contributions and working with Newel Perry to found the NFB (and ACB) the the largest blind movement of the blind in the world. He talked about Anne Taylor,

Saying. You know, Anne started as a student at the Kentucky School for the Blind, and Anne, in her day, had an aspiration, an aspiration that certainly, speaks to all of us every day, all of us who work at Microsoft. Anne said that she wanted to learn computer science. It was not offered at the Kentucky School for the Blind, but it was offered at a public school nearby. So, for part of the day Anne would go there, and, as she said, they had never worked with someone like her. They had never worked with a student who was blind, but as Anne is prone to do with so many people, she quickly won them over. Like Louis Braille, she became the best student in the class. Anne, as many of you know, would go on to college, would pursue this career building on computer science, and ultimately, she recognized that it would become a career that would take her into this movement. It would bring her to the National Federation of the Blind. For twelve years Anne led the team here at NFB, ultimately as the director of access technology, promoting across the tech sector the need for companies like ours to better understand and better serve this community.

Eventually there came a day when Anne's phone rang, and on the other end was Microsoft's head of accessibility, our chief accessibility officer, a woman who is here today, Jenny Lay-Flurrie. Like all good leaders, Jenny recognized talent and sought to recruit Anne. Fatefully, from my perspective, she succeeded. Her message to Anne was, 'You've changed technology from the outside; come us and see what you can do on the inside.' Every day I am grateful that Anne took that offer.

One of the things I always try to remind every product team at Microsoft is that this is a big community. As you all know, there are 300 million people in the world who are blind. Think about this for a moment: think about the almost 3,300 people who are here, and yet each one of you in an important way is a voice for 100,000 more. It is a voice that, as you've heard, needs to be heard. But it's a voice that needs to be more than heard it's a voice that we need to listen to.

In keeping with the theme that people should drive technology, President Smith said: "We need to look beyond the features and the products that everyone uses today and fundamentally ask ourselves the same question that Louis Braille asked himself: How can we imagine new technology that can fundamentally improve people's lives in ways that they haven't yet experienced"

We all come together in Las Vegas in 2019 in a time that often feels pretty tumultuous. There are many days in our country when it feels that people disagree with each other more than they agree. There are even days when it feels that people are shouting at each other more than listening to each other. But we need to have the vision to pursue a brighter future, and so many times I believe the best way to imagine a brighter future is to think about the journey that we must continue to pursue that will build on the best journeys of the past.

When I think about that, I think of the journey that Louis Braille put all of us on two centuries ago. I think about the journey that a century ago the founders of the NFB put us all on together. I think about the Anne Taylor's of Microsoft and across the tech sector in the NFB, and I say there is not only cause for hope; there is reason for optimism. Let us build on this ability to work together, and let us do what it takes to stay committed to this journey and build on the shoulders of those who have come before us. Thank you very much.

Thank you to Brad Smith, and Microsoft for listening to the over 300 million people worldwide who are blind, deaf-blind or visually impaired and valuing our shared experiences and contributions.

Like Microsoft and the NFB. Gateway Navigation is committed to using shared experiences in creating a more accessible and inclusive world for everyone. For more information on Gateway and our services click here.






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