Software makes life easier and keeps us connected. But many people experience barriers to using technology. We all know that even a passing circumstance like loud music can make it that much harder to understand an important voicemail.

When it’s not so easy to hear that voicemail, clever software might let us read it. When it’s not easy to see the screen, wouldn’t it be magical if a computer's electronic brain could increase the contrast? And if we prefer talking to our computer rather than pressing buttons, it's nice have a choice.

Software that adapts to what we need is the aspiration of accessible computing. It makes computers more useful for everyone – and it brings technology to people who couldn’t use it otherwise.

Rob Sinclair, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, was recently in New Zealand to learn about the needs to the local community and to raise awareness of worldwide efforts in accessibility. Rob is part of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing group, and his team works with product developers to make products that are accessible out of the box. We're proud of what technology has achieved, but there is still much to be done.

Rob's interview with Mike Gourley for the One in Five radio show is on the Radio New Zealand National website.

One in five people faces a recognized disability and most people find technology that is accessible more usable. For organizations, accessible software supports a more diverse workforce and a more productive workforce. However, awareness and determination are needed by the whole ecosystem to create experiences that are accessible from end-to-end.

We have done research which suggests that many people find the ease of access features useful so take a bit of time to find out more about them. Accessbility features can also come in handy in some unexpected circumstances. For example, I have needed the on-screen keyboard after a small coffee spill made my Delete key stop working. Using the on-screen keyboard was the only way I could log in until the keyboard was cleaned! 

To use the ease of access featuresw in Windows 7, simply click on the Start orb, type in “ease”, and select the Ease of Access Centre.

For more on accessibility please visit www.microsoft.com/enable/. The site provides information for people who use Microsoft products to access content, or to create accessible content. The most recent additions are two complimentary Microsoft Office plug-ins to help people create more accessible documents, and additional resources for software developers who want to build more accessible products and websites.

Do you use accessiblity tools for your own productivity, or consider accessibility needs in the work you do? We would be interested in your feedback.