Shepherd Center and Microsoft Team to Help Ensure Accessible Technology for All
Partners create Accessibility User Research Collective to connect people with disabilities to technology developers.
Shepherd Center is collaborating with Microsoft to collect user feedback on the accessibility and usability of its products and services from people with disabilities. The Accessibility User Research Collective (AURC) now connects Shepherd Center’s nationwide database of 1,300-plus volunteer users with various types of disabilities to Microsoft employees.
Shepherd Center, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the country’s top 10 rehabilitation hospitals, has been working with companies to address the technology needs of people with disabilities since 2001. By teaming with Shepherd Center, Microsoft will be able to gain feedback from people with many types of disabilities not just in its hometown of Redmond, Washington, but from people all over the country.
Users can participate by filling out a brief survey, estimated to take only five to 10 minutes to complete. Participants can fill out the questionnaire either online, via email or by phone. Once in the collective, Microsoft researchers will be able to connect with users from the disability community. Then, Shepherd Center’s research coordinator will contact potential participants to check their availability, determine their level of interest and help get them connected to designers, developers and researchers at Microsoft.
“If a study involves working with participants who have dyslexia, Shepherd Center will screen people to confirm they have dyslexia and then make contact for the researchers,” explained Ben Lippincott, research coordinator at Shepherd Center’s Crawford Research Institute and co-director of the AURC.
All studies will need to be approved by Shepherd Center’s Research Review Committee, which ensures that safety and privacy protocols are in place. The contact information for participants will be confidential, and participants will be compensated for their time for each study in which they take part.
“At Microsoft, getting feedback from people with disabilities is such an important piece of the way we can create great products and services,” said Megan Lawrence, Ph.D., accessibility technical evangelist for Microsoft. “We have a deep respect for their needs and opinions and we want to incorporate that in everything we do. In partnering with Shepherd Center, we are building a deeper relationship with the community to provide more ways for the voices of people with disabilities to be heard.”
Microsoft is interested in both increasing the quantity and quality of feedback from people with disabilities and ensuring they can both identify and address the needs of people with disabilities of all ages. Microsoft works hard to make products and services accessible to people of all abilities.
One potential study will focus on individuals with visual impairment using Microsoft Word or a screen reader. A different study may examine the experiences of people with hearing difficulties while playing gaming consoles like the Xbox One.
“When we put accessibility at the heart of our design, we are providing great technology that meets people’s needs across devices,” Dr. Lawrence said. “I often find that the features we add, which are originally for people with disabilities, can become a universal tool providing the kind of usability that everybody wants.”
As people age, their abilities and technology needs change, Dr. Lawrence noted.
“What they don’t need today, they may need tomorrow,” she added. “By investing in accessibility, Microsoft is also investing in innovation and natural user-interface design. By working together with people in the disability community, we can ensure they have a role in shaping who Microsoft is.”
Participants will be able to take part in usability studies, focus groups, interviews and feedback sessions, among others. They’ll be conducted remotely with technologies like Skype, remote desktop/laptop monitoring, surveys and the telephone.
“Working with Microsoft in the Accessibility User Research Collective allows Shepherd Center to continue to promote social participation for people with disabilities across the country," said John Morris, Ph.D., clinical research scientist at Shepherd Center’s Crawford Research Institute. "That is a vital part of our mission to rebuild lives and restore hope.”
“I deeply respect the work Shepherd Center is doing in the way that they interact with the disability community,” Dr. Lawrence said. “They believe the disability community should be treated with respect and care, and Microsoft wanted to partner with an organization that is rooted in that mission.”
Written by David Terraso
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.