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The new Microsoft kitchenettes are designed for easy negotiation by employees with disabilities.

Dining at Microsoft takes on an inclusive design

From Braille to low-vision ordering, the tech giant takes on accessibility.

Microsoft believes in the importance of accessibility. In fact, the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is known for its stance on inclusive design (i.e., design based on the needs of those with disabilities).

Soon after he became CEO of Microsoft Satya Nadella declared, “Accessibility is not a bolt-on—it’s something that must be built into every product we make so that our products work for everyone—only then will we empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. This is the inclusive culture we aspire to create.”

That culture is now expanding to include dining at Microsoft.

Users with low vision can plug their headsets into audio navigation bars to help with their orders.

In February 2017, dining set forth on what will be a multifaceted journey of creating more accessible food and beverage experiences across campus.

“The Microsoft mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more,” says Mark Freeman, senior services manager of Dining at Microsoft. “As a key element of this, one of our core values is diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  Maximizing the contribution of every individual allows us to infuse diverse thought as a natural part of the way we innovate. We strive to create an environment that helps Microsoft capitalize on the diversity of our people and the inclusion of ideas and solutions to meet the needs of our increasingly global and diverse customer base.

“It’s imperative that we integrate this mindset into the both the culture of Microsoft, as well as the facilities we design, build and manage,” he says.

In February 2017, Dining at Microsoft began on the following initiatives:

• Braille labeling;
• Accessible touchscreen ordering including audio navigation bars;
• ADA-compliant design/mapping and way-finding;
• Collaboration with corporate external and legal affairs to ensure solutions resonate with users; and
• Collaborating with vendor partners to integrate tech-based accessibility solutions.

While Dining at Microsoft’s accessibility project is not expected to reach completion until 2020, 2017 addressed a number of changes that introduced accessible spaces across the environment.

Kitchenette spaces were the first area to see enhancements. Low vision (Braille) labelling was produced for all beverages, condiments and serviceware. Digital communication—internal websites, newsletters and digital display signage—underwent review for accessible compatibility. Further research was also conducted for Cafés and 24/7 Markets.

Spatial audits helped to determine ADA compliance with regard to reachability at self-service stations such as salad bars, soups and grab and go as well as navigation throughout.

Where appropriate, shelf heights were adjusted, and tables and chairs were removed to make the environment more accessible.

Ordering procedures were also rethought. Individuals with low vision could not utilize the existing self-order touchscreen kiosks. In response, audio navigation bars were introduced in at two Cafés and one 24/7 [email protected] location. The bar enables users with low vision to plug their headset into the device, have the screen read to them and make selections using the keys on the bar.
“It all comes back to culture,” says Freeman. “We are well on our way to integrating diversity, inclusion and accessibility into our facilities. We are committed to creating a workplace that offers experiences that are accessible to all.”

The success of these initiatives thus far has been measured by the feedback received from Microsoft users who are saying things like, “Every time I go to the kitchen, I feel so proud to work here. Thanks for driving the accessibility effort!” and “Microsoft added big labels with Braille to absolutely everything in my office’s kitchen. I love this so much.”

TAGS: Operations
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