Microsoft Previews New Inclusive Tech Lab at Ability Summit

As part of its 12th annual Ability Summit, Microsoft is showcasing its new Inclusive Tech Lab, designed “to be an embassy for people with disabilities,” says the Redmond, Washington-based company, which also unveiled new software features and adaptive accessories to boost inclusion. The Inclusive Tech Lab will showcase Microsoft’s accessible hardware, software and services, and function as an incubator for inclusive design, the company says, calling it a place where “disability communities can ideate and evaluate product design and direction,” working with designers who are prepared to have their assumptions challenged.

Situated in Building 86 — one of 125 buildings that comprise the Microsoft campus, just outside of Seattle — the 2,000-square-foot new home of the Inclusive Tech Lab “used to be a reception area, with a set of doors leading to the offices within and another pair facing the rest of the world,” writes Engadget. Microsoft wants the lab to be “a place to welcome members of the disability community, the tech industry and its own designers.”

“Importantly, it’s close to key personnel in Microsoft’s product teams.” The nearby Building 88 is the base of operations for chief product officer Panos Panay, “while down the road is the Hardware Lab in Building 87,” Engadget explains.

The Inclusive Tech Lab continues a tradition started by the Xbox team in 2017, when Microsoft opened its first development space dedicated to tools for the physically challenged. The company built the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Released in 2018 for gamers with limited mobility, the Controller works with a range of external switches, mounts, and joysticks to let gamers customize a controller setup to meet their needs.

Microsoft director of accessibility Dave Dame wrote in a blog entry that the process taught the company a lot about “the exclusions and constraints faced by people with disabilities,” and in 2021 it launched the Surface Adaptive Kit, a collection of labels, indicators, and openers that empower people who are blind, have low vision, or limited mobility to customize Surface devices for an individual’s own use.

“Windows 11 is getting more accessibility features, some of which are currently available for those testing upcoming Windows 11 releases through the Insiders program,” ZDNet reports, explaining that “new features include improvements to the Focus feature with a timer, live captions for any audio being played (during a Zoom or Teams call, for example), along with better voice access and a more natural narrator voice.”

Adaptive accessories introduced by Microsoft at the Ability Summit empower users to configure, 3D print, and customize their own mouse, keyboard inputs, and shortcuts in ways that work best for their needs. The Microsoft Adaptive Mouse lets users customize their own mouse tail and thumb support.

The Microsoft Adaptive Hub pairs wirelessly with up to four Microsoft Adaptive Buttons to replace or augment traditional keyboards with a customizable configuration that lets users choose preferred inputs with different button toppers. Options include a d-pad, joystick, or dual button. A unique button-topper can also be 3D printed to precision specs.