Last week I was fortunate to attend the Code for America Summit in Oakland where civic-minded technologists, government innovators, and entrepreneurs in the civic space gathered. Representing Knowbility, my aim was to connect with others to learn and share ideas around accessibility and inclusion for delivering government content and services to the widest audience possible. What I experienced was that and so much more.

On the first day of the two-day conference, Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Microsoft’s Chief Accessibility Officer, gave a thoughtful and passionate main stage talk titled: Accessibility in the modern world. In the digital accessibility community, we’re all aware of Microsoft’s work on inclusive, accessible experiences. But, it was truly enlightening to hear how she framed their company’s approach and the benefits they realized by doing so. She said: “We found a new way of working by hiring people with disabilities and building inclusive environments for all.” Their workforce diversity allows them to think of everyone as they design and develop, making products that are accessible and leaving no one behind.

In addition to the main stage talk about accessibility, one of the break-out sessions was accessibility-focused, titled: Inclusive design: building empathy for innovation. This workshop session was facilitated by Sarah Morris and Kris Woolery, both Senior Design Strategists at Microsoft working on their Inclusive Design Team. At my table, I worked with web professionals from the City of San Diego, the CIO of San Francisco International Airport, and a director of a non-profit in Denver that provides technology training for those who are changing careers. We worked through several empathy-building exercises that will be valuable for all of us as we move forward with our work to help deliver services to people in more efficient and equitable ways.

In addition to the accessibility-focused sessions, I found that the undercurrent of the conference was the inclusion of all people, particularly those underserved or misrepresented, of which accessibility is certainly a factor. As we listened and talked with one another during the summit, it was clear that we’re in a great position as technologists to put our efforts to serving more people, more equitably, and with more efficiency than ever before. I, for one, am inspired and eager to work toward helping our communities serve everyone via the promise that accessible technology holds.