Technology is woven into the fabric of modern society, it’s an essential part of 21st century living. The beauty of the technology industry is that it is in a constant state of evolution pushing against the barrier of possibility to instigate change. It’s a platform to create the future, right now. The question is would this future be accessible or inclusive? Disabled people are an avid user-base of technology so designing for accessibility is crucial for any industry.
Hector Minto the Technical Evangelist for Accessibility at Microsoft is at the forefront of generating that future by advocating accessibility, assistive technology and inclusion. Similarly, the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK and especially the young campaigners’ network Trailblazers headed by Lauren West have also been strong campaigners of real change for people living with Muscular Dystrophy.
As an MDUK Trailblazer passionate about accessible gaming and assistive technology, I along with various other Trailblazers were invited to attend the Pre-Launch of the Microsoft Store which opened on 11th July on Oxford Street in London. It was great to be joined by Conrad Tokarczyk who was formally representing Trailblazers and Clare Lucas from MDUK.
Before I write about the Microsoft Store, I want to thank Cindy Rose the CEO of Microsoft UK for speaking to me, her dedication to inclusivity is evident. I was happy to tangibly illustrate how important the store is not just through the Xbox Adaptive Controller but through the sense of community.
“Our flagship Microsoft Store in London represents a unique way to deliver on our mission to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more.” – from the Microsoft London Store website.
The Microsoft Store is obviously designed with accessibility thinking, as an inclusive and accessible space for everybody. The main shop floor is where you get hands-on with the tech, Surface, Windows, Office, Xbox, PC gaming, HoloLens mixed-reality. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, providing valuable tech support. I did purchase some Surface Headphones, it’s hard to say no to new technology! The floor has a fantastic surprise though, a McLaren Senna kitted out with an Xbox One X inside. I don’t want to spoil it!
The Store is the perfect educational place for schools to teach their students all about coding through games like Minecraft, basically future-proofing education. Businesses can also use the place to upskill employees. Microsoft want to empower everybody through the awesome power of ‘assistive’ technology.
The best part of the store for me is the inclusive gaming space, usually I’m not able to access gaming away from home but here it was different, there were multiple Xbox Adaptive Controllers (XAC), switches and mounts available. It was quite a liberating experience to feel fully included as a standard.
I enjoyed playing Forza Horizon 4 with a fellow Trailblazer Judith Merry. The XAC and the Co-pilot feature on Xbox allowed us to share controls, I had a chin switch for acceleration and another switch for braking whilst Judith handled the steering. It brought a sense of freedom and teamwork to a single-player game, instead of worrying about the controls we could just enjoy the game together.
On the second day I had the privilege to play Gears of War 4 with SightlessCombat the gamer with no sight, it was such a profound experience as I gained a deeper insight into a completely different perspective. I never in a million years thought that it would be possible for a blind gamer and physically disabled gamer to play co-op. Our teamwork was pretty amazing, for the first time ever I could enjoy gaming without my specific gaming setup. I’m glad that Cindy Rose could witness this important moment. It demonstrates how crucial intersectionality is, challenging our perceptions of possibilities and building a bridge towards better inclusive knowledge. All thanks to the XAC and the Microsoft Store London.
I cannot wait to witness the future of MDUK Trailblazers, hopefully we could organise future gaming or technology events using the wonderful gaming space at the Microsoft Store.
The future of technology has just landed in London, I’d recommend that you visit it!