AXSChat Podcast

AXSChat Podcast with Dave Dame, Director of Accessibility at Microsoft.

July 18, 2022 Antonio Santos and Neil Milliken talk with Dave Dame
AXSChat Podcast
AXSChat Podcast with Dave Dame, Director of Accessibility at Microsoft.
Show Notes Transcript

In his role as Director of Accessibility, Dave is leading the accessibility portfolio for Surface Products aligning with Windows and product innovation roadmaps to empower users of all abilities. 
Dave is a leadership coach, enterprise agile leader and trainer with over 20 years of product management and leadership experience, which he leverages to drive large-scale transformation in complex organizations. Dave’s practice focuses on scaling change by building up high-performing teams through training & empowering workforces – over the course of his career he has trained over 600 professionals in product management, leadership and agile delivery practices. He has worked with technology companies such as OpenText, PTC, and MCAP; in many cases improving delivery times by over 150%. Dave also spends a significant portion of his time coaching well-seasoned executives and is very proud that he has played a role in the development of nearly 20 SVP-level and C-level executives.

This is a draft transcript produced live at the event and corrected for spelling and basic errors. It is not a commercial transcript. AXSCHAT Dave Dame

NEIL:

Hello and welcome to Axschat. I'm delighted that we are joined today by Dave Dame, who is the accessibility for Windows and devices at Microsoft. There is no Debra today unfortunately because we are slightly off schedule due a major internet outage in Canada last week, Dave was unable to join us. So, no Debra today but you’ve got me and Antonio and Dave. So, Dave, welcome to Axschat, delighted to have you.

DAVE:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to spend time with all of you.

NEIL:

So, Dave, we were talking before we started, and you said that this is your first job in accessibility. And so, tell us about your journey and your career and how you came to end up working in accessibility and what is a pretty senior responsibility role at Microsoft.

DAVE:

Well, it's funny because when I was born in 1971, my parents were told Dave may not live past 12. Dave may never be able to speak clearly, if at all and even if he does don't expect much because there is much that somebody with Dave's disability, Cerebral Palsy, can do and shockingly, well not shockingly, I guess I was the sign of the times, they actually advised my parents to put they me in an institution. Luckily my parents didn't want to make that one single decision that would impact the rest of my life and I could have been born in any perfect era because I was born for rights for disability excited and before this thing called technology existed. If I would have been any other previous generation, sadly, I might not be in front of you today and my parents came from very humble means. They didn't have all the answers. But they knew what struggle was. So, they fought hard to get me into the school board and I got into regular school and I had that blue colour mentality growing up and when I graduated high school and thought about what do I want to do at university, I was really good in business and I was really good in technology but I was confused, I didn't know what I was going to do. I thought maybe I will take a year off and my Dad walked me up the stairs and said Dave, let's be honest, with you being in a wheelchair, you're not going to be a fireman, police officer or construction worker, but you know what else you're not going to be, living under my roof for free for the rest of your life, so you better figure it out. So, I went to school for technology because what I always loved about technology is, I could build a world that was more accessible that did not exist and so I graduated with technology, and I went back and as I was working, I went to school for business. I ended up in business and technology. For my first few years I was a software engineer and I realised I was more interested in the why and the what and not the how. So, I moved into product management where I led a lot of products to market, it really helped change organisations from being to waterfall to more agile development. And I really became that change aid and I was able to come in and lead change in major organisation. Fast forward when I turned 50, I made Vice President at a major Canadian Bank, which at the time, I was the first with a physical disability to ever break that glass ceiling. And I am like, okay, now what, I am 50, well during COVID, when you really start evaluating your life and what you want and to do and this opportunity at Microsoft came and I am like, why go into accessibility because beyond my lived experience and building accessibility in a product, I never focused on it on a major job and like I was sharing with you earlier, I probably purposefully avoided it because I thought how convenient would it be to have a guy in a wheelchair shoot off about accessibility. But my wife kind of gave me the right framing, she is like if you do anything else your clear sure you are going to make companies a lot of money and be successful, but if you got Microsoft, you have the opportunity to help others like you have the life you did. But hopefully with a lot less effort and struggle because I was the canary in the mine through many organisations. How they had to learn about. It wasn't just on boarding me as an individual contributor but how do you stay with me through my career and make it inclusive and accessible, as I go into managing teams. Policies like travel and all those things. So at 50, to be able to come in from Microsoft because remember, technology has given me the platform to have the life I did and ironically, Microsoft products were the ones that helped me get there. So, it is almost coming back full circle to really work with an organisation that was really focused on enabling everyone on the planet of all abilities to achieve more and for the later stage of my career, I could not think of anything more rewarding to do.

NEIL:

Excellent. Thank you and I have to say that to this day one of the most important technologies in my life that is most assistive is actually Outlook because of the organisational capacities within it to sort of help me manage my workload, my day, my reminders, my ADHD, my dyslexia etc. You know, so I lived in the Microsoft echo system and so what seemed like mundane tools, you know the word processing, the spell checking, the stuff that people accept as being sort of now commonplace, actually were transformative for me, enabling me to perform better and keep the job, have a career, all the rest of those things. So, now that you are you know doing accessibility, what are sort of some of the things that you are doing in Windows right, for example. I know that there is sort of a big push on accessibility features in windows and M365. What are the sort of things that sort of things that sort of are making you excited, that you think have great potential, for example? Sort of key areas that you are sort of focusing on right now.

DAVID:

Well, it's funny you mentioned that. I get asked for someone from in my last visit in [inaudible] they're like, what has been the most transformable assistive technology that you have had, and I have thought about it and I am like, it's copy paste. That to me has been the best assistive technology ever created on this earth because think about it, it's low value work but high effort to repeat and correct things. Those simple things to me and I think I am not alone, I think everyone owes their career to cut copy paste, as you have had longevity and moving across organisations through used things and its funny right, you look at it and go wow, that is very rudimentary simple. But any assistive technology that helps solve the low value, high effort work, makes it better for everybody which is great. And I sit more on the on the devices side than I do Windows. But we have to work closely together because how can you put it on the device if you're not going to light it up through Windows and do things. I think the technologies that are rely exciting me is AI. Right? AI is really helping think of ways to really simplify that high effort stuff to automatically predict what is needed and make those low value/high effort things more seamless, right? And if you look at AI and especially in devices, disability is complex, right? It would be disability that one solution fits all, but we always talk about accessibility, but accessibility is the solution. Disability is the opportunity. And the way I know we look at it is, how do we offer flexibility to challenge that complexity of disability and I am sure you see at the recent our recent accessibility conference at Microsoft. We introduce the Microsoft Adaptive accessories and what excites me about that is the flexibility is it has to solve a lot of those low value high effort things, whether it's coming up on the switch to do multiple key strokes, whether it's a mouse that you can use right handed, left handed and take advantage of 3D printing, so with accessory has to stop to be applicable for many, now we are adding the 3D modelling that closes the gap between mass production of hardware and the customisation that users need to have and that is what really excites me. Like, we are not the first to come up with switches and adaptive mouses but the ability to put it in a very easy product and what we don't talk a lot about is the portability of it. I travel between Canada and Redmond. Now I can bring my assistive technology with me. It works in all spectrum with disability to from very mild to very extreme and I can even see people without disabilities use it as a productivity enhancement because nobody can do multiple keystrokes all the time. At least what is what I tell myself.

NEIL:

So, I absolutely have seen the adaptive, you know accessories and one the things that makes me think, on a really sort of positive basis you know that whole mass customisation and becoming more commonplace and that in itself is accessibility because we all have different needs and a lot of people don't consider themselves to be disabled but have needs that are unmet by standardised products. So, by enabling customisation, we are enabling inclusion. So, I think that it's really great to see that and I think that 3D printing also means that are making that availability wherever the printing is. What we now need to do is make sure the printers get to the part of the world that need it most.

DAVE:

Exactly.

NEIL:

It's a privilege.

ANTONIO:

And Dave, also we have a guest from Colombia with some hack access to hack accessibility to make a cheap mouse, he was trying to find ways find cheap ways to provide people a way to be able to use a computer. How do you see this technology, the potential to democratise the access of people to devices and make them widely spread because we know that not everyone has access to the same technology that we have? So, how can we make it? How can we democratise this to everyone?

DAVID:

That is a great, great question. What I like about it, and it ties into what Neil said. 3D print printing is great, it's not everywhere yet. If we look at the price of 3D printers they are going down, down, down right and hopefully we get that lower cost right, where 3D printers can make its way into lad command places that don't have that capability yet and you know it's funny you bring that up because what I think is I would love to see, here's my vision for affordability and customisation, I would love to see a world where 3D printers are within an hour of every person around the world and we begin creating an open source community where we share these ideas for creating different devices and that where people can get it downloaded and easily share it and get it made locally close to where they are at. So, then we can have an impact globally about getting that group share like open source does for code but in hardware design and hardware but make it available to the local 3D printing, as it becomes democratised and lower cost to get it because you made a good point, until we can get the hardware accessible and affordable it doesn't matter what we do in the software. The software can do the greatest things in the world but if we don't have something as specially simplified economically accessible mouse or other devices, they can't interact with that software. That hardware is the entry to the software.

NEIL:

You will be pleased to know, that the guy that Antonio was talking Felipe Betancur actually has been doing some of this work distributing blue print for adaptive tech and stuff like that and he has been working with a Swiss University and this is the bit I really love because I frequently talk about how we should be treating exclusion like pollution and using the sustainability models to look at accessibility. And they are using, they are now using the printer spool which is recycled plastics.

DAVE:

Fantastic.

NEIL:

You have got a library of assistive tech and you know, free to use blueprints and they are also you know trying to do it in the sustainable way. So, they are recycling plastics into inclusive things. So, I think it's a great idea. Obviously to a large extent it's an academic project rather than a widely distributed thing but it's something like that needs to go mainstream because I think it I would make a huge difference and I think you know, you're also putting the production closer to the person and you're having real benefits in terms of you know reducing the carbon omissions the transport costs, all of these kinds of things that are really bad for the planet but I think to do that you do need also different models of doing business and different attitudes as well because this requires trust you know, to have a sort of fab lab you know in every city that can make up you know trainers or you know print ups you know surface devices or you know things that requires trust on the part of the people that own the IP that this stuff can be managed to a sufficient quality and they are not going to lose their IP and they're not going to lose their profitability to do this stuff. So, it requires a fundamental change to attitudes to business and a greater collaboration as well.

DAVE:

And some safety models right and like we do and like now that we purchase something, if we are upset, man you just look at the comments below and you look, the community helps self-govern some low quality and some improper issues. I think we got to start crowd sourcing. Like have the right safety specs absolutely. We need trust, safety. But we also need to crowd source the feedback and make it easily available where hey, your reputation is on the line if this does not work right. So, putting the ownership on those 3D kind of pop stands to go hey, here's the blueprints. But here is the quality of service that is expected from it.

ANTONIO:

So, Dave, I would like to introduce the topic of security and accessibility that often collide. At least in our enterprise world. Now, you mentioned to us that you have worked in banking, right?

DAVE:

Yeah, yeah.

ANTONIO:

And banking is a place that requires a lot of security. It's paramount. I am sure that is also paramount now also at Microsoft. How do you manage these two weights in the balance? How do we make sure that security does not limit access?

DAVE:

That is probably, probably the two. You come up with these amazing questions. Accessibility and security almost pull from the same thread right and that is the real challenge and I think sometimes and here let me give a banking example because you brought that up. If we look at two factor validation, if we look at two factor validation, so, if I login then I get a go on my device to see the code or to punch it in to do it. Now, the time it takes me to punch it in, get my phone, login, launch that, get the code, times me out but I get the need for two factor validation. What it should do is bear minimally warn me to say hey, before you login, make sure you have your device and banking app open and ready, so that way when it comes up you can punch the code in. It's not a beautiful elaborate technical solution, but it's a manual solution. So, I think when we have to do that trade off in technology and hopefully, we get better where it's less of a competing thread. We need to use manual common sense on how do we prepare the user for this inconvenience where they are going to need to authenticate to ensure that we keep their security.

NEIL:

Yeah, so for quite some time, I was part of the cognitive accessibility task force. So things like, for the WC3, so these kind of things where people are being timed out and locked out of banking, it's a real barrier for people, you know, maybe, like PTSFD, or people that have Alzheimer’s of memory loss, you know, or lack of ability to focus or remember certain things. So, there are elegant ways to make this easier, I mean if you're in the walled eco system of Apple, for example. One the things they do quite well is when you get that code, it says do you want to past the code, that has just come in in your in your text message. Great because I will transpose it wrong. You know, because one of the things that with my dyslexia I get things in the wrong sequence. So, for me this is super useful. I mean there are real penalties to getting it wrong three times you can lock yourself out of your bank account. It's not like being locked out of work where you can phone the service desk, and someone will let you back in and anyway you're not going to be in too much trouble. If you're locked out of your bank account, you're really in deep trouble. So, these things are important, and I think that the other thing that has really helped that is you know, is biometrics. You know the ability to use biometrics to make two factor authentication seamless is really important because it's essentially what we need to be doing is keeping stuff secure and we understand there is a need to be secure but finding ways to do it that don't impact the user. And so that, you know whether it be your thumb print or your facial ID or something else can take the burden of the exercise of authenticating away from the user and push it back into the background.

DAVE:

And that is what I love about Apple that you can just click and do that which is great. So, let's just pretend I was a Mac user for a long time before I joined Microsoft and I loved the simplicity of dealing with those complex things. And it was funny, one of the things I got to discover, my first week at Microsoft was hello, right? Now, I can just look at my camera and login. I'm like, that is awesome. You just saved me how many keystrokes every time my machine goes into lock mode. If you would have asked me Dave, do you want an accessibility option for logging in, I'd probably be like, no, it's not that bad but now I got the camera and previously with my Apple, with my watch to unlock it, it saves keystrokes right? And you know, we always talk about the magic and love of AI and all this amazing sophisticated tech, but sometimes just making the basic things you need to do very frequently dead simple that can impact your mood, your life and ability to do that because I am like you Neil, I have locked myself out of the bank and you heard about the big Canada outage last Friday when you can't access your funds, an anxiety level comes up. Like I have gotten the creature comfort of having everything online digitally and everything, when everything goes down you instantly forget how dependent you are on those things.

NEIL:

I fully agree, and I think that there is a huge benefit to businesses on a wider scale because this is productivity benefit for sure, you know, if you think about organisations and you know Microsoft is a big one. 100,000 employees and ATOS, who Antonio and I work for, also really large, about 105,000 employees. If you're logging in multiple times a day and you're saving that 15 second across you know 100,000 people, everyday you're talking about millions of dollars or euros or pounds worth of employee time that you are saving through doing this stuff. So, you know, it's accessible. It's a better user experience, its freeing people's time up for more important things as well. I mean going back to the thing that you mentioned the outage and your dependence on things. We are again riffing, before we were on air about assistive tech and assistive tech being in the cloud and looking backwards and forwards between the device and the cloud and data centres and main frames and we are all old enough to have been through multiple technology cycles. One of the things that a person that works with part of the world that don't have such good strong internet connections because I've always been mindful of the fact that we need the technology to be robust and we need it to work well as no internet. So, obviously the cloud has utility. Big compute has utility power in solving big problems. But how do we get robust technology more to be on device because then you're not experiencing the problems of latency. You know, if you think about how speech recognition works and stuff like that, if there's a lag on your captions you start losing how to follow the conversations. So you know where do you think that they we are going to get to a point fairly soon where on the device is going to be predominantly you know the load of doing the assistive tech the text to speech, whatever else we put on there will be done locally with stuff off loaded to the cloud when it's available and convenient?

DAVE:

If you look at the way the new chip sets are gone predominantly the arm chips where it's bringing is neuro processor right on board to process AI very well. It's funny how we were working before and how it switched from server to client and server to client. Why do we keep doing that? Why can't we just think about it differently and go, let's look at it a hybrid way. How do we use central commute and the cloud for all the power to getting collective big data sets, intelligence, strong compute but then where do we find the balance of it and how do we store the most common things, customised to the user on the device? I see us getting into a more of a hybrid mode as these chips are like coming available to do that that strong compute locally on all the stuff it can do locally and only interact with the cloud when it's time to update it maybe my, maybe my usage is changing when I'm using other things more and I can automatically detect to bring more of my more frequent things to the device, but I think we can get smart about it and realise you know what they both have benefits. Why do we keep you know, playing the tennis match of back and worth and find out how we can utilise these two together to optimise you know getting good global compute with the independence of local running? I think that would be great.

ANTONIO:

I think there is also an important financial case to make it accessible, no? The cost of internet can be really high in many parts of the world. In many, parts of the world either it might not be widely spread, people might need to go to specific locations, to have good internet access and the fact that some of the data can be processed locally it will give people independence okay, they don't have to okay, now I need assistive text, no, I can turn my internet on. I can pay for it. But then I can't use the phone for anything else to access the Internet because all the data that I spent is just to keep me with my assistive tech and I don't think that is fair.

Dave:

You brought up a good point Antonio, as somebody with a disability, over the last three years, I have become accustomed to the trade-offs we are forced to make. Like when COVID first came, I usually I'd support workers that would come in in the morning, shower me, shave me, dress me and so, when COVID hit, do I want to really, do I have to really challenge my safety by having support workers or do I have to give up my independence and ask my wife to do my care and until we realise what we want to do. That is a hard trade-off between independence and safety and last Friday, when I choose, then there was another trade-off I made for my cable provider, internet provider. Do I want to have the economic benefit of handling all my services on one provider or now that I got to learn I'm going to give up that economic benefit to get resiliency and have my survives shared across? How do we take away that burden to somebody with a disability and figure out the right hybrid way of reducing those dependencies, probably not eliminating it, but let's not force the user with a disability to do those trade-offs? Because life is already doing it. Their technologies show that. So how do we think about ways of how to make today's innovations more accessible and resilient for all people around the world? So, I think we get excited, and we stop. When we think ah we solved it, AI, web, great, but then, we don't think about, well, what if they don't have Internet? What if it's do too expensive? What if it's spotty. we have to start continuing down the user path of what if most extreme case of not having it versus having it and figuring out the solutions as best we can to cover that spectrum to not let dependent technologies get in the way of using assistive technology.

NEIL:

Makes perfect sense, and I was given a really good example by a pal of ours Gareth Fort Williams who used to work for the BBC, and he said that what happens in Africa, BBC World Service is very popular in Africa but bandwidth is poor, cost to use mobile Internet is prohibitive is that when in certain locations in Africa, someone says, you know ticks that they want to listen to a Podcast or a radio show or whatever, what it does is it doesn't actually send data, it sends a small packet of data and then it actually reads them back on a traditional phone call so they make an outgoing phone call and push the show over the traditional voice line so that the user is not having to pay exorbitant data fees. so, what they're doing is they actually worked out a new technological solution to use older more robust infrastructure in a way that sort of doesn't actually financially exclude people. So, I think we ought to sometime snot be new fights. And constantly chase after the new but look at how can we most elegantly solve a solution in the context of the society or country or workplace that we find people in because they are all different and they are all going to have slightly different requirements.

DAVE:

And I think we forget about the constraints, right, early on when I was an engineer, we had like what, maybe one meg a realm and we have to deal with all those constraints we had that forced us to think about well thought out solutions. now, technology is infinite, especially with the cloud, right? you need compute. That is just reach out order more. I think we have mindful of environmental constraints. Not just user, user segments, we talk about that all the time. we got to start thinking about geographical environmental constraints as we are thinking about rolling this technology because it goes beyond the user. The user might have all these needs, wants and desires but at the end of the day they are restricted to their environmental constraints. so, how do we solve for their needs and desires, with being empathetic to those constraints?

NIEL:

That makes perfect sense to me. Unfortunately, we have reached pretty much time. so, it's been fascinating talking with you Dave. I'm really looking forward to you joining us on Twitter for the chat.

DAVE:

Yeah, I'm looking forward to that.

NEIL:

Thank you very much. It's been a real pleasure talking with you.

DAVE:

I've really enjoyed this talk. This has been awesome.

NEIL:

And to say, thank you to My Clear Text for keeping us captioned and accessible.