Most of the big tech companies have been talking up their inclusivity policies in recent years. Google contracted the “Performance Paradigm” diversity, equity and inclusion specialist last year to develop their own diversity, equity and inclusion programs and Facebook has pledged to have at least 50% of its workforce staffed by “underrepresented monitories” by 2024. But no tech company has put their money where their mouth is quite like Microsoft.
Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab is responsible for the incredible Xbox Adaptive Controller, which opened up the world of gaming for disabled people like never before back in 2018. This wasn’t a patronising motion-controlled gizmo but a fully customisable controller that would allow users of any physical ability to play the latest games as well as any able-bodied gamer. Now, the same team has put their skills to use for a less specific disabled user - anyone who uses a computer.
The Surface Adaptive Kit was provided to me for review alongside the incredible Surface Studio Laptop and is a subtle, sleek and affordable little package that could completely change the way disabled users interact with their computers.
In essence, what you’re getting is little more than a collection of add-on stickers and silcon tabs to help users personalise their laptops, find specific keys and more easily flip open their devices. But it’s so much more than just a series of stickers - it’s a shot across the bow for the tech industry and it should be the mandatory minimum going forward.
What’s in the box?
The kit itself contains a set of elegant translucent labels that can be stuck to the keys you use most often with a set of raised bumps (a lot like braille) to help locate them with ease. There are also raised port indicators (a godsend for finding the charging port in the dark even for those of us with perfect vision) and a ring opener and pull-tab opener that will allow users to pull the screen open easily with one hand or even with their teeth.
The packaging is decidedly neat and “Apple-like” with a QR code that can be scanned to explain the different ways the kit can be used. But the real beauty of the kit is just how adaptable it is. There is no “right way” to use the kit; it can be used however it works best for you. The glue that holds the stickers in place is surprisingly sturdy too, so you’re unlikely to accidentally lose them unless you’re really trying to.
Who is it for?
At a price of just under £15, this is the kind of kit even those of us with no significant disabilities might want to consider (particularly if you work a lot at night). But for the visually impaired, users with nerve damage or those with congenital limb conditions, these little stickers could be a complete game-changer.
They say that some of the best ideas are those that are so simple and elegant that you’re amazed nobody has done it before. That’s exactly what we have here and, for creatives with disabilities, it represents another step towards levelling the playing field.
So, kudos Microsoft. And if anybody knows of any other examples of tech being used to make life easier for disabled users, please let me know in the comments below as we love to hear about and celebrate it.