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Annuska Perkins, Microsoft Accessible Technology Group Product Planner / User Interface Designer

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Meet Annuska Perkins

Annuska Perkins photo
Product Planner
and User Interface Designer


Inquiries:
» Microsoft Accessibility Website

Profile Written by: Eric Morrison

Description of technology

The features and controls of Microsoft Windows XP Accessibility Wizard and Utilities for persons with hearing, visual, dexterity, and other considerations (display readability, speech and sound control, keyboard and mouse facilities, etc.) are designed to permit access to a wide array of Microsoft and other applications, including third-party assistive technologies.

A free Windows Accessibility CD set may be ordered at: www.microsoft.com/enable/cd/

Got involved in access technology issues through

Annuska, the only female accessibility designer interviewed for this series of profiles, came to Microsoft Accessible Technology Group in 2000 by way of “an industrial engineering background.” She says, “I am really focused on customer research… a primary part of my job is making sure I’m understanding what the end user needs and then conveying that to the product developers, testers, and program managers on our team.

Intrigued by

One thing that intrigues Annuska is the potential of technology other than the PC to lead to greater inclusion and communication. She cites PDA’s, used extensively in the D/deaf community, and increasing prevalence of broad band internet access as examples. She says, “We do think about other form factors, such as hand-held devices.

Finding out about needs

Annuska reports that Microsoft has a variety of techniques for finding out about user needs and improving design of accessibility features over time, including a partnership with the University of Washington. One strategy is to perform usability studies on a one-one-one basis with volunteers with various needs who work with a sequenced task list to test success with a variety of activities. Annuska says that accessibility advocates and federal and state governments are “distinct sources of user requirements and scenarios.

Seeing the world in new ways

Annuska is keen to point out that if you make technology “usable for one group or class of people, its more usable for everybody.” She is interested in improving “feedback loops” with customers on “how are we doing?” so that design information is available “when you need it” in the development cycle.

On design principles

Annuska indicates that her industrial engineering background “ingrained” principles of user-interface design into her thinking, even though, in school, she actually hadn’t heard of the accessible technology design field. However, in her work at Microsoft, “new layers” of awareness, and she says, “in accessibility it’s so important to encompass the whole spectrum” of users. She indicates that she and the company are very interested in the “Universal Design Principles that are becoming a part of industry thinking.

On training and use

Microsoft.com/enable has step-by-step tutorials on how to use Windows and Office, going through accessibility features,” indicates Annuska, “then we also just created a CD that walks you through a friendly experience… its like an ‘auto-run’ demo.” Currently, Annuska says the company is working to “get the word out” on educational features that are available to help users make their computing accessible.

Views on the market

Annuska relates that Section 508 regulations “affect Microsoft as a whole,” especially since the company sells to the federal government, and cites WCAG and WAI guidelines as very beneficial, impacting Microsoft’s “browser, Visual Studio, and Office,” for example. She describes that even for a company of Microsoft’s size and stature, business forces, especially “time resources” in getting products to market, have influences that impact planning and design for the market in the Accessible Technology Group.

Success indicators – making a difference

Annuska emphasizes Microsoft’s strong use of demographic data to help guide design decisions, mentioning that a research study commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Forrester Research, in 2003, shows “fifty-seven percent of all computer users in the U.S. are likely, or very likely, to benefit from the use of accessible technology!

On challenges, information exchange, and research

Annuska recognizes that the features she and the Accessible Technology Group work on do not constitute “an end destination where people are going to hang out and be there a long time.” She indicates Microsoft wants people to be able to easily find accessibility resources for “a very smooth and effective process, and then to get out of their way.” This is an ongoing design challenge.

Wants to know more about

Annuska indicates the Accessible Technology Group “really loves information we can get about the how scenarios related to how impairments or difficulties impact computer use,” especially those with more than one impairment. She indicates a desire to know more about “personas” of users beyond statistical demographic information.

On new horizons

Annuska sees great potential coming from third-party AT developers who are dedicating resources to overcoming problems and develop new solutions. She highlights the work the company does on behalf of third-party assistive technology developers through the Microsoft Assistive Technology Vendor program, which provides opportunities for joint development, co-marketing, and special projects. She indicates, “We’re hoping that if we can provide a fundamental base level of information across applications – across Windows – then the vendors can innovate more and add functionality.” She believes evolving accessibility architecture will permit vendors to really “see where they want to take their products.

Provocative views & quotes

“A lot of my challenge in designing the User Interface (UI) is how do we get around the stigma in society about difficulties and impairments?”

† Study Commissioned by Microsoft Corporation and Conducted by Forrester Research, Inc., in 2003, www.microsoft.com/enable/research/

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Topics assigned: Innovators, Universal Design [UD]

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One response to “Annuska Perkins, Microsoft Accessible Technology Group Product Planner / User Interface Designer”

9 07 2008
NCTI Judges at the Microsoft Imagine Cup (15:47:57) :

[...] the official Imagine Cup blog. Also check out the blog by Annuska Perkins, product planner/user interface designer for the Microsoft Accessible Technology [...]

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