With workers with disabilities being paid as little as $2 an hour in 42 states, National Disability Employment Awareness Month is a time to honor, reflect and bring awareness.

More than 40 million people in the United States have a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people with disabilities, exacerbating what the World Health Organization termed the Disability Divide. Disability is a growing demographic, spurred by the pandemic, with “Long Covid” recently designated a disability.

This year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) theme, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” hit at the center of what people with disabilities face given the pandemic and gives voice to what we too believe at Microsoft. We consider disability a strength. By ensuring the “inclusion” of people with disabilities in the workplace, we advance our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

And for everyone to achieve more, particularly in the workplace, we must nurture inclusive workplace cultures that allow employees to do their best work such as ensuring those that have the flexibility can navigate to a hybrid work culture.

Fair Wages for All Earlier this year, we announced a multi-year commitment to bridging the disability divide by opening doors for people with disabilities with “accessible by design” technology, a continued focus on inclusive workplaces, and creating opportunities for more talent with disabilities to enter the workforce.

While we are very hopeful and pleased about the progress to date, given NDEAM, we would be remiss to not call out how people with disabilities are not given equal treatment in employment. We applaud the effort by the state of California this week to bring the practice of subminimum wage for people with disabilities to a close. This practice legally allows for workers with disabilities to be paid as little as $2 an hour. California joins more than 10 other states and federal efforts to phase out subminimum wage practices.

We believe in fair wages for all and are proud that all workers in our Supported Employment Program earn a competitive wage, receiving benefits in full-time or part-time roles. In 2019, we extended that practice to all our suppliers, adding language into our code of conduct to reconfirm the obligation to pay the applicable minimum wage to everyone. A small but important step forward in closing the divide.

There is more to do to build better, more equitable, and inclusive workplaces. The following are great examples of efforts across the company to grow our focus and learning and some opportunities to engage through the month of October as we mark NDEAM.

Navigating the Job Search Going for that next job can be scary! Join the founders of John’s Crazy Socks, John Lee Cronin and Mark X. Cronin, Russell Shaffer from Walmart, and Neil Barnett from Microsoft on an employer panel hosted by LinkedIn’s General Counsel Blake Lawit to discuss employment opportunities and working in the hybrid workforce. This panel, hosted by LinkedIn, will deep dive into employment and hiring tips such as managing job interviews, disability disclosure, accommodation requests, and more. The panel is meant for all ranges of job seekers and the goal is for folks to walk away with new tips, insights, and resources to help in that job search.

Building Inclusive Workplaces Our ambition is to fully represent the population of people with disabilities across the globe, and we take that seriously. Later this month, we’ll share our updated disability representation data in our annual diversity and inclusion report. Once published, we’ll explain the value of the numbers and describe the next steps on our own inclusion journey.

Gaming Xbox is celebrating gamers, players, and creators in the disability community on Twitch, Stream, and more this month. Tied to employment, it’s utilizing Minecraft in its Neurodiversity Hiring Program. The Minecraft Education team produced a Minecraft experience to utilize as it assesses candidates. The video below shows how group participation in a set of customized Minecraft challenges presents an opportunity for neurodivergent candidates to demonstrate Microsoft competencies such as teamwork and collaboration.

Accessible by Design Technology is key to help bridge the disability divide. In the digital economy, access to technology and accessible technologies is instrumental to being a participant in the workforce. We take this responsibility seriously and focused on building products that just work, that are accessible by design.

Just last week, our Chief Product Officer Panos Panay announced a new Surface Adaptive Kit for Surface devices and accessories, available in November. The kit includes simple tactile tools that can be used in many ways to help make it easier to find your favorite keys, open your laptop, and connect accessories. The kit is wrapped in accessible packaging so everyone can independently enjoy the unboxing experience.

Later this month, you will hear a lot about new products and features, including Windows 11 which releases Oct. 5 with some simple features that we hope will make it easier to accomplish tasks in the way that works best for each of you. We’ve rebranded the Accessibility settings (formerly Ease of Access); redesigned contrast themes; and created new options for customizing video captions and Windows voice typing using artificial intelligence to recognize speech, transcribe and automatically punctuate the text.

Also excited to share more throughout October from our M365 team that produces tools instrumental to the workplace, including Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Excel, and more. Features that empower people across the disability spectrum, powering flexible inclusivity in the workplace whether you are blind, deaf, neurodiverse, or situationally use accessibility features like captions to capture all the conversation.

Specialized Support Throughout the pandemic, we’ve learned that accessibility and technical support focused on people with disabilities is a crucial part of driving an inclusive workplace. Since the start of the pandemic and the shift to remote work, our enterprise Disability Answer Desk (eDAD) has seen a 100% growth in education, enterprise, and government customers looking to help their employees stay productive while working remotely. Enterprise customers can reach out to the Enterprise Disability Answer Desk (eDAD) to get help with questions about accessibility features, product compliance, and assistive technologies.

If you have a disability and need technical assistance, the Consumer Disability Answer Desk (DAD) can assist you via phone (800-936-5900) or chat. We also have an ASL option available for our customers who are deaf or hard of hearing in the U.S. (+1 503-427-1234), as well as provide video support through the Be My Eyes app.