19 May 2022
by Aaron Prior

Accessibility over the pandemic

Aaron Prior, Microsoft Industry Executive for Central Government explores how the pandemic changed accessibility this Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2022.

For GAAD 2020, techUK kindly asked me to write a blog on my journey through Accessibility. Looking back to where it started, the growth from ‘Disability to Equality’, the impact of the ‘Covid-19 Wrecking Ball’ and some predictions about ‘The New Normal’.

I’ve been asked to pen a ‘sequel’ to that blog (which I whole heartedly encourage you to read) and thought it might be fun to pick up from where we got to last time – did the Covid Springboard work? Has the ‘New Normal’ continued to grow or has the ‘Slip Back’ occurred?

Welcome to the Hybrid World

At the start of ‘Lockdown 1’ every Tech/Accessibility conversation I had was focussed on Hybrid – both with Government and with our Partners in the Tech Sector. “How do we build an approach that’s Equitable & Accessible?” became a daily discussion… working groups were spun up… cross Gov discussion forums… best practice openly shared across sectors… it was a time of understanding, growth and adoption – definitely an environment I’d long dreamed of us getting to! But all bubbles must burst & all good things must come to an end…

The Long Pause

It’s May 2021 – after Lockdowns came & went… restrictions eased, returned, and eased again… the economic pressure on ‘The City’ were really biting. Whispers were on the wind that ‘the return to the office tap’ would start being turned on… that (for me at least) seemed to trigger this ‘Pause’ – as Business Leaders across Sectors waited to see what way the new wind would blow the long discussed Hybrid approaches began to freeze up… Accessibility stopped being a daily discussion… working group attendance fell off… cross Gov discussion forums were repeatedly cancelled… and the sharing barriers of old returned… the Great Covid War was ending and the great Equality/Accessibility Journey seemed to be a casualty.

The Brave New World

But dear reader let us not end on a down note, for a by-product of the Covid War could be our saviour. In recent times ‘Millennial Expectations’ around the Accessibility of Tech had been a great ally – the current generation demand ease of access to services of all kinds & if its not provided they’ll simply go elsewhere… Covid gave the rest of us non millennials the same drive: we expected to interact with Services & the World around use in an easy, natural way, tailored to our own requirements and needs: Accessible, Equitable and Inclusive – and that to me is the real win here – the Great Levelling of Expectations

Final Thoughts

‘Slip Back’ – the return to the way things were before Covid – for me is still a risk in terms of the Remote/Hybrid Work experience. The desire to be ‘present’ & the opinion that ‘present = productive’ has returned as a narrative. My challenge to that (and to all things Accessibility/Equality) would be that there MUST always be CHOICE – it’s the very core of Equality… When planning your approach to the New Normal/Hybrid/Brave New World, start with WHY – WHY do I need to have this process, these rules, this level of presence…. Once you’ve established that, turn to CHOICE – what CHOICE can I give people in the way they work. If we can do that, the Equality Utopia becomes ever more real….


Aaron Prior

Aaron Prior

Senior Industry Executive, Central Government Team, Public Sector, Microsoft

For the last three Aaron has worked at Microsoft as an ‘Industry Executive for Central Government’. Before that he spent 25 years in the Public Sector across a number of Departments, in both Central and Local Government. Aaron was privileged to have worked on the creation of the Equality Acts (2006 & 2010), the Public Sector Equality Duty & the translation of the EU Accessibility Regulations over to the UK. For all of that time he has had a focus on Accessibility which extends beyond work, and lectures on Accessibility, Inclusion and Neuro Diversity at local institutions.