Inside Microsoft’s New Inclusive Tech Lab


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On the north campus of Microsoft’s 500-acre headquarters, anticipation is quietly mounting. The company is gearing up to launch its new Inclusive Tech Lab, which sits in Building 86 — one of 125 buildings in its Redmond, Washington grounds. This 2,000-square-foot room used to be a reception area, with a set of doors leading to the offices within and another pair facing the rest of the world. It only seems fitting, considering what Microsoft envisions this lab to be: a place to welcome members of the disability community, the tech industry and its own designers. Importantly, it’s close to key personnel in Microsoft’s product teams. Across the street is building 88, where you’ll find chief product officer Panos Panay’s office, while down the road is the Hardware Lab in building 87.

On a recent visit to the Inclusive Tech Lab, I met a few members of the team (and Panay briefly dropped in via video chat) ahead of the launch. They were eager to welcome the world into the carefully designed room. “This is an embassy for people with disabilities,” accessibility program manager Solomon Romney said, “it is the connection between the community and our product making teams.”

The new Inclusive Tech Lab is the successor to an earlier version on the West campus that the Xbox team opened in 2017, when it was developing the Adaptive Controller. But that wasn’t a dedicated space. Senior director of hardware accessibility Kris Hunter described it as a “grassroots effort.”

“Some of the team members came together, we built IKEA furniture over the weekend,” she said. “It was just this passion project.” Though that was initially imagined to be an incubator for the Xbox team to work with designers and engineers, it evolved beyond gaming. Over the years, the lab in Studio B on the west campus hosted about 7,000 people, including clothing designers, members of congress and even competitors like Nintendo and PlayStation.

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Three people inside the gaming section of Microsoft's new Inclusive Tech Lab. One of them is using a wheelchair, and all three are using Xbox controllers.Microsoft

When Hunter was transferred from Xbox to the devices team, she was asked to replicate that experience — this time with a designated space. “Panos came through one day and said, ‘There’s a space over at 86, I think it would be perfect for you guys to show and expand your thinking here,’” she said.