We should have called it A11y McBot. But if we had, Danny might not have gotten the reference, lol. So, we went with Devika.

Devika was our entry into this Accessibility Hackathon. The challenge had this as its core goal:

“…build or update an application prototype with AI services on Azure that solves a challenge around accessibility to empower people living with disabilities.”

So, when I heard about it, I messaged Danny, because a short while before, he proposed building a bot that would let you manage Azure DevOps work items. He didn’t have a lot of bot building experience, but he was certainly game to learn. With one month before the deadline, we dove in.

I’d never closely tracked trying to do one of these hacks, so we decided to try it. Most of our sessions we recorded. Hours of content. We go into the weeds to figure why our environments don’t work, we spend time talking about strategy and we stumble over things that take us 2 minutes to fix once the cameras go off, but it was a fun way to capture the experience. It also turns out to be more than 20 hours of recording, so I don’t think anyone will ever watch it all, lol.

The thing that made this project even more special was when I got the opportunity to hear from some visually impaired developers and get their first-hand perspective on what we were trying to do. It happened really easily, too.

One of the forum members, Shawn Melville, reached out to me and put me on to a group of developers, some of whom are visually impaired.

They were welcoming to our idea and provided valuable feedback.

When we were about to submit, there were questions on the form that underscored the need for getting feedback from people in the community we were trying to serve. So Shawn’s linkup was even more essential than we first appreciated.


Devika in Action on Amazon Alexa.

As you can see from the demo, we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but both Daniel and I are looking forward to see how we can improve this bot and maybe provide a meaningful solution with respect to not just accessibility with Azure DevOps but in cloud computing on a whole.


Devika! We placed third! :)

We placed third in the hackathon! As can be seen from this post from Didier Mora, an Azure Business Lead in Microsoft, the entries were really good and helped further the conversation around accessibility powered by AI in the cloud.