By Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer
Today we kick off the 4th annual One Week hackathon event at Microsoft! In addition to showcasing new technologies, this employee event brings together people from around the world for a massive 3-day hackathon. The purpose is to tap into everyone’s creative spirit and find tech solutions for all kinds of challenges. Thousands of employees get to work on projects they are passionate about with people they typically wouldn’t collaborate with in their day jobs. We’re a company of talented thinkers and doers who aren’t afraid to experiment, fail and keep learning: we call this having a “growth mindset.” The hackathon provides the perfect forum to make this happen.
Every year, we have sponsored accessibility-related hacks that we lovingly refer to as "Ability Hacks." In 2014, our first year, we had 10 Ability hacks and 75 people hacking on technology for people with disabilities. Last year, it was over 100 Ability Hacks and nearly 600 people! It is truly inspiring to see our employees put their creative energy toward the outside-the-box ideas that push the capabilities of technology further and further into the future.
This event was the genesis for projects like the EyeGaze Wheelchair and Learning Tools, which won the top award in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Most recently, Seeing AI, which inspired us in 2015, was released as as a free app for iOS. Seeing AI uses artificial intelligence to open up the visual world and describe nearby people, text and objects. This product is a great demonstration of what artificial intelligence can do for accessibility and I am so happy to support this research project as it continues to evolve.
Only time will tell what ideas will come from this year’s hackathon. I can’t wait to meet the teams and check out their progress throughout the week. I’ll tell you: the list of hacks in front of me is strong and long -- and I’m excited to spend time with as many of the teams as I can this week!
On Wednesday, we will also celebrate the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is still one of the most significant pieces of policy in the world today. As we continue to work toward our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more, it is a good reminder of the progress that has been made, and still needs to be made, to make the world more inclusive and accessible.
Looking back, I’m humbled by what we’ve achieved at Microsoft since the hackathon last summer. Truly, it’s been an awesome year with momentum building across the company to develop, build and launch more accessible products. Though we have a long way to go, I want to share a video of a few highlights.
Office 365 and Windows 10 continue to make good progress regarding the accessibility and usability of their features as we outlined last year. Additionally, we've established several key partnerships that led to new offerings, like the KNFB Reader app.
Another partnership I want to highlight is with Easton LaChappelle of Unlimited Tomorrow, who is making prosthetics more affordable and functional through 3D printing. This work is so necessary, especially for awesome young girls like Momo!
Empowering people and organizations is a journey, but we’re committed to continuing progress. Your incredibly powerful and valuable feedback is what keeps the momentum going here at Microsoft, so please keep sharing your thoughts through the Disability Answer Desk (with ASL support) and Accessibility User Voice Forum.
We want to hear from you!