Catalyst: Empowering Through Accessibility

Jun 30, 2017   |   Bay Area Staff

How do you use technology to empower others? Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. Part of that empowerment comes from creating access — access to technology that provides equity to communities, access to bridges that help those with disabilities overcome barriers, and access to opportunities for our employees to donate their time and services to outstanding causes.

In our latest issue of Catalyst, we focus on this wide range of accessibility and how technology is driving empowerment through providing access to all. We hope these stories inspire you to join us in empowering others and supporting the people and organizations that make the Bay Area such a wonderful place to live and work.

A sneak preview of this summer’s issue of Catalyst:

Winning on and off the field with teamwork and technology

The California School for the Deaf, Fremont (CSD) has a diverse fanbase; it’s both a beacon for the Deaf community and an inspiration to millions of pro football enthusiasts. The school was founded in 1860, but most football fans first learned about it in early 2017. During commercial breaks in NFL playoff games, they were introduced to the kick-ass CSD Eagles football team and how using a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 helps them play their best. The team was the focus of a Microsoft campaign celebrating the Eagles’ 10-1 championship season in 2016.

There’s a lot more to learn about CSD at the csdeagles.com website.

A fresh approach brings government services to those who need them

Introducing a mobile-friendly application created by Code for America called GetCalFresh, making it easier to apply for CalFresh food assistance (formerly Food Stamps). Code for America’s staff, fellows and volunteers use technology to give residents easier access to government services and spread best practices. They recognize that there are barriers to accessing government services—and the internet in general—that affect people for many reasons beyond any physical challenges. Lack of funds, inexperience with technology, geographic location and language barriers all can make access difficult.

Learn more about Code for America’s work at codeforamerica.org, and explore the GetCalFresh app at GetCalFresh.org.

A welcoming school where differences are celebrated

Microsoft Store employees volunteer regularly at Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School (Lakeshore), which is one of the most diverse schools in San Francisco. Lakeshore’s campus is within a block of Lake Merced on the west side of town. Though in a relatively affluent neighborhood, the school reflects the true diversity of San Francisco. The racial and ethnic demographics of its K-5 students are almost identical to the city’s overall population, and they come from great variety of socioeconomic and family structures and backgrounds. Compared with other schools, Lakeshore is also home to many children with special education needs.

If you’d like to help Lakeshore students, you’re invited to volunteer and/or make a donation. There’s much more information available at lakeshoreelementary.org.

Creating a community of opportunity for people of all abilities

The Abilities United name may not be a universal household name, but the organization has made a deep and long-lasting impact. The organization has been a fixture of the nonprofit community on the Peninsula for more than 50 years, and has helped 65,000 people during this time. Services are available for clients from birth through adulthood, including inclusive preschool and swimming lessons that are offered to all. Abilities United envisions a world where people of all abilities learn, live, work, and play together. Programs are designed to raise awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities within the overall community by assisting participants to be active within it.

If you support Abilities United’s mission, do your best to appreciate and recognize the importance of including people of all abilities in your life, and check out ways to help at abilitiesunited.org.

Individuals build careers and explore interests without limits

For more than 60 years, The Arc San Francisco (The Arc SF) has been helping adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn skills to live their lives to the maximum of their abilities. The success of their clients challenges assumptions about what someone with a disability can achieve.

If you’d like for individuals with disabilities to reach their potential, offer an internship or position to a client of The Arc, share your specific skill set as a volunteer, or provide meeting space for classes and activities. Much more information, including other creative ways to help, can be found at thearcsf.org.

Opening doors to people with extraordinary talents

For more than a week, the carbon monoxide alarm in Swetha Machanavajhala’s home was loudly warning that she was in a toxic environment. But until a neighbor alerted her, the software engineer had no idea of the danger she was in. Machanavajhala is hard of hearing, and years later her experience inspired her to seek a way for the 360 million people worldwide who have some form of deafness to “see” sound. The result is the Hearing AI app that gives visual cues to environmental noise levels and sounds, and conveys not just what others say, but how the words were expressed.

You can learn much more at Microsoft’s Accessibility website at microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility.

The full issue of this summer’s Catalyst Magazine can be found at catalyst.microsoftbayarea.com.

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