A Letter to Hannah Thompson (From Hannah Thompson)

As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Dear Hannah,

You are sixteen years old right now. Life is rough; you don’t have many friends. You are doing a great job going to teachers for moral support. You’re actually starting to prepare for your motivational speaking career by being on the high school speech team. Yes, you have a motivational speaking career starting your junior year of college. It’s amazing and your DynaVox stays crucial to you and how independent you are. It is truly your voice. It lets you take a public speaking course in college, join a sorority, and engage in Elmhurst College’s campus ministry. I guess that would be a spoiler alert that you end up at Elmhurst College!

There have been many moments in your life that you have felt empowered by technology. As one could probably guess, when people first meet you at any age they talk to you as if you have a cognitive disability. I know, it’s frustrating now and it’s still incredibly frustrating at 26. You can bet every time you break that stereotype, you feel so empowered and it’s because of technology. You can use your DynaVox and shatter that preconceived notion. That is technology empowering you at sixteen — and now as a young woman.

You make meaningful, lasting relationships in college. Due to assistive technology, you are a powerful voice on campus. You end up taking that persona and going out in the world and you have only begun to make a difference. At 26, you are changing the world just by being independent in your own community and you start working at Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region. Eventually, you end up as an advocate for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation.

You are sixteen; focus on doing well on the ACT, speech team, and keeping your spirits up. You are brave, intelligent, and authentic. Keep being beautiful!


Hannah at 26 years old!

Hannah Thompson is a recent graduate from Elmhurst College with a B.A. in Communication. She is a motivational speaker encouraging people to do their impossible. Hannah has Cerebral Palsy and a movement disorder called Dystonia. The Cerebral Palsy affects her balance and her ability to walk and speak. She utilizes various assistive technology to improve her productivity and assure her success. She uses a DynaVox to communicate daily, and it has also played a critical role in support of her motivational speaking career. With the use of Intellikeys, Hannah accesses her laptop commands efficiently. Along with these critical tools, Hannah uses software such as WordQ and Kurzweil to assist her in succeeding in college and now in her career.

How To Get Involved And Support People With Disabilities — From Global To Local


Did you know that December 3rd is the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” every year? How about that more than 1 in 10 residents of Illinois live with a disability, yet only 35% of working-age Illinoisans with disabilities have jobs?

Group of five individuals standing by ADA25 sign

Since 1992, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been celebrated annually on the 3rd of  December around the world.

The theme for 2016’s International Day is Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want. This theme notes the recent adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the role of these goals in building a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities.

This year’s objectives include assessing the current status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and SDGs and laying the foundation for a future of greater inclusion for persons with disabilities.

Shelley Stern Grach giving speech with transcriber of text visible on Surface Hub

I had the honor of attending an excellent program which complemented the International Day— the Global Aspects of Disability Panel Discussion,  hosted at The Northern Trust and supported by the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network (CBLN). The mission of the CBLN is to drive success through disability inclusion and to advance disability inclusion by providing the business community with tools, resources and solutions that drive employee hiring, engagement and performance. Check them out at

Group listening to speeches.

Other resources that CBLN provides include:

  • Education programs, such as the Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit, the premier conference in the Midwest exploring business issues related to disability inclusion
  • Resources to connect businesses to the untapped labor pool and tools to gauge performance, including the USBLN’s Disability Equality Index (include copywrite marking)
  • Networking and access to share best practices

Later that same day, Microsoft had the honor to host the  networking program for the ADA 25 ADvAncing Leadership program! What a great time we had! ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s long term vision is that Chicago’s vibrant civic life will include people with disabilities to reflect the diversity of the population. Its mission is to build a pipeline and network of leaders with disabilities who are deeply engaged in the civic life of the Chicago region and advance the careers of people in that pipeline. Programs include:

  • Civic Connections project – to increase the number of people with disabilities serving in civic leadership positions
  • Members Network-Leaders who attend quarterly educational and networking events
  • Leadership Institute-a competitively selected class of 16 emerging leaders with disabilities

Team of 4 ladies in chairs smiling at cameraWhat can you do?

  • Learn about the global and local resources available to business leaders and to people with disabilities.
  • Please check out the talented people for this year’s cohort at
  • Reach out! It’s about people reaching out to people and connecting.

Welcoming ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s 2017 Fellows Class!


ADA 25 Advancing Leadership announced the 2017 Fellows Class at the Chicagoland Business Leadership Network’s Disability Inclusion Opportunity Summit on October 21st. The 18 competitively selected emerging leaders with disabilities will participate in a Leadership Institute retreat in January and March of 2017.

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s mission is to build a pipeline and network of leaders with disabilities who are deeply engaged in the civic life of the Chicago region and advancing in their careers – consistent with the promise of the ADA. ADA 25 Advancing Leadership began as a legacy project of ADA 25 Chicago – an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and leverage the milestone to ensure greater inclusion, empowerment, and opportunities for people with disabilities.

ADA 25 Advancing Leadership works to support the realization of disability as part of diversity in the Chicago region. This program is in part the answer to the continued requests I receive from leaders in the government, corporate, and non-profit sectors who are seeking qualified individuals with disabilities for civic service in Chicago. I am excited to announce this year’s Fellows class and look forward to the strides they will make in improving the Chicagoland region.

Congratulations to the following ADA 25 Advancing Leadership 2017 Fellows:

Tiffany Askew
Ombudsman Program Manager, Access Living

Adam Ballard
Manager of Organizing and Policy, Access Living

Kimberly Brown
Senior Business Analyst, Commonwealth Edison

Kevin D’Ambrosio
Office Supervisor, Faithful+Gould

Cheryl Farney
Certified Recovery Support Specialist and Medical Social Assistant, University of Illinois Chicago Hospital

Bridget Hayman
Director of Digital Content Marketing, Easterseals National Headquarters

Tsehaye Geralyn Hebert

Brian Heyburn
Doctoral Candidate, Disability and Human Development , UIC-Chicago

Esther Lee
Attorney, Disability Law Collective
Co-Founder, Able Community

Michele Lee
Finance Senior Administrator, International Treasury, Aon Corporation

Veronica Lozano
Women, Infant, Youth, Children Ryan White Case Manager, Howard Brown Health

Norma Jane Mejias
Doctoral Candidate, Disability and Human Development, UIC-Chicago

Chaitanya Manchanda
Cyber Security Professional, Discover Financial Services

Risa Jaz Rifkind
Program Associate, Chicago Community Trust

Margaret Sugrue
Community Relations Coordinator, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois

Chad Turner
Vice President, Finance & Business Manager, JPMorgan Chase

Caity-Shea Violette
Manager of Marketing and Communications, Thresholds

Mark Williams
Grants Manager, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago

For more information about ADA 25 Advancing Leadership visit

unnamed-1Karen Tamley was named Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) in March of 2005 by Richard M. Daley and reappointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May of 2011.  MOPD promotes full inclusion of people with all types of disabilities and strives to make Chicago the most accessible city in
the nation.

In her role as Commissioner, Ms. Tamley leads numerous disability policy and accessibility compliance initiatives in transportation, city infrastructure, emergency preparedness, housing, education, and technology.  She also oversees the delivery of independent living services such as in-home supports, home accessibility modifications, amplified phones, and employment readiness to thousands of Chicagoans with disabilities.Commissioner Tamley serves as the City’s representative regarding disability related policy on a number of boards and committees, including the Pace Board of Directors, the region’s Paratransit service provider. In 2015, Commissioner Tamley was appointed by President Obama to serve on the United States Access Board, which develops accessibility guidelines and standards for the built environment, transportation, communication, medical diagnostics equipment, and information technology. Most recently, the Civic Federation of Chicago and Motorola Solutions Foundation named Commissioner Tamley the recipient of the 2015 “Excellence in Public Service Award” for her extraordinary impact. 

Commissioner Tamley serves as the City’s representative regarding disability related policy on a number of boards and committees, including the Pace Board of Directors, the region’s Paratransit service provider. In 2015, Commissioner Tamley was appointed by President Obama to serve on the United States Access Board, which develops accessibility guidelines and standards for the built environment, transportation, communication, medical diagnostics equipment, and information technology. Most recently, the Civic Federation of Chicago and Motorola Solutions Foundation named Commissioner Tamley the recipient of the 2015 “Excellence in Public Service Award” for her extraordinary impact.

Under Commissioner Tamley’s leadership, Chicago received the Accessible America Award from the National Organization on Disability and for two years, MOPD was named “Best Government Department” by the Deaf Illinois.

For 15 years prior to her appointment, Tamley served in management, policy and advocacy roles at disability organizations in Washington D.C., Denver and Chicago. Prior to her appointment as Commissioner, she was the Director of Programs at Access Living a center for advocacy and services for people with disabilities in Chicago.

Commissioner Tamley earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley.

ADA Leadership Institute for People with Disabilities — Applications and Nominations Open until August 31

Do you know an emerging leader with a disability? Nominate them and encourage them to apply.

Image description: Approximately 20 ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Members are seated around a long rectangular conference table deeply engaged in discussion. At the closest end of the table is a woman facing away from the camera and towards the group leading the discussion.

Image description: Approximately 20 ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Members are seated around a long rectangular conference table deeply engaged in discussion. At the closest end of the table is a woman facing away from the camera and towards the group leading the discussion.

“More than just one weekend, the experience is about something much bigger than the classes. It is about community, connection, network and opportunity. It is about being seen as a leader and being able to draw strength from others.”ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Inaugural Fellow

Emerging leaders in the Chicago region have a unique opportunity to join a network of people with disabilities who are committed to participating in volunteer leadership position while they grow professionally. Applications and nominations to ADA 25 Advancing Leadership’s next leadership development retreat will be open until August 31.   


About 20% of our population has a disability. While disability is a natural part of the human experience, the under employment of people with disabilities, high poverty levels, and absence of people who disclose their disabilities in leadership positions demonstrate the continued exclusion of this minority group from the mainstream. This is where ADA 25 Advancing Leadership comes in.  The long term goal is to ensure that the perspectives and talents of people with disabilities of all kinds are included in the Chicago region’s rich civic life.

The idea behind Advancing Leadership is the same idea behind the Americans with Disabilities Act – that people with disabilities have the right to equal opportunity and full participation in society. In fact, the program came out of last year’s celebration of this civil rights legislation’s 25th anniversary, and retains the name ADA 25 in its name. We use the broad definition of disability under the ADA – inclusive of disabilities that are apparent and those that are non-apparent, such as mental health and learning disabilities.


ADA 25 Advancing Leadership kicked off at the end of last year with 25 competitively selected members. Sixteen of these are emerging leaders participated in a 3 day retreat in December. These inaugural Fellows embraced the leadership training experience as a unique opportunity to connect disability identity, the social barriers to inclusion, and leadership training. They forged deep bonds with each other, learned from Chicago’s leaders, and established personal plans for long-term leadership.  


Image Description: The ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Fellowship Cohort

Our Fellows and members are creating a network and participate in educational opportunities around key issues such as employment and education; but beyond being a network of support and learning, they are beginning to fulfill Advancing Leadership’s long term vision. We have created the Civic Connections Project, and are starting to see our members increase their involvement. In the past 9 months, 9 have joined new advisory committees, task forces and boards, and another 13 connections are pending. These range from participation in cultural and disability rights organizations, young professionals councils, to a position on the board of a regional non-profit organization focused on fair housing, to public sector advisory task forces at state, regional, and municipal levels.

This program is the first of its kind in the nation and thanks to the involvement of The Chicago Community Trust, Exelon, and other corporate leaders we can keep moving forward on this final frontier of civil rights. To quote one of our inaugural Fellows, ADA 25 Advancing Leadership was “a life changing and transformative experience” that allowed our members to emerge with the skills necessary to become the next generation of leaders.

Last year, we were greater together; this year, we keep advancing together.

Applications for the next Leadership Institute retreat for emerging leaders with disabilities are NOW OPEN; the deadline is August 31. For details, application and nomination forms, please visit

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 8.34.33 PM

Image Description: Headshot of Emily Harris, Senior Director at the Chicago Community Trust

Emily Harris is a Senior Director at the Chicago Community Trust and the Executive Direct of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership. She was the Executive Director of ADA 25 Chicago, a one-year initiative to leverage the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act to advance full participation of people with disabilities in metropolitan Chicago.

Introducing the DigiSeniors Program


When you first think of the “digital divide” of access and essential skills, we typically first focus on Youth, vs. the population of senior citizens. However, one of our core commitments at Microsoft is to ensure that EVERYONE is connected skillfully and safely. And the statistics around senior citizens’ vulnerability to online scams is frightening:

  • With accumulated wealth and “nest eggs”, senior citizens are an attractive target for fraud, especially online abuse

PewInternet SeniorTechUseThese facts come as no surprise to some of us, especially the City of Chicago, where there are many digital literacy and digital access efforts across the city. As Julia Stasch of the MacArthur Foundation had said, “If the city doesn’t work for everybody, it isn’t working.” As the result of conversations between Danielle DuMerer, First Deputy Commissioner & CTO of the City of Chicago and Shelley Stern Grach, Director of Civic Engagement, Microsoft, they identified a strong need for resources for  senior citizen to get safely connected online. (Check out Shelley’s blog about her own family and their relationships with technology!)

DigiSeniors History

It’s incredible to see what we can achieve when take the ego out and focus on the mission at hand; civic tech works better when we collaborate. The Microsoft Chicago Civic Engagement and Retail Store teams have been hard at work with the leading individuals and agencies of the City of Chicago to develop a curriculum to help senior citizens get the basic digital skills, access, and safety knowledge that they need to keep up with the ever-evolving technology world. Partnerships include collaboration with the Chicago Public Library, DFSS, CHA, Department of Information Technology, Connect Chicago and other nonprofits.  After nearly a year’s worth of development, feedback, pilot sessions, Microsoft Chicago is happy to announce the launch of the DigiSeniors curriculum!

We recently launched our DigiSeniors curriculum during the July Connect Chicago Meetup, a community affiliated with the SmartChicago Collaborative, a civic organization supported by the City of Chicago, MacArthur Foundation, and many other players devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology. ConnectChicago is a premier civic tech organization whose model has led to many successes in bridging the digital divide here in Chicago. The DigiSeniors curriculum will be hosted on their website LINK here, as the central hub for Chicago digital skills access.

Here are a few core aspects of DigiSeniors curriculum that stand out:

  • Integrated with best practices for senior citizens: interactive portions, large text, high contrast backgrounds, slow pace, and inspiring friendly environments!
  • 3 modules: Intro to Windows, Accessibility & Safety/Security
  • Free, fully editable curriculum for anyone to use and teach their own sessions!
  • Check out the full story on this Microsoft Sway (Microsoft’s new interactive presentation style!)

Our hope is that we can continue developing our curriculum with new additions and partnerships in future phases. The work of increasing digital skills and access in Chicago is a never-ending story, but the truth of the matter is that we are making real progress with efforts like these.

Are you a computer trainer, a teacher, a librarian, or a resident who wants to help close the technology gap in Chicago’s senior population? Sign up for a free “Train the Trainer” session here, which are sessions for agencies and community leaders to get fully acquainted with all 3 modules of the DigiSeniors curriculum. They will be led by a representative from Microsoft Civic Tech Engagement or the Microsoft Retail Store. After the train-the-trainer sessions, attendees will be fully prepared to lead their own classes and trainings for seniors.

DigiSeniors Helps Close the Tech Gap in Chicago

Here at Microsoft Chicago, we know how important it is that technology skills are totally accessible to all — no matter your age, race or gender. This is why we were excited to join the City of Chicago and Connect Chicago to launch a new curriculum for senior citizens called DigiSeniors.

All computer trainers, teachers, librarians and residents who are interested in helping close the technology gap in Chicago can sign up for “Train-the-Trainer” sessions. Read more about the initiative and how you can be a part of it on Smart Chicago’s blog here.

AccessChicago, the Midwest’s Premier Exhibition of Products and Services for People with Disabilities

AccessChicago Banner (1)

This week, Microsoft Chicago and our Retail Store team had the pleasure to participate in AccessChicago, hosted by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD). AccessChicago brought in nearly 2000 attendees to meet with nearly 100 businesses, government organizations and nonprofits who serve and support people with disabilities. At Microsoft, we create and deliver technology that is accessible and functional for all people of all ages. And we will continue to push the boundaries of what technology can do to empower every person on the planet. The Microsoft team was showcasing the various Accessibility capabilities of Windows 10. To learn more about the built-in assistive technologies in Windows 10 visit the following how-to topics:

Shelley AccessChicagoThe program included educational sessions, activities and games, workshops on Health; Therapeutic Art; Cooking;  Medicare/Social Security; sports including golf, judo and bowling; and special programming for children. There were resources on all kinds of technology and full size buses to demonstrate lifts and accessible transportation options. Best of all, we ran into some good friends, including Steve Luker (@1armedgeek) and Bill O’Connor and Ken Skord, both of AbilityLinks, a program of Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital.

Many thanks to Commissioner Karen Tamley (@karentamley) for bringing this important program to our attention. This was indeed a celebration of the community and a recognition of the 26th anniversary of the passage of the American Disabilities Act.

WP_20160713_10_52_52_ProIf you want to learn more about resources, especially about how technology can positively impact people with disabilities, here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Sign up to a great Facebook group: Technology and Disabilities
  • Follow @ITKANChicago on Twitter. This is a great organization which  develops Professionals with Disabilities into passionate Technology leaders.
  • Come to an ITKAN meeting! Great food and even better conversation.

Browse our Tweets below….check out the smiles and the positive interaction. Join our community!

Making Chicago The Most Accessible City in the Nation

Mayor's Office for People With Disabilities

“Making Chicago The Most Accessible City in the Nation,” is the tag line and mission of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) where I serve as Commissioner.

Chicago was the first city to establish a cabinet-level department strictly dedicated to the needs of our residents with disabilities.  In the 25 years since MOPD was established, Mayor Daley and Mayor Emanuel have committed to appointing a person with a disability to lead the office.

Our work is focused broadly on three priorities: Keeping people with disabilities independent, helping Chicago to be compliant with accessibility laws and codes, and ensuring the voice and needs of the disability community into City policymaking.

Access Chicago

Each year we serve over 45,000 individuals by making homes wheelchair accessible, preparing job seekers, delivering home-maker services, and providing individualized needs assessments and advocacy.

We are unique in that Chicago has its own local accessibility code allowing MOPD to review and permit architectural plans. This means ensuring that those designing, constructing or rehabbing schools, parks, theaters, stores, restaurants and office and apartment buildings, have plans that are compliant with federal, state and local accessibility codes. We also partner with key City departments during the design phase of new city infrastructure projects to ensure the broadest number of people of disabilities can access amenities such as the Loop Link, new CTA rail stations, the Riverwalk, and our City’s summer music, movie and food festivals. Our broad disability policy work focuses on everything from developing accessible city emergency plans to incentivizing more wheelchair accessible taxicabs to be on the road.

As a person with a disability I am truly honored to be in a position where I can meaningfully impact my own community.

018 braille flagLast year when Chicago and the nation commemorated the 25th ADA anniversary, I took time reflect on how far our city, our nation and my own life experience has changed for the better.

As a lifelong wheelchair user, I grew up long before the ADA’s passage, in a very inaccessible world. I could rarely cross a street independently due to lack of curb ramps at the end of sidewalks. I was routinely carried into stores and restaurants with stairs by my family and friends. I could not ride the public bus after school with my friends because at the time, they had no wheelchair lifts.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I can now easily access most any store or restaurant I want, ride any CTA bus and cross a street with ease in my wheelchair. Just in my lifetime, so much has changed thanks to the ADA and countless committed advocates and public servants.

While tremendous progress has been made, many with disabilities still face challenges gaining access to affordable and accessible housing, quality education, technology and competitive employment.

Tackling these broad challenges is also a part of MOPD’s commitment to make Chicago truly livable for people with disabilities. A world-class city is one that meets the needs of people at all stages of their life. When these needs become part of the mindset of both policy making and architectural design from the very beginning, we can build truly great cities that include everyone now and into the future.

ITKAN teams up with Microsoft and Directions to deliver SQL Server/Business Intelligence training!


ITKAN, a professional organization affiliated with the Illinois Technology Foundation, whose mission is to develop passionate IT professionals with disabilities, is partneringITKAN_Logo_vertical-lockup_RGB with Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement team in Chicago, as well as Directions – a nationwide leader in IT, business and enterprise training solutions and one of only 12 Microsoft Gold Managed Learning partners – to train and secure professional positions for a class of (6) ITKAN members.  The training will be focused on the high-demand SQL Server/BI curriculum and certification. The group plans to pilot this training and replicate it, along with other WIOA/corporate-funded curricula in high-demand areas to strengthen the marketability and opportunities for this often overlooked and underrepresented segment of the labor force.

ITKAN was launched in 2008 by SPR Consulting, a professional IT services company, to support the growth of candidates and professionals with disabilities into the tech field. They conduct monthly meetings at the Microsoft Technology Center Chicago with an emphasis on fostering deeper knowledge and greater passion for the opportunities in information technology. Microsoft hosts the group and provides experts for many of the monthly meetings.

Adam Hecktman, Microsoft Chicago’s Director of Technology & Civic Innovation and Shelley Stern, Microsoft Chicago’s Director of Civic Engagement, have been staunch supporters of ITKAN. With the support of Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Engagement General Manager Annmarie Levins and WIOA student funding, the group is planning to conduct the training in Directions’ Oak Brook and Chicago facilities by the end of 2016. They will also work to identify corporate partners who are willing to hire these newly-minted SQL Server/BI professionals into their organizations through either paid internships or intern-to-hire opportunities.

If you are a candidate with a disability and would like to be considered for this training opportunity, please contact your county WIOA office and register for the many support services – including training funding – that they may be able to provide to you. The team will be reviewing candidates for the class and WIOA funding is one of the core considerations, though all candidates with disabilities are welcome to apply. For assistance with the WIOA funding process, please contact Kim Manzuk at  Microsoft’s funding will be utilized after all WIOA funding has been exhausted. If you are an employer interested in hiring one of these candidates, please contact Pat Maher at or 630-220-8895.

Driving Data Accessibility in Metro Detroit

Over the past several months, Microsoft has entered into an exciting partnership with the Detroit-based organization Data Driven Detroit (D3) to help expand and reinforce the civic tech ecosystem in Southeast Michigan. In this guest blog, Data Driven Detroit’s Executive Director, Erica Raleigh, introduces us to her organization and provides some highlights from the accessibility and outreach work that D3 is doing in the Motor City.


What does it mean to promote data accessibility?  Is it enough to make information available so that anybody can download and access it?  Or does accessibility require something more – is it essential to provide guided interaction and training to ensure that not only can people access available information, but can use it to make more informed decisions that better guide their work?  At Data Driven Detroit (D3), we believe that it starts with the audience you’re trying to serve with each effort to promote accessibility. We’re passionate about increasing access to data in Southeast Michigan, but we also believe strongly in lending our expertise to reinforce and empower the civic tech community to use the data that we provide and apply it to the challenges people grapple with on a day-to-day basis.

Through the support of two Southeast Michigan-based foundations, D3 was founded in 2009 by Kurt Metzger to build a centralized data warehouse for our community.  We’re a mission-driven organization, with the goal of providing accessible and high-quality information and analysis to drive informed decision-making.  Our organization and our work have continuously evolved over the seven years that we’ve been in operation, but our commitment to improving data accessibility and literacy in Detroit and beyond remains the cornerstone of what we do every day.

The foundation of our accessibility and outreach work is our framework of community tools and information systems that provide unique and easy-to-consume data to users across Detroit and beyond.  The D-Community Tool, which we developed in partnership with the Community Development Advocates of Detroit and NiJeL, allows community organizations to define their service areas and share information with one another.  The tool improves actors’ ability to coordinate across communities and provides funders and others in Detroit with a deeper understanding of the landscape in which they operate.  We also strive to make data as broadly available as possible.  Our Open Data Portal contains over 150 geospatial datasets that are available for download free of charge.  It also provides an API interface capability that allows civic tech innovators to develop directly on top of these freely-available datasets.


As we’ve expanded this foundation outward, we’ve also come to recognize the important role that a data intermediary can play in reinforcing the civic tech ecosystem in Detroit.  Therefore, the second objective of our accessibility efforts is to work directly with contributors (and potential contributors) in the civic tech space and nurture the abilities and awareness that are so important to participating in civic tech conversations.  Over the past several summers, we’ve provided data literacy, collection, and mapping workshops for community nonprofits.  Through these workshops, we’ve encouraged data literacy on a much broader scale, and acquainted a number of organizations to unique and novel technological solutions (expanding such programming represents a key element of our new partnership with Microsoft).  We also conduct educational workshops in partnership with local universities and schools, working to expose as many individuals as possible to data and technology, no matter where they are at in their education or careers.

In addition, we work to improve data accessibility through very direct means.  We collaborate with the City of Detroit’s Department of Innovation and Technology, including working with them on the most recent iteration of our Summer Data Workshop series.  We offer multiple programs to support and provide direct technical assistance to community organizations.  Foremost among these is AskD3, which provides data and technical assistance free of charge for up to two hours of staff time.  This program enables us to walk alongside the community through the process of fulfilling a request, further reinforcing their capacity to make data-driven decisions.  In 2014, we also administered a community mini-grant program, in which local neighborhood organizations received mini-grants of up to $15,000 to be used to support their participation in a civic data collection effort tied to the Motor City Mapping project.

In all our efforts, we keep one goal in mind above all others – one that ties directly back to our mission.  With these tools, workshops, and other outreach into Southeast Michigan’s civic tech and community sectors, our hope is to change the conversation.  We want to provide everybody in our region with the ability to speak a common language through data.  When people and organizations coalesce around the idea of using high-quality information, we sincerely believe that they can make better decisions, and more effectively allocate their resources and time.  Furthermore, when people from different disciplines and fields of work bring their unique data and perspectives into these conversations, it helps to create a community where disparate organizations across Southeast Michigan can learn, understand, and grow together, instead of functioning in an environment where information exists in silos.  In a region facing as many challenges as Detroit, these approaches are even more important than they would be elsewhere, and it’s why accessibility has remained such an important part of our work even as D3 has evolved over the course of its existence.

While improving data accessibility is perhaps the most important piece of work that D3 performs, it still is only one of the ways that we attempt to live our mission every day.  We’re always providing updates of our analysis, visualization, and data collection work on our social media outlets, and we’re excited to spotlight some of our most interesting and impactful projects in future guest blogs!

Erica_RaleighErica Raleigh joined Data Driven Detroit (D3) as a founding member in 2009.  Now the Executive Director, she began as a Research Analyst, with a background in housing, community development, transportation, and public safety research.  She is the lead author on “Neighborhood disinvestment, abandonment and crime dynamics” which was awarded the 2014 Best Conference Paper Award at the Urban Affairs Association annual conference.

D3 houses a comprehensive data system that includes current and historic demographic, socioeconomic, educational, environmental, and other indicators, allowing analysts to illustrate complex relationships by combining different datasets to reveal the true stories of our regions, cities, and blocks.  D3 is committed to providing access to information that can drive better decision-making, believing that everyone should have equitable access to information to make the best decisions possible for themselves, their organizations, and their communities.

Raleigh holds a Master of Urban Planning from Wayne State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Hispanic Studies from the University of Michigan.