Microsoft Technology and Donations Enhance Quality of Life for People with Disabilities

REDMOND, Wash., July 26, 2000 — When Joe Martin began to feel the effects of paralysis from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease) three years ago, he visited the Carolina Computer Access Center (CCAC) in Charlotte, N.C., to find out whether there might be some way for him to continue using a computer as his disease progressed. At CCAC, Martin found more technology options than he had ever imagined.

“I have full use of only my eyes now,”
Martin wrote as part of an interview conducted via email,
“and would be unable to communicate but for a power-chair, an Eyegaze computer (LC Technologies, Inc.), a voice synthesizer, a digital camera and a laptop with Microsoft software and Windows operating systems to link it all together. I can discuss public policy issues, either in person or by email, write and give speeches, access the Internet, chat and play games with my grandchildren, explain to the doctor ‘what hurts,’ give orders in the garden, write books, take photos and play dominoes.”

The Carolina Computer Access Center is a nonprofit organization that provides information and demonstrations of technology tools that enable individuals with disabilities to control and direct their lives. Services include a lending library for assistive devices, software, videos and books; assistive technology consulting and assessment; and workshops for educators, service providers and families.

Funds from a Microsoft Connected Learning Community (CLC) grant of $11,400 will be used to support CCAC’s new Opportunities for Independence program, a community resource that will provide individuals with disabilities the chance to try out technology options that can help them live more productive and independent lives.

“The Microsoft grant will allow us to expand the capabilities of the center to serve more people with complex disabilities,”
said Judy Timms, CCAC’s executive director.
“Our Opportunities for Independence program will add to our inventory of the more unusual technologies for people with severe and life-threatening disabilities — meaning those disabilities that prevent people not only from moving around, but from expressing themselves.”

Through its CLC grants, Microsoft seeks to enhance learning and communication in disadvantaged communities by expanding access to information technologies. The latest round of CLC grants provided $58,200 in cash and $32,700 in software to five local nonprofit organizations specializing in assisting individuals with disabilities. In all, last spring the CLC program provided $466,400 in cash and $3.85 million in software to 35 local nonprofit and public organizations.

Cash and software donations are awarded twice each fiscal year (in December and May), and Microsoft employees volunteer their time throughout the year to projects supported by CLC funding.

“Technology can enable people and organizations to do great things and to achieve the goals that they’ve set for themselves,”
said Bruce Brooks, Microsoft’s director of Community Affairs.
“With that in mind, Microsoft is committed to creating assistive technologies and expanding access to them so that individuals with disabilities have both better tools and better opportunities.”

Today marks the 10 th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, described as the most comprehensive civil rights legislation ever enacted for people with disabilities. According to the 2000 National Organization on Disability (NOD)/Harris Survey of Americans with Disabilities released on July 19, however, there are persistent gaps between people with disabilities and other Americans in levels of employment, income, education, socializing, religious and political participation and access to health care and transportation.

Despite the many gaps, however, 63 percent of all people with disabilities — and 73 percent of people with slight disabilities — believe that life has improved for the disabled population over the past decade. According to the poll, clear majorities feel that overall quality of life, access to public facilities, advertising, media portrayals of people with disabilities and public attitudes toward people with disabilities have gotten better over the past four years.

The NOD attributed improved conditions to intense efforts by the disability community, employers and community leaders as well as advances in technology and greater accessibility.

According to the NOD, almost half of the people with disabilities who are online feel that the Internet has significantly improved their quality of life, and clear majorities have used the Internet to reach out to people with similar interests and to increase their knowledge of and connection to the world around them.

“Technology plays a critical role in helping individuals with disabilities be more productive in their daily lives,”
said Gary Moulton, group product manager at Microsoft,
“so we try to support organizations that provide people with the opportunity to access the technology that will help them enhance their productivity, both at home and at work.”

Tuesday during an ADA 10th anniversary celebration at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., Jack Krumholtz, Microsoft’s director of federal government affairs, challenged the high-tech industry to make technology easier for people with disabilities to use and to ensure that the new virtual world created by technology offers the same opportunities made possible by the ADA.

“Microsoft believes that accessible technology is intrinsically tied to the true power and spirit of the ADA and can be a key component in enabling Americans with disabilities to achieve success today — and especially tomorrow,” Krumholtz said. “As a technology company, we’ve seen firsthand how advances in technology have made a strong impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities, within Microsoft and elsewhere.”

Microsoft designated a $9,000 CLC grant to United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of Tampa Bay, Fla. Focusing on assisting families and individuals with disabilities to realize their potential, UCP Tampa Bay promotes community inclusion and independence through comprehensive, family-driven care, provided by a full range of programs and services in a six-county area. The Microsoft CLC grant will be used to purchase computers and assistive accessories for UCP’s Developmental Preschool and Childcare Program that offers an educational and therapeutic environment for children with special needs as well as children with typical development.

“Computers are a wonderful way for children to learn to explore their world and express themselves — we’ve found that children as young as 18 months can learn with computers,”
said Patti Hansen, director of clinical services at UCP Tampa Bay.
“What we’ve purchased with the Microsoft grant are computers for our preschool classrooms as well as adaptive switches for those children with special needs who can’t use a typical keyboard or a typical mouse. We’re extremely grateful to Microsoft for giving us this opportunity.”

Microsoft’s regional field offices work with community-based nonprofit organizations to develop grant requests of up to $15,000 per project. Software contributions are often made in addition to financial support. Virtually all of the CLC grants are initiated by Microsoft field offices and do not result from unsolicited proposals.

Now in its fourth year, the CLC program has allocated 145 grants in 27 states and Washington, D.C. Cumulatively, awards have totaled more than $1.9 million in cash contributions and $6.9 million in software.

According to Moulton, Microsoft has been implementing universal design and accessible design over the past 12 years, which has led to the wide range of features in Microsoft products that make them easier to use for people with disabilities. Microsoft’s Assistive Technology Group works closely with product developers and disability advocates to ensure that accessibility features are included in Microsoft’s most popular products, such as the Encarta multimedia encyclopedia, Windows 2000, Windows 98, Office 2000 and the Internet Explorer feature in Windows.

Microsoft is also working within the community to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In April, for example, Microsoft awarded a $250,000 grant titled ‘The Office for the Future: An Opportunity for Today,’ to the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI), a research and training program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and Children’s Hospital. The grant is helping ICI develop material about successful employment for people with disabilities through increased PC technology, for employers, individuals with disabilities, public agencies and the general public.

In October, Microsoft and the National Business & Disability Council created the Able to Work Consortium, dedicated to increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Its primary purpose is to develop tools and strategies that will help businesses tap into the pool of over 8.5 million job seekers with disabilities who want to work but remain unemployed.

In recognition of its work in making the Windows 2000 operating system and other software accessible to the broadest range of users, including users with disabilities, Microsoft recently received a

Ron Mace Designing for the 21 st Century Award”
during the

Designing for the 21 st Century”
annual conference on universal design in Providence, R.I. The awards, given for the first time this year, honor organizations that excel in universal design concepts — a worldwide design movement to make products, environments and communication usable to the greatest extent possible by the broadest spectrum of users.

Microsoft was one of seven organizations honored and the only software company to receive an award.

Joe Martin marvels at the amazing technology already available or being developed for individuals with disabilities.
“Some of the equipment I now use routinely was not even invented when I was diagnosed in 1994,”
Martin wrote.
“The new technology means for me the difference between being only an observer of life and being a full participant. There is almost nothing I can do by myself, but I can do almost anything with help.”