Building a more inclusive community with technology

 |   Singapore News Center

Amidst relaxed laughter on the court and the rich aroma of chicken wings wafting in the kitchen, Microsoft Singapore capped off their global Give Week programme at Singapore’s Enabling Village with a packed programme of skills exchange.

As part of the programme, Microsoft staff played unified Captain’s Ball and ran with athletes from Special Olympics Singapore; and put on their aprons to cook alongside leaders from Dignity Kitchen – a social enterprise in Singapore that trains people with disabilities to become food hawkers.

Microsoft employees enjoying a game of unified Captain’s Ball with athletes from Special Olympics Singapore
Leaders from Dignity Kitchen and Microsoft employees learning new recipes

The organisation’s founder, Koh Seng Choon, said the partnership with Microsoft is a “blessing”. In return for guidance in the kitchen, Microsoft staff will also be helping the social enterprise’s staff to learn and utilise Microsoft’s cloud technology, as well as its whole suite of services to help streamline their operations.

“Microsoft has a very structured philanthropy programme and I think that can help us in engaging a lot more people in need out there and it can help us to reach out to a lot more people,” said Koh.

For this year’s Give Week campaign, Microsoft is providing a platform for the exchange of skills to help build a more inclusive Singapore, and have partnered with three non-profit organisations to do so. Apart from Dignity Kitchen, the other two organisations are Special Olympics Singapore – an organisation that empowers people with intellectual disabilities through sports, and SG Enable – an agency that focuses on enabling people with disabilities.

Taking accessibility to the next level

For SG Enable, apart from trainings run by Microsoft on modern workplace solutions, the learning process is not just a one-way street. “Earlier this year, we started engaging Microsoft on possibilities of doing work related to assistive technology”, explained Ng Herk Low, the assistant chief executive of SG Enable.

Ng Herk Low, the assistant chief executive of SG Enable, at the Enabling Village

Ng cited examples such as the built-in features including text-to-voice and eye tracking as some of the technology features that Microsoft has brought to empower people with disabilities.

He noted that, “for some people who are paralysed, and can only move their eyes previously, they have to buy a specialised software with a camera that tracks where their eyes are looking”. However, with features such as eye-tracking technologies as part of Windows 10, Ng said this is a step in the right direction.

“That shows to me that Microsoft takes accessibility seriously and want to reach out to all segments of the population. By making its mainstream products accessible, it allows many more persons with disabilities to access technology in a cost-efficient manner. That is actually the biggest impact that Microsoft has made (on the community with disabilities),” Ng added.

This sentiment is echoed strongly by Kevin Wo, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore. “Our mission as a company is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more, and as part of this, we are passionate about how we can apply technology to help solve local challenges, and contribute to the local economy and communities,” said Wo.

Volunteers from SG Enable, Grab and Microsoft map the Enabling Village to unlock the area through 3D sound

Beyond ensuring that Microsoft technologies such as Windows and Office are accessible to people with disabilities, the company is also putting the power of the cloud in the hands of nonprofit workers, researchers, and others who are working to address society’s most pressing issues through its Technology for Social Impact program.

The company also practices employee giving — through skill-based volunteering, such as those during the Give Week, and employee donations — to create opportunities for growth and impact in the local communities wherever Microsoft operates.

“In fact, a lot of the ideas on how our technologies can benefit local communities came from the employees and those ideas now convert into partnerships and concrete initiatives such as Give Week,” said Wo.

Wo also shared that employees who are passionate about humanitarian causes are given the space to pursue them. In China, a Microsoft employee who is also a father developed an application called Photo Missing Children that could help find China’s missing children through Microsoft’s face recognition application program interface.

“How can we bring more people with full participation in our society and economy using technology? How do we make sure there is no bias built into our technology? These are questions that we constantly ask ourselves as we strive to foster a cohesive and inclusive society where we leverage digital innovation to empower communities to enrich lives,” added Wo.