Tag Archives: anniversary

ADA Anniversary: The Continued Importance of Inclusion

By Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer

On July 26 we will celebrate the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA stands as one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation and prohibits discrimination while ensuring that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and rights as people without disabilities. It serves as a reminder of both where we have come from as well as the work left to be done.

Since its inception, the ADA has helped break down barriers for people with disabilities in built environments, provision of government services, communications, and employment. Despite a lot of great progress, after nearly 3 decades there is still much to be done, not only to level the playing field, but also to recognize (and seek out!) talented people with disabilities, skills and expertise that we need in our companies. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities hasn’t materially shifted in that time and remains nearly double that of people without disabilities. We are one of the many employers that has the power to influence that number. We take that responsibility seriously. Here are three things we are doing to drive it:

Breaking Down Barriers Through Technology
It’s never been more important to have a diverse and inclusive workforce including people with disabilities. Put simply, it helps us create better products that empower people with disabilities. When accessibility is done well, it becomes invaluable to daily life, the workplace, and play. It’s ubiquitous and easy to use. These values guide us, and I urge you to check out the following:

  • Accessibility built in by design. There is a wealth of goodness built into the core of our products – from Windows to Office and Xbox. Learning Tools, Dictate, Narrator, Translator, Color Blindness Filters, and more. We’ve created a simple one-stop-shop with our Accessibility Feature Sway which has every feature broken down by disability type and we update this and our new website www.microsoft.com/accessibility as new features become available. Do check it out and share!
  • If in doubt, ask. Remember we have a dedicated support team for people with disabilities using Microsoft products, or using accessibility features. The Disability Answer Desk is there 24×7, via chat, phone and in the USA, a dedicated ASL video line. Now in 11 markets and ready to help you get going with your technology
  • Your feedback is gold dust. We want to know what future you want, and technology you want to empower you. Tell us via our Accessibility UserVoice, Disability Answer Desk or tweet @MSFTEnable. Your feedback powers us.
  • The power of innovation. AI is opening doors for innovation for people with disabilities. Invaluable tools like Seeing AI, Microsoft Translator, and Helpicto are built leveraging our vision, knowledge and speech Cognitive Services APIs and so we were excited earlier this year to announce the AI for Accessibility program to open up these technologies to you to create. The application process is now open, and first batch of grant applications are in mid review. Literally can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Creating Forums for Inclusion
It isn’t enough to just talk about inclusion, we need to partner together to drive impact. There are many events we host and attend where this happens, but two have highlighted the appetite for more:

  • Microsoft Ability Summit. For the first time ever, we opened the doors to this internal event to the public and we were humbled by the results. Over the 8 years since we started the Ability Summit, attendance has grown from just 80 people in that first year, to 1,200 Microsoft employees, and 1,200 external guests over the two days. At the event, we demonstrated the latest in accessible technologies and attendees connected with the owners and drivers of those technologies. They also had the opportunity to engage with over 20 companies at an inclusive hiring job fair and heard from our very own CVP of Retail Stores, a panel of dignitaries and CEO Satya Nadella, who shared their thoughts on accessibility and disability. We were honored to include former Senator Tom Harkin who introduced the ADA into the Senate back in 1989 and underscored the need to break down barriers to get people with disabilities into the workforce. It’s our hope that by opening the event up more broadly we can share knowledge and accelerate the process for all organizations to build their programs, hire amazing talent, and reduce the unemployment rate.
A group of people sitting on stage

Creating a Region of Inclusion panel discussion at the 2018 Microsoft Ability Summit.

  • Disability:IN. Just last week in Las Vegas, 1,500 folks from over 160 corporate partners came together to discuss, share and take action on disability inclusion. Disability:IN (previously known as USBLN) is a corporate based NGO, Microsoft is a proud sponsor, and I’m a honoured to be chair of the board of directors. This organization has grown in numbers and strength in the past years and it speaks to the need, appetite and desire from so many companies to not only understand but drive the future of disability inclusion. During this event, over 130 rising leaders met with company leaders and many walked away with jobs and intern positions. We celebrated those that have achieved high scores on the Disability Employment Initiative (DEI), with many achieving 100% including ourselves. Also, technology was a HOT topic, and we dedicated one of the opening plenaries to showing and sharing the latest in accessible inclusive technology – and I had a blast showing Office 365, PowerPoint, Translator, PowerPoint Designer, Auto Alt-Text, Seeing AI and Xbox Adaptive Controller live on stage. It was clear from the room, amazing speakers and companies sharing their journeys, that this is a priority across corporate America, and how we partner together has never been more important.

Supporting Inclusion in Action
Perhaps one of the best examples of making inclusion real is the Special Olympics. This year Microsoft was proud to be the Presenting Sponsor of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games here in Seattle. With the theme “Rise with Us,” athletes challenged Seattle to make the 2018 games the most inclusive Special Olympics to date and honourary Chair Brad Smith, set the tone – asking Seattle to create a legacy of inclusion that lasts long after the games finish. As part of the event a job fair was held for athletes that included 16 companies including Microsoft. With 4,000 athletes and more than 12,000 volunteers (including 2,000+ Microsoft employees!) participating in the event, we are creating a legacy of inclusion in the region and a galvanizing force epitomized by local athlete Frannie Ronan – the youngest athlete in the games at just 8 years old who inspired us all at the opening ceremony and walked out with 2 silvers and 2 bronzes and a very big smile.

A big crowd of people in a field.

Opening ceremonies of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle

A woman and a child smiling

Jenny Lay-Flurrie with Frannie Ronan at the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle

In addition to celebrating the ADA, we recognize individuals and organizations all over the world are developing disability rights policies and programs under the United Nation Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and helping their communities raise awareness of the importance of accessibility and need for an inclusive culture. To make real progress, it will take collaboration from across government, industry, employers and individuals with disabilities to realize the vision of the ADA and reduce the unemployment rate for people with disabilities everywhere.

In the meantime, do explore what technology can do for you through the power of accessibility, keep us grounded in what you want to see going forward, and get involved in forums and supporting these incredible organisations that are going to power the future of disability inclusion.

Microsoft Teams for Education celebrates 1st anniversary and advances vision for the future of collaborative learning |

June marks the one-year anniversary of Microsoft Teams in Office 365 Education. In this first year, educators around the world have been using Teams to further classroom engagement, strengthen professional learning communities, and streamline staff communication.

We’d like to thank everybody who has provided feedback on the Teams experience. Your input has been instrumental as we build Teams to reflect collaboration needs in the classroom and the diversity of the teaching experience.

Now let’s hear some of the stories that made Teams what it is today.

Hear it from our educators

The power of the Teams for Education experience is best told by educators themselves. Their stories illuminate how Teams is helping to transform the learning experience at schools, universities, and learning institutions around the world.

University of New South Wales (UNSW) uses Teams to increase student engagement

Dr. David Kellermann, a lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, teaches a class with hundreds of students, including several who participate via webcast. With the intention of creating an inclusive learning experience that would encourage students to collaborate with each other across the class, he sought a solution to this communication hurdle.

Dr. Kellermann’s class made the move to adopt Microsoft Teams. Beyond simply improving the communication experience for web students, the fluid, interactive nature of Teams also created an inclusive and engaging learning environment. After a year of using Teams, Dr. Kellermann found that 100 percent of his students, “felt part of the learning community.”

Jim Yanuzzelli – teacher from Old Bridge, New Jersey

After starting a pilot program with Teams in his social studies classroom, Mr. Yanuzzelli has witnessed his entire classroom shift from a “teacher-centered focus” to a “student-centered focus” — giving him more time to devote to teaching (with less time spent organizing lessons).

“Teams Assignments is a great starting point to develop a digital classroom with Microsoft. Curation of material in a single place for teaching and learning will also allow for a smooth transition into learning the other features of Office 365 Education.”

With content, conversations, and assignments all in one hub, students sign into Teams, respond to the “do now,” and begin collaborating and connecting with each other right away.

Mr. Yanuzzelli further leverages Teams by using popular education apps like Quizlet directly in Teams to create social studies reviews. He can then place them directly in the class team chat, making it easy for students to access and use.

“Teams is the 21st century classroom tool that is transforming my classroom. It allows for student centered lessons that engage and empower students. It gives students the ability to have choices in their learning and a voice in delivery.

Read more about how Mr. Yanuzzelli transformed his classroom using Teams

Today, due in no small part to feedback like this, we’re excited to announce new experiences in Teams to help you further collaborative learning in the classroom.

Introducing rubric grading in Teams

Many of you have shared that you want the ability to create, store, and apply rubrics to assignments to make it easier for your students to get feedback. These feedback mechanisms not only help students learn and improve their work, but they’re also a consistent and transparent way for teachers to grade. So now, inside of Teams, we’re enabling rubric criteria and skills-based grading of your assignments.

  • Students will also be able to see how they’ll be assessed upfront, before they start working on the assignment.
  • Teachers can save a lot of time with a grading tool that’s easily applied to multiple assignments at once.

In February, we announced that Chalkup joined Microsoft. The new rubric grading features are a first step in our efforts to bring the best of Chalkup to Teams, and we’re excited to welcome Chalkup teachers and students to Microsoft Education.

Microsoft Forms and Assignments in Teams: better together

Teams now makes it easy for educators to distribute a quiz or survey powered by Microsoft Forms. In Assignments, you will soon be able to add a Form to a new assignment for your students to fill out and return. Additionally, you’ll be able to see and leverage features of Forms reporting functionality, like auto-grading, feedback, and scores, directly in the Assignments grade book. From here, you can also keep track of scores across many Forms-powered quizzes through Assignments in Teams.

Additional new features in Teams:

  • Page locking in OneNote assignments – For teachers creating OneNote assignments, the pages of the student will now automatically “lock” as read only when the due date/time passes. The teacher can still edit and annotate these OneNote assignment pages with feedback.
  • Mute all students: There’s a time for conversation, and there’s a time for focus. You can now pause students from posting in the conversation tab.
  • Join codes: Create a simple code for members to join your Class, PLC, or Staff team. This makes it easy for many people to join your team all at once. Display the code in ‘projector mode’ so that everyone in the classroom can see it and join the team.
  • Reusing a team as a template: Teachers can reuse an existing team as a template when creating a new team, then customize what they want to copy over: channels, team setting, apps, and even users.
  • Archive teams: Safely store your Class, PLC, or Staff team content in read-only mode. Easily reference archived teams while you are setting up your Teams experience for the next school year.

Available now: Mute all students and reusing a team as a template are available worldwide today. 

Coming soon: Rubrics grading, Forms in Assignments, archive teams, join codes, and page locking in OneNote assignments will begin rolling out to worldwide production in the coming weeks.

Get the most out of Teams with free teacher training materials

With a dedicated group of teachers to lead us, we created teacher- and classroom-ready training packages for Teams. Aiming to support the hard work that educators already bring to the classroom, we designed our Teams training to fill in the gaps: providing both comprehensive teacher training and real classroom applications.

Access the Teams training packs here.

Teams at ISTE

Microsoft Education will be at ISTE June 24th-27 in Chicago, and we’re incredibly excited to showcase these new experiences and more! If you’re attending ISTE, come to our sessions on mastering the basics, rubrics grading, and designing teacher PD with Teams. Also, come find us at Hack the Classroom and get hands on experience with Teams.

Did you know that you can use Teams for free? Teachers and students with an education e-mail address can get a free online version of Office 365 Education, which includes Teams!

Get started with Teams today.

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AI for Earth can be a game-changer for our planet – Microsoft on the Issues

On the two-year anniversary of the Paris climate accord, the world’s government, civic and business leaders are coming together in Paris to discuss one of the most important issues and opportunities of our time, climate change. I’m excited to lead the Microsoft delegation at these meetings. While the experts’ warnings are dire, at Microsoft we believe technology advances can help us better understand and address the environmental issues facing our planet. That’s why we’re announcing in Paris that we are broadening our AI for Earth program with an expanded strategic plan and committing $50 million over the next five years to put artificial intelligence technology in the hands of individuals and organizations around the world who are working to protect our planet.

At Microsoft, we believe artificial intelligence is a game changer. Our approach as a company is focused on democratizing AI so its features and capabilities can be put to use by individuals and organizations around the world to improve real-world outcomes. There are few societal areas where AI can be more impactful than in helping address the urgent work needed to monitor, model and manage the earth’s natural systems.

Data can help tell us about the health of our planet, including the conditions of our air, water, land and the well-being of our wildlife. But we need technology’s help to capture this vast amount of data and convert it into actionable intelligence. AI can be trained to classify raw data from sensors on the ground, in the sky or in space into categories that both humans and computers understand. Fundamentally, AI can accelerate our ability to observe environmental systems and how they are changing at a global scale, convert the data into useful information and apply that information to take concrete steps to better manage our natural resources.

Already, we are seeing the transformative potential of AI. In the energy sector, companies like Agder Energi, a utility in Norway that produces renewable energy, are using Microsoft’s cloud and AI to better capture, analyze and act on the intelligence gathered across its electrical grid. Through these technologies, Agder is now able to predict and prepare for vacillating energy needs in response to changes in demand as electric vehicles increasingly tax Norway’s grid; data and AI have enhanced the performance of existing infrastructure, reducing the need for expensive new projects. AI is helping create a more effective, reliable and autonomous grid, while enabling customers and the country to consume more renewable energy as it transitions to a more electricity-based future.

In a similar way, we’re seeing new AI and cloud technologies being used to improve the electrical efficiency of buildings. In Singapore, JTC, responsible for the development of the nation’s industrial infrastructure, has centralized its operations on the Microsoft Cloud to monitor, analyze and optimize 39 of its buildings. Using sensor data and analytics, JTC can now identity and rectify faults before breakdowns occur, resulting in a 15 percent drop in energy cost avoidance in the first three buildings.

It’s worth imagining what these types of steps can mean if we can help bring them to scale globally. Estimates suggest that in the United States, buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of total energy consumption. That means an efficiency improvement of even 15 percent in buildings globally would translate into a 6 percent reduction in global energy consumption. And as AI continues to advance, we have the opportunity to learn more and aim even higher.

We’re seeing a similar cause for optimism when we see how AI is being used in agriculture. In Australia, high labor and import costs, dry weather and the highest variability in climate of any country in the world make farming increasingly challenging. The Yield, a Tasmanian ag-tech company, has created a solution that uses sensors, analytics and apps to produce real-time weather data, right down to field level, helping growers make smarter decisions that can reduce their use of water and other inputs while also increasing their yield. In the sea, the Yield is working with local oyster farmers to create the first product to increase aquaculture production using machine learning. The solution already has reduced harvest closures caused by rain by 30 percent, giving growers back four weeks a year of harvest time.

It’s these kind of results that motivated us to step up our ambition when it comes to AI for Earth. As we look to the future, we’re committed to working with farmers around the world. We envision a future with broadband connectivity for every farm and internet sensors for every acre of land. Building on cutting edge-work in Microsoft Research, we’ll help farmers put AI to work not only to better analyze soil and rainfall conditions, but also to use predictive analytics to improve agricultural yields and reduce adverse environmental impacts. With the world’s population continuing to grow, these changes cannot come fast enough.

At Microsoft, we believe AI for Earth will be a force multiplier for groups and individuals like these who are creating sustainable solutions. That’s why we’re not just putting more resources into this effort, but also coupling this with a long-term commitment to applying AI to grow and scale in four key areas – climate, water, agriculture and biodiversity.

We’ll do this in three ways. First, we’ll expand seed grants around the world to create and test new AI applications. Since our launch of AI for Earth six months ago, Microsoft has awarded over 35 grants in more than 10 countries for access to Microsoft Azure and AI technology. We will also provide universities, nongovernmental organizations and others with advanced training to put AI to its best use. Already, we’re seeing success around the world in projects that are putting AI to work on climate, water, agriculture and biodiversity.

Next, as these projects and our work in this area matures, we will identify the projects that show the most promise and make larger investments to help bring them to scale. We’ll do this not only by providing greater resources for these projects, but also by partnering closely and working in depth with a new multi-disciplinary team at Microsoft that will bring together AI and sustainability subject matter experts. As we help groups scale promising AI technology solutions, we’ll help them commercialize these services, so they can have a global impact as quickly and broadly as possible. These will be in addition to our existing efforts: enabling real-time precision conservation and improving land cover mapping, precision agriculture to increase yield with fewer resources with FarmBeats and more efficient, effective biodiversity tracking and protection approaches through Project Premonition.

Finally, as these projects advance, we’ll identify and pursue opportunities to incorporate new AI advances into platform-level services so that others can use them for their own sustainability initiatives. Some of this will involve platform services that will be offered by others. In other instances, these may be incorporated into Microsoft’s own platform services.

We face a collective need for urgent action to address global climate issues. When we think about the environmental issues we face today, science tells us that many are the product of previous Industrial Revolutions. As we enter the world’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, a technology-fueled transformation, we must not only move technology forward, but also use this era’s technology to clean up the past and create a better future.

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