Lt. Governor joins “This is What Empowerment Looks Like” panel at Microsoft Ability Summit

Lt. Governor Habib recently joined accessibility leaders for a panel discussion called “This is What Empowerment Looks Like” at Microsoft’s 7th Annual Ability Summit — a conversation about promising new developments in accessible technology.

The purpose of the summit was threefold: to promote universal design in technology products; to continue to foster an internal culture of inclusion and accessibility at Microsoft; and to be accountable to the company’s ambitious product accessibility goals. Microsoft’s inclusion initiative complements the Lt. Governor’s efforts to improve employment opportunities for disabled Washingtonians, a major priority of the office.

Joining the Lt. Governor in the panel discussion was Jennison Asuncion, an Engineering Manager leading the LinkedIn accessibility team, Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Emma Lawton, a designer diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and the inspiration for Project Emma. Emma’s story was a prime example of the collaboration possible between advocates and tech leaders. As a designer, careful hand control for drawing was crucial to Emma’s career – but following the onset of Parkinson’s, she had trouble drawing a steady line. After hearing Emma’s story, Haiyan Zhang worked with her team at Microsoft to create a wearable, watch-like device, which short-circuits the feedback loop between the hand and the brain, thereby allowing Emma to write again.

The Lt. Governor highlighted the importance of universal and inclusive design in technology products by discussing his own growth from child to adult alongside ever-changing technology: first MS-DOS, then the point-and-click mouse; phone keyboards, and then touchscreens. While some of these technologies were created with accessibility in mind, many were not. Speaking to Microsoft products specifically, the Lt. Governor explained that he has to use additional assistive software in order to use Microsoft products, including Windows.

The Lt. Governor concluded the discussion with a challenge to the tech leaders in the room: create inclusive products, and disrupt the markets in which they may thrive. Like so many innovations in technology, he said, accommodations made will benefit users far beyond the specific population in mind.