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Empowering people with disabilities requires investment and innovation

Our world faces huge and urgent challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic clearly illustrates. To meet those challenges, we need everyone, of all abilities, to be able to contribute their talent, ideas and effort to our collective endeavors, so I’m thrilled that the University of Washington is establishing the Center for Research and Education on Accessible Technology and Experiences (CREATE)  supported by a $2.5 million inaugural investment from Microsoft. Bringing together collaborators from multiple disciplines, CREATE will accelerate solutions that will make our world more accessible to people with disabilities

I had the pleasure of discussing the new center and the impetus for its creation as part of Microsoft’s annual Ability Summit, where I was joined by Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, and Jennifer Mankoff, professor in the Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering who will be CREATE’s co-director for research.

The UW is extremely well-suited to taking this leadership role in research to make the world more accessible, and as we reflect on the 30 years that have passed since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, the truth is that substantive change in this arena is long overdue. Technology has made incredible leaps in the last three decades, but innovation to empower and improve the lives of people with disabilities has not kept pace or been adequately resourced.

CREATE was conceived as a way to move past the incremental progress that has often characterized accessibility research into an era where we make true breakthroughs that will transform the way people with disabilities can interact with the world and vice versa. Its projects will reflect the interdisciplinary approach and mission of real-world impact that characterizes the work our students and faculty are most passionate about.

Microsoft’s generous support for this project is part of the company’s longstanding commitment to not only making technology to aid accessibility, but ensuring that people with disabilities are welcome and valued members of the workforce and culture. At the UW, we share these deeply embedded values and are proud to partner with Microsoft in this critical work.

Celebrating and honoring diversity is a core value at the UW because the impact we seek to have on the world depends on creating opportunities for all to contribute. With CREATE, we take another step forward toward realizing that ideal.