Enabling Students of All Abilities to Realize Their Potential

Sharing my blog post on accessibility published today on the Microsoft On The Issues blog here...

Thirty-five years ago this week, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was signed into law, and the U.S. government  committed to “ensuring that children with disabilities have opportunities to develop their talents, share their gifts and contribute to their communities.” For more than 20 years, Microsoft has focused on making computers easier to use for individuals disabilities. During that time, we’ve seen many students with disabilities integrated into general classrooms and technology has become an essential part of learning for students of all abilities.
Today, educators are trying new ways of integrating technology into the classroom and looking for ways to help students of all learning styles and abilities. Microsoft’s education mission is to help students and educators throughout the world realize their full potential. We recognize that nearly every classroom has a student who has difficulty seeing the board, concentrating on their homework, or expressing their ideas. Those are some of the reasons that Microsoft builds accessibility features into our products, ensuring that all students have access to the best learning available and that can be enhanced through technology.
I have long believed in the power of technology to make a profound impact in education and I’ve been fortunate enough to see some amazing examples around the world where teachers are truly making magic happen for their students.  The examples that often most standout and illustrate the transformative potential of technology are those that use accessibility technology integration to empower and enrich the world of students that otherwise might have had an extremely difficult time communicating, collaborating or socializing with their peers.  Early in my career at Microsoft I supported work in hospitals and schools and saw the potential of this work first hand and it has long fueled my passion and recognition of this importance of this work.
All students benefit from being able to personalize the PC to suit their own learning styles and special needs. And, all students want to fit in and use the same technology their peers use.  Today’s PCs have accessibility features built in that enable students to use technology to enhance their learning but still fit in with their peers.  At Microsoft we published Accessibility: A Guide for Educators, which explains how students with disabilities can adjust the PC to enhance or enable learning. For those new to accessibility and working with a student with a disability, it can seem overwhelming. The guide explains types of disabilities and shows how to use the accessibility features in Microsoft Windows or how to find the right specialty assistive technology for a student with special needs.
Consider a student who has a great story idea but struggles to type – that student can tell their short story and have it captured in text using Speech Recognition. Or, a student who struggles to see their PC can magnify the screen with Magnifier or zoom in on a Web page when working on a research project.
I’m inspired when I see educators throughout the world using technology in innovative ways to enhance learning for students with disabilities.  For example, a school in Thailand for students who are deaf is using a technology called Mouse Mischief, which lets the teacher share files with a group of students who each have their own personalized computing account. The students can interact with the presentation the teacher is showing, share files with one another, and collaborate in a whole new way. We are also seeing students with learning impairments and dyslexia who have found that OneNote helps them stay organized, take audio and text notes and check their spelling and grammar.
At Microsoft we understand our role and responsibility in helping ensure students of all abilities have equal access to learning. Too few people know how to use the accessibility features on their Windows PCs. In the spirit of the anniversary of the IDEA, I encourage you to help a student or educator you know by sharing information about accessibility. After all, every classroom has students of different abilities who can benefit from personalizing their PC to making it easier to see, hear, and learn.