August, 2010

  • Back to School: Making Sure Students with Disabilities Can See, Hear, and Use their PC

    For many parents and teachers, this time of year means preparing for back to school and looking forward to a new school year full of possibilities. Parents are busy making sure their children are ready and have the gear they need for school. Meanwhile educators are preparing their lessons and personalizing their classrooms for the students.

    While not on the traditional back-to-school checklist, making sure student technology is prepped for a student that has a learning or physical disability is worth remembering. Whether you are a parent, educator or both – you understand the challenge of supporting students with different learning styles. When a student has a disability, supporting their educational success includes making sure their PC is comfortable to see, hear, and use.

    At Microsoft we have published Accessibility: A Guide for Educators which explains to educators and parents how to make sure students with disabilities can comfortably see, hear, and use their PC to enhance their learning. For those new to accessibility and working with a child with a disability, accessibility can seem overwhelming. The guide explains types of disabilities and possible accessibility solutions and products, including walking you through how to use the accessibility features and program that come with Microsoft Windows.

    As schools encourage students to use technology to acquire new skills, parents and schools have a responsibility to provide accessible technology that can be personalized for each student’s needs. We at Microsoft take that responsibility seriously and want to help parents and teachers understand how to make sure students with disabilities have equal access to learning.

    Too few people know about the accessibility features and programs that built into their Windows computers. I encourage you to share this information with the parent of child with a disability or a teacher you know. After all, nearly all of us know someone with a disability.

     

    LaDeana Huyler, Senior Product Manager for Accessibility, Microsoft

    LaDeana is passionate about increasing awareness about accessibility, especially for children with disabilities. For more than ten years, she’s worked on accessibility at Microsoft including publishing the Microsoft Accessibility Web site.

  • How software brings deep sea archaeology into the living room

    Working at Microsoft, I’m fully aware of the amazing things that people can do with technology and the impact that it can have, but every now and then, my knowledge is taken to new depths – literally!

    The Octopus Deep-Sea Archeology Research Association has a long history of successful discoveries of treasures hidden deep in the ocean. They have identified and explored several shipwrecks in different regions. During these projects there is a huge amount of data and images created, but until recently, they had not figured out how to effectively manage all this information. 

    When members of the Octopus Association first contacted Microsoft, they asked for a donation of Windows Server 2003. However, after assessing their needs and seeing the sheer volume of photos, videos and data that they had to handle, we quickly realized that there were other ways that Microsoft technology could help. Following a number of additional meetings to better understand their specific requirements, Microsoft Hungary donated software valued at over $30,000, featuring products such as SharePoint, Silverlight and Photosynth.

    Along with the software, we worked with the Association to use technology that could bring the work of the archeologists into the living room of people everywhere. One of the most spectacular solutions that the Octopus Association are using is Photosynth, which enables them to combine different photos of an object to produce a 3D image. Below you can see two interesting examples. One showcases a wine bottle, the other one a sculpture, both on the exact location where they were found. Click on the images to view the Photosynth.

    Besides photos, the Octopus Association discovered that videos could be shared as well, using Microsoft Silverlight technology. These interactive multimedia elements will be introduced in a virtual online museum that is planned to be launched within a year. The museum will use embedded accessibility tools to ensure that the visually impaired can experience their work also.

    Helping to share the results of the Association’s discoveries with a wider audience is only a small fraction of our support of the Octopus Association. One of the most important changes was helping them to transfer their organization's portal to SharePoint, since this technology is ideal for collecting and sharing data created at geographically disparate locations, which is of course regular practice in the Association’s work.  

    Moreover, through some help from Microsoft's system engineers, the IT manager of Octopus created a solution to enhance the transfer of information on new finds to historians, archaeologists and researchers involved in the projects, all over the world.

    Using SharePoint has made research administration very efficient, as opposed to the former, paper based solution, making tasks such as bulk inquiries and filters much more efficient.   Not only are archaeological records entered into the database, but divers' logs are linked to these data.  In the case of any potential deviations, the system initiates an alarm.  The software can calculate this by comparing current and historic data, and is able to alarm the team leader in time, before any issue might arise.

    Members of Octopus also exploit the advantages of Windows 7's security functions.  The Association’s IT manager is a big fan of Windows 7 networking, search, data management and display functionality.  He believes that the management of data communications is significantly faster in Windows 7, while less user interaction is required for frequently used functions.

    Because our Microsoft team closely follows the Association, to provide technical and professional assistance, I have managed to learn a great deal about their work.  I’m proud and pleased to have experienced the excitement of working on this project and amazed once again to learn that there are a vast number of creative ways to use Microsoft's technologies.  This gives new meaning to my understanding of Unlimited Potential and where we might go from here.

    Bernadette Szilagyi

    Microsoft Hungary Unlimited Potential Program manager

  • More public awareness needed of the devastation in Pakistan

    The floods in Pakistan have caused devastation of an unprecedented scale. A huge swath of the country is submerged under water and we are seeing millions of people suffering. The number of people impacted is of a scale not seen before.

    The world is watching, learning more, and realizing the scope and enormity of the problems caused by the seemingly ceaseless rains. UN Secretary General Ban KI Moon has described the devastation as something he has never seen before. Many organizations in the relief and development community are bracing for another disaster to unfold due to lack of food, drinking water and safe places for people. There is not yet as high a toll on human life as there was earlier this year in Haiti, but if disease begins to spread rapidly the consequences may be much more severe.

    “Tens of thousands of Pakistanis displaced by the floods are now infected by water borne illnesses, like the potentially fatal cholera” – Jim Sciutto of ABC News reported from the flood zone, highlighting the new danger facing the already battered nation.

    News agencies are now starting to report out on the disaster that continues to unfold around them. The calls for help are getting louder. In Pakistan, many in the middle class are taking matters in their own hands to deliver relief to people in need wherever they can. Five of our employees in the Microsoft office in Islamabad jumped in to help by collecting food, supplies and quickly raising funds to acquire supplies. Driving a truck they set out for Nowshera, a town one hour northwest of Islamabad, but closed roads and mud turned it into a three-hour trip. About 15,000 people had taken shelter on high ground there, and the employees enlisted help from some of the town's elders to distribute the boxes of supplies. What they saw and experienced was shocking: there was complete and utter devastation; there are hundreds of similar stories where ordinary people – doctors, office workers, and other professionals – are setting out to provide help where no help is coming from elsewhere.

     

    Shoaib Khalil (second from left), marketing lead for Microsoft Pakistan, was one of five colleagues who took employee-donated food, water, and supplies to a flood-ravaged town an hour outside of Islamabad.


    The rains continue and flooding has not yet receded. The impact is now being felt beyond the north-south band in the center of the country which is flooded. The country's main oil refinery is flooded, and power plants have been forced to shut down. There is no fuel or electricity in flooded areas, and bigger cities now have a daily six-hour blackout to conserve energy.

    The international community and all of us must step up now and help. Aid response has been slower than previous incidents as the enormity of the tragedy is just now becoming clearer.

    At Microsoft, our employees in Pakistan and around the world are stepping up to help out: Microsoft and its employees have donated over $300,000 to relief organizations doing work in Pakistan.

    Microsoft has also been helping to raise awareness of the disaster through its online properties such as MSN, Bing, and our corporate citizenship site, but more needs to done by all of us.

    The U.S. State Department has announced a Pakistan Fund to which people can donate you can find about the text ‘SWAT’ to 50555” campaign here. Mercy Corps and International Rescue Committee are two organizations that have a long history and strong presence in Pakistan. The Pakistani community in America has also stepped up and is trying to mobilize support.

    If you are looking for organizations facilitating aid response, www.pakistaniat.com has a list of organizations that are undertaking relief efforts in Pakistan.

    As the suffering of millions continue, a sustained effort is needed by the international community and global citizens are needed to raise public awareness and help rebuild the lives of flood victims, particularly the millions in need of immediate humanitarian aid.

  • A Closer Look at the Nonprofit IT Pyramid: Part 3

    It seems like such a long time since we blogged about how *abz Austria was able to use technology (specifically, CRM) to optimize their service delivery to jobseekers in Austria (in real time, it was only about two weeks ago, but – in social media time – that feels like eons ago!). Are you ready to summit this Nonprofit IT Pyramid? It’s that time! To continue our 4-part post on the simple IT planning framework we call “The Pyramid”, let’s look at an example of how the innovative application of technology can transform how we address pressing social issues.

    Transform through Innovative Technology

    The top of the pyramid can feel like the trickiest level, but it can also produce some of the most astounding results (as Akhtar said in his recent post, it’s where we go from transactional to transformational use of IT). At this level, IT solutions empower organizations to deliver services in new or different ways. IT becomes a strategic investment that adds significant value and truly helps address big, hairy, real-world problems.

    Technologies or innovations at this level include things like handheld devices for data collection, Geographic Information Systems (“GIS”) or mapping systems that help visualize data, mobile phone-enabled solutions, or new and custom web technologies or software applications, often sector-specific. Since transformative IT solutions have a reputation for requiring lots of IT expertise and/or serious up-front cash to implement, this is historically the most difficult level for organizations to achieve.

    Still, the top of the pyramid is important to all nonprofits, even those that don’t feel they’re anywhere near it yet. Keeping an eye on the innovations at the top of the pyramid could be what inspires your own transformative technology solution. Or, you may come across a transformational solution from a sister organization that you could replicate, such as the mobile solutions Hilmi Quraishi has created to help with mass healthcare communications in India.

    Using mobile technology to combat tuberculosis in India

    Hilmi Quraishi, selected by Ashoka and The Lemelson Foundation as a leading inventor-entrepreneur, is changing the way the world delivers important public health messages. Keenly aware that tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of death in India, Quraishi sought ways to use technology to change the status quo. With 70 percent of India’s population in rural areas with little access to information, Quraishi needed to think beyond the existing “old-school” mass communications systems to enable people to more actively participate in their own healthcare. He set out to deliver TB awareness information to a generation of tech-savvy consumers with top notch, interactive, mobile phone games.

    Innovating on existing solutions, Quraishi adapted mobile technology solutions and gaming platforms for a mass health awareness campaign. His solutions include educational games and training delivered through a standard mobile phone, as well as new management and tracking systems connecting mobile end points with centralized systems.

    Quraishi’s games have now tracked more than 12 million sessions in South Asia and Africa. Users find the games a more accessible (and addictive!) way to learn about tuberculosis. And with the pervasiveness of mobile phones – even in rural areas – the critical information reaches a much broader audience in a more engaging way (over 33 million people in six languages to be exact!). Quraishi is not only changing outcomes through a transformative solution, but his concept is replicable and scalable as mobile phones become increasingly affordable and prevalent in the developing world. And as one of the first 25 participants in the new Ashoka Globalizer program, Quraishi is actively working with other global entrepreneurs to extend this innovative model around the world.

    From Transactional to Transformational

    Quraishi’s example of using technologies to literally change the game of how we address social challenges is what gets us excited about technology. It’s not the technology itself, but the impact it can have on our communities and our world that really gets our geek-motors running. And, while we can’t all be at the top of pyramid all the time, understanding the potential of technology to transform our work may be just the kick in the pants we need to start (or keep) climbing.

    To learn more about Hilmi Quraishi’s technology-enable initiative to combat tuberculosis, watch his short video at http://bit.ly/tbvideo. And to see how all levels of the pyramid are interconnected, come back for our final post in the series, in which we’ll follow one organization’s journey from the bottom to the top of the IT Pyramid. Till then, happy climbing!

    Part One in this series available here.
    Part Two in this series available here.

    Lindsay Bealko helps Microsoft Community Affairs put technology know-how in the hands of nonprofits through resources like webinars, NGO Connection Days, and software donations. With several years’ experience in the nonprofit sector, Lindsay understands the unique challenges and opportunities nonprofits face when trying to adopt technology to help them meet their missions. She tweets (sometimes) at @linzbilks.

  • A Closer Look at the Nonprofit IT Pyramid: A framework love story in 4 parts (Part Deux)

    Last week, we shared a closer look at the foundation of the Nonprofit IT Pyramid, Access to Stable & Secure IT. To continue the biopic on our favorite framework, let’s take a look at an organization using IT at the second level of the pyramid, Optimize Service Delivery.

    Optimize Service Delivery

    Access to stable and secure technology is essential, but it is just the foundation upon which you can begin to use technology to expand your organization’s service delivery and community impact. In other words, it enables you to start doing really cool, mission-centric things with IT.

    At the “Optimize” level, nonprofits use databases and relationship management software, collaboration and engagement tools, social media and fundraising solutions to help them become “bigger, stronger, faster.” (Or, in nonprofit terms, able to serve more clients with better services in a more efficient and effective way.) At this level, not only does your organization have access to the IT tools it needs, but it is savvy in how it deploys those tools to serve clients, integrate services, share institutional knowledge, and strengthen relationships with key stakeholders.

    As abz* Austria illustrates, IT at this level is a business enabler and is increasingly an investment in mission, not just an infrastructure cost.

    abz* Austria uses CRM software to match more women with jobs

    abz* Austria is Austria’s leading women’s organization, and serves more than 3,000 women each year with career coaching, job orientation courses, and IT training to help them develop valuable skills sought by employers. Their long-term vision is to achieve gender equality in the labor market in Austria, but – as their client base grew – abz* faced near-term challenges. A majority of its employer contact information and trainee data were recorded on paper, which made coordinating service delivery ineffective and cumbersome. abz* realized its paper-based process of matching trainees with job opportunities had to go. It was not only limiting their growth, but it was also hampering the quality and professionalism of service they could offer to trainees and employers.

    With their sights set on improved data management and service delivery processes, abz* implemented Client Relationship Management (CRM) software, allowing the organization to create one central database of current and past trainees, employers and jobs, and volunteer trainers. No more rifling through paper files, duplicate records, and walls of filing cabinets. The CRM system allowed them to quickly and easily index and sort the skills and certifications of thousands of trainees to help them find suitable employment opportunities. Now, abz* can get important information and job opportunities out to its trainees more efficiently, and can better identify quality matches between candidates and jobs. They are even able to better schedule and deploy their bench of volunteer trainers. The use of CRM allowed the organization to optimize its existing method of service delivery and to expand the reach of its services to more women in Austria.

    “Having a database enables far more professional work,” said Daniela Schallert, the Executive Director of abz* Austria. Not only that, but now Daniela can demonstrate to her board the connection between technology and mission. The investment in CRM was an investment in effective program delivery with a direct impact on the organization’s ability to meet its mission.

    Now that’s what we call optimizing service delivery.

    More, more, more!

    Watch the *abz video to hear directly from staff the impact CRM had on their service delivery. And come again next week - we'll look at how technology at the top of the pyramid can transform the way nonprofits take on social challenges.

    As you make your way through this 4-part series, we hope the pyramid becomes an increasingly helpful framework to guide your own organization’s IT planning and discussions. It’s simple, but we think that’s what makes it so darn useful. Leave a comment and let me know what you think: Does your organization speak “pyramid?” Have you taken on IT projects that improved your service delivery?

    You haven’t read the Nonprofit IT Pyramid paper yet? No wonder you're confused! Get the full story at http://bit.ly/npitpyramid

    Part One in this series available here.
    Part Three in this series available here.

    Lindsay Bealko helps Microsoft Community Affairs put technology know-how in the hands of nonprofits through resources like webinars, NGO Connection Days, and software donations. With several years’ experience in the nonprofit sector, Lindsay understands the unique challenges and opportunities nonprofits face when trying to adopt technology to help them meet their missions. She sometimes tweets at @linzbilks.

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