The Ability Hacks

by Greg Shaw, Peter Lee, Jenny Lay-Flurrie

Two hackathon teams, and the tech they built to empower people with disabilities.

The Ability Hacks is the story of two Microsoft hackathon teams, one in the summer of 2014 and one the following summer of 2015. The first would pioneer new software to revolutionize the mobility of tens of thousands of people who live with severe paralysis caused by ALS, Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy and traumatic neurological injuries. The second team would pioneer software to help kids with dyslexia read and love learning for the first time in their lives. This is the story of two small groups of driven, focused and passionate software engineers, program managers, marketers and advocates. It’s the story of realizing the transformative power of technology for people with disabilities, not just for traditional consumer and industrial markets. It’s the story of doing something truly great—improving outcomes for everyone, discovering a design ethos and blazing a new trail for accessibility.

More than one billion people around the world live with a disability of some kind, and it’s estimated two-thirds of us know someone with a disability. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, and those who survive to old age will experience increasing difficulties in functioning, according to the World Health Organization. This book explores an optimistic belief that computer software and hardware can empower people with disabilities in a multitude of scenarios. As one engineer interviewed for The Ability Hacks said, “It’s not about the technology. It’s about the people.”

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