Microsoft celebrates “hackers” with release of new book as annual Hackathon begins

Laurent Giret

Microsoft is kicking off today its One Week Hackathon, the largest private hackaton in the world where Microsoft employees will try to find new ideas to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems. For the fifth edition of the annual event, participants will be given a new book, “The Ability Hacks,” which looks back at how two hackaton teams created new technology to empower people with disabilities (you can download the PDF here).

Back in 2014, the Ability EyeGaze hack team heard about an email from Steve Gleason, a former NFL player suffering from a neuromuscular disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gleason wanted to challenge Microsoft employees to find a way to allow him to control his wheelchair with his eyes. Following a long and difficult journey, the Ability EyeGaze Hack team succeeded and the accessibility project eventually made its way to Windows 10 last year.

The EyeGaze team (Photo by Scott Eklund, Red Box Pictures).

The book also chronicles the accessibility project from the Learning Tools hack team, which initially aimed to help students with dyslexia learn how to read it. The project soon changed scope to also help people with dysgraphia, ADHD, English language learners and emerging readers, and Learning Tools has since become integrated into Office and Microsoft Edge.

“Back in 2014, we had 10 ability hack projects, last year we had 150 projects and 850 people, and this year – well, it’s going to be exciting to see, said Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft. “We hope this book, and the journeys these teams have been on, can help spark a conversation about the transformative power of technology, and encourage engineers and developers to build the next wave of inclusive technology,” she added.