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Cecily Morrison – Inclusive Design is About Taking a Disability-first Approach

Nov 11, 2020Community, Events, Raising awareness, RAREfest, Research, Technology

Cecily Morrison is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge. She leads a multi-disciplinary team that innovates new technologies to enable people. Last month Cecily was awarded an MBE for services to inclusive design. She and her team are exhibiting at RAREfest20. More on that later, but first …

Microsoft logo

Congratulations on your MBE! How did that feel?

I was extremely pleased that inclusive design has been so clearly recognized. Inclusion is not a ‘nice-to-have’, it is essential for a diverse set of people to take part in society. I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to make technology, working with amazing teams, that supports people with their inclusion.

What does Microsoft in Cambridge do in terms of inclusive design?

Inclusive Design is a really good way to innovate. By working with those with unique perspectives, it can help a team think about a problem in a different way that can benefit all. Our team is currently focused on building AI tech to help people who are blind or low vision better understand who is in their immediate vicinity.

What kind of products do you work on and what difference do they make?

One of the products specifically mentioned in the MBE award was Code Jumper – a physical programming language for teaching the basics of coding and computational thinking to children ages 7 – 11, regardless of their level of vision. This came about after engaging with a community of young blind and low vision people in Cambridge, a community that my son is now part of.  Coding is a key part of our curriculum, but it isn’t accessible to those who are blind or low vision. We wanted to build something that would allow children who are blind or low vision to code alongside their sighted peers.

Read more about how Code Jumper started.

How does Microsoft work with people with accessibility challenges?

Microsoft believes in accessibility from the top down and the bottom up. Whether in research (like me) or in product, we work with people to understand their experiences now and in the future.

Melita Irving DNA Doc

Why is inclusive design important and why is it often difficult to get products adapted?

I believe that we need to take a disability-first approach, not disability-last. If it works for those with disabilities, it is much easier to make it work for the mainstream. We are moving into the next phase of AI tech and I would highly encourage those with disabilities to get involved in disability-first datasets, such as https://orbit.city.ac.uk/phase-2-data-collection/.

For technologies to reflect a diverse set of people, they must be trained on data of all of those people. Find out more here

https://blogs.microsoft.com/ai/shrinking-the-data-desert/

What can people expect from the Microsoft booth at RAREfest20?

We will be showing some of our tech and giving you the chance to try out inclusive design. Whether it’s a tool you can bring as a patient to groups you work with, or as a student who wants to approach the world in a more inclusive way, there will be something for you to learn.

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