From the CEO: Lessons from Microsoft

Truth be told, I am a Steeler football fan, so this year’s Super Bowl had little draw for me. But I watched anyway because the commercials and game would be the conversation on Monday. There was one commercial that stood out.

It was an ad that featured Owen. Owen has Escobar Syndrome, an inherited disease resulting in joint contractures and impaired muscle movement. He and others with upper extremity deformities were shown enjoying the world of video games.

I love that Microsoft developed an adaptive controller ($99.99). Millions of people saw that commercial and likely thought “what an innovative and empathic company”. I admit I got tears in my eyes.

After that commercial, I did research about Microsoft. They have a Disability Answer desk! Assistive technology is so critical for those with differing abilities. There are good videos to provide additional support. I learned that gamers with disabilities helped design the new adaptive controller. They even eliminated some of the difficult packaging (twist ties, hard plastic zip ties, etc) to ensure that gamers with limited mobility could be able to easily access the device without the need for help!

But my thoughts went another way when I watched that ad. I didn’t think of Microsoft. I didn’t think of Owen. I didn’t think of the other children shown who gleefully used that adaptive controller in order to be competitive. I thought of all of their friends.

We saw all of those kids who played with Owen and the other profiled children. Either on their own or with encouragement of others, they celebrated Owen being able to competitively play with them. In the commercial, those were Owen’s real life friends- not actors.

Microsoft also supports Unified Robotic teams in partnership with Special Olympics where kids interested in STEM fields are partnered with a Special Olympic athlete for team competition. For many of those STEM students that robotic design competition may be their first opportunity to really share time with a student with special needs.

If you are a parent of a child without disabilities, are you encouraging your children to be a part of unified teams at their schools? Are your children friends with others of differing abilities? I would hope that you are talking with them about our differences and similarities.

Through that Unified Robotics program, kids get first-hand experience getting to know kids with differing abilities. One quote on Microsoft’s blog: “These other kids saw somebody who had worked so hard at something they take for granted…It impacted them so much. They learned about tenacity.”  Give your child those opportunities to meet Owen and the many other kids who want to play.

When everybody plays, we all win.