All posts by Shelly DeButts

Innovation Lab’s Ideas Impress

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Winning TeamThe Winning Team: 9’s Design

History was made last month at the the U.S. Business Leadership Network‘s massive national conference and expo. For the first time, a group of over 50 people with disabilities and 15 mentors came together on teams competing to present innovative ideas to some of the most influential companies in the U.S. The competition was part of an Innovation Lab, a concept rolled out by UCP’s Life Labs initiative to foster innovation through the principles of Universal Design.

Two weeks prior to the event, the teams started getting to know each other and swapping ideas online. By the day of the event in Austin, TX, many teams were ready to dive right in.  They brainstormed how to pitch their ideas and solve problems, tapping into the insights of the many mentors circulating around their tables in their conference room. After two days of hard work, they were ready to show off their fast-tracked innovations at the USBLN Expo Hall, where corporate leaders, potential investors, and possibly future employers roamed around the various exhibits.

Innovation Lab Team at WorkBrainstorming at UCP’s Innovation Lab

Expo attendees then voted on their favorite innovations and the top two teams were selected to pitch their ideas, “Shark Tank” style, at the conference’s closing plenary session. A panel of distinguished judges including Aaron Bangor, Lead Accessible Technology Architect at AT&T, Paulette Jagers, VP & Managing Director of Talent Management at BMO Harris Bank and Stacy L. Zoern, President of Kenguru, Inc., which makes accessible cars. Each judge is a business leader with a disability.

2nd Place Team My EarsUSBLN Expo Hall Presentation

The winning team, as selected by the judges, named themselves 9’s Design. They pitched an idea to innovate upon the typical fobs and key cards are used now to identify workers going in and out of buildings and gaining access to secure areas. The team’s idea was to make a hands-free wearable device that would be easier to use for people with disabilities – instead of having to swipe or touch the device to a scanner next to a door, a scanner would be able to pick up the embedded information as the person wearing the device got close enough.

To make this innovation truly universal, the team envisioned other information being transmitted by the device and a universal system of scanners which could not only pick up information such as whether or not an employee had permission to enter a building, but possibly personal information which could help first responders help the person in an emergency or eliminate the need to pull traditional ID’s like driver’s licenses out of wallets or purses.

“People with disabilities are overwhelmingly vulnerable when it comes to emergency preparedness, so when we were tasked with solving a common workplace problem, emergency evacuations seemed the most logical problem to tackle,” said Tailor Dortona of the winning team. “The security applicability of the device was inspired by the necessity to create something that ALL people would have a reason to wear, no matter their disability status. Having just ended an appointment with the U.S. Department of Navy, incorporating RFID chip technology into our wearable safety medallion seemed the best way to make our creation status quo while simultaneously promoting independence and increasing worker productivity.”

Second place team, My Ears, focused on a digital CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) application for smart phones.

USBLN Innovation Lab

“We were so happy with this event and with the enthusiasm and hard work of the participants,” said Gabriel Forsythe y Korzeniewicz, Program Manager of UCP’s Life Labs. “We hope this was an experience they can take with them and apply to all aspects of their profession and creative lives.”


The Winning Team: 9’s Design

  • Joseph Uvalle
  • Jewel Melvin
  • Kathleen Uva
  • Paul Alan Williams
  • Tailor Dortona
  • Benjamin Griffiths
  • Kevin Kundiger


  • Elizabeth O’Neal
  • Marcus Tuck

A special thanks to Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, and their Director, Kevin Webb for serving as MC for the “Shark Tank”- style presentation rounds!

UCP’s Life Labs Receives Motorola Solutions Foundation Innovation Generation Grant

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United Cerebral Palsy has received a grant for $20,000 as part of the “Innovation Generation Grant” program from the Motorola Solutions Foundation, the charitable arm of Motorola Solutions, Inc. Through the grant, UCP’s Life Labs initiative will distribute universal design curriculum modules through iTunes U and offer an immersive two-day design challenge, called an Innovation Lab, to engage students across disciplines in human centered design concepts.

Demonstrating a Prototype

The Innovation Generation program awards organizations such as UCP that foster and support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives for teachers and U.S. preschool through university students – especially girls and underrepresented minorities, such as people with disabilities.

“It’s amazing to watch people who participate in an Innovation Lab leave with a greater understanding of the challenges that people with disabilities face and a new confidence that they can participate in solving some of those challenges,” said Josef Scarantino, Acting Director of UCP’s Life Labs. “This program has the power to change career trajectories and open up a new worlds of creativity and innovation.”IMG_5334 (Large)

After several successful Innovation Lab events in 2014 and 2015, UCP’s Life Labs shaped the Innovation Lab into a curriculum, which can easily be adapted to any school degree program. Utilizing Apple’s iTunes U education content platform, UCP’s Life Labs plans to build a large national presence of students and open the curriculum to outside academic and industry collaboration. The curriculum and Innovation Lab events will be made available to UCP’s network of eighty affiliates through a toolkit that combines all the necessary resources.

The Motorola Solutions Foundation grant program overall will impact about 900,000 students and teachers, each receiving an average of 100 programming hours from our partner non-profit organizations and institutions. Programs will support special populations including girls and women, underrepresented minorities, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, people with disabilities and the military.

“The Motorola Solutions Foundation created the Innovation Generation Grant program eight years ago to support educational experiences that spark students to turn their dreams into the innovations that will shape our society’s future,” said Matt Blakely, director of the Motorola Solutions Foundation. “Organizations like UCP are teaching tomorrow’s leaders that careers in engineering and technology are not only fun, but also within their reach.”

For additional information on the Motorola Solutions Foundation grants programs, visit: and for more information on UCP please visit


About Motorola Solutions Foundation

The Motorola Solutions Foundation is the charitable and philanthropic arm of Motorola Solutions. With employees located around the globe, Motorola Solutions seeks to benefit the communities where it operates. The company achieves this by making strategic grants, forging strong community partnerships and fostering innovation. The Motorola Solutions Foundation focuses its funding on public safety, disaster relief, employee programs and education, especially science, technology, engineering and math programming. For more information on Motorola Solutions Corporate and Foundation giving, visit our website:

Innovation Lab Gives Birth to Diverse Ideas

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UCP’s Life Labs initiative held its first Innovation Lab last week in Chicago at Microsoft’s midwest technology headquarters, bringing out the most diverse and inclusive group of participants to date. In addition to many designers, engineers, technologists and other professionals, the event included our youngest-ever participant (age 12) and likely our oldest-ever participant (age 95). Several groups of Chicago Public School students with intellectual and developmental disabilities participated as part of their post-secondary employment training program. Plus, several participants with disabilities joined in from UCP Seguin, an affiliate organization of UCP in Chicago.

Running on CaffieneParticipants brainstorming their ideas.

Chief Technologist for Microsoft’s Midwest District, Paul Edlund, gave one of the lightning talks, which was a highlight for many at Innovation Lab. Edlund is the driving force behind Microsoft’s Hololens, a fully untethered, see- through, holographic computer.

Demonstrating a PrototypeParticipants demonstrating a prototype of their design.

In addition to being co-hosted by the Smart Chicago Collaborative, a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology, the Innovation Lab received support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, Microsoft and Level Office, a co-working space.

Find Out More About Innovation Lab and UCP

Microsoft’s Shelly Stern Gatch Interviews Marc Irlandez (VIDEO)

And The Winner’s Are…
After two days of intense ideation and innovation, including exercises to help build empathy among participants without disabilities and several rounds of rapid reports on each teams progress, a select panel of judges put the teams through a full presentation and question and answer session.
Presentation Stage 2A team presentation.
This year’s judges included:
  • Erin Simpson, Civic Tech Fellow, Microsoft
  • Jane Markham, Vice President, AT & T
  • and Richard Ellenson, CEO, Cerebral Palsy International Research Foundation (CPIRF)
Innovation Lab JudgesInnovation Lab Judges: Jane Markham (left), Richard Ellenson (center) and Erin Simpson.


Ultimately, the judges chose Team Wheelhouse with their idea for “”, a crowd-sourced, searchable information resource with information organized by activities and easily accessible through icons and simplified logic. Broad topics lead to more specific topics and are cross referenced with the most popular questions and answers along with related information. The winning team members included: Melissa Zlatow, Hugo DeGentile, Zain Adhami, Katherine Thurston, Miriam Guerrero and Michael T. Simpson.
In addition to the judges choice, the participants were given the opportunity to vote on their favorite project, which resulted in the People’s Choice award. Team Crazy Eights won over the crowd with their idea for “PorTable,” a flexible, portable, lightweight personal table for people who can’t be accommodated at standard size table (as they are either too tall or too short, or mobility devices can’t fit under the table). Team members included: Steve Luker, Jan Preble, Lukasz Grzybek, Cheryl Chen, Neha Singhal, Jackie DeThorne, Tara Havlicek, Ron Busse.
IMG_4084Innovation Lab winners, Team Wheelhouse, hard at work on
PorTable PresentationTeam Crazy Eights, giving their presentation for their design PorTable.


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Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

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The following post from Microsoft Chicago’s director and community advocate Shelley Stern Grach first appeared on on April 23. United Cerebral Palsy’s Life Labs initiative is hosting it’s first Innovation Lab at Microsoft‘s Technology Center in Chicago May 19-20. Find out more about the event and how you can be a part of this intense two-day design challenge at


How many of you are aware that 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act?

I wasn’t until a few months ago, when I received  a call from United Cerebral Palsy. They were interested in hosting a hackathon for 100 people in May, and were looking for space to hold the hackathon. Fortunately, the Microsoft Technology & Innovation Center is ADA-compliant, and we are now thrilled to be hosting this wonderful program on May 19-20, when developers will be creating apps to help people with disabilities. At about the same time, I received a call from Chicago Public Schools to see if we could host a job shadow day for CPS students with disabilities. Those two calls sparked my interest, and  I also started to pay more attention to ADA 25 and to how meaningful technology can be to those who have a disability. To recognize and celebrate the important strides for people with disabilities, 2015 will be celebrating ADA 25 all year long and Chicago will be celebrating ADA 25 Chicago. This blog is the first in a series recognizing ADA 25 and its impact.

Our mission and social responsibility at Microsoft is to enable people throughout the world to realize their full potential with technology. To that end, we invested in creating an environment that capitalizes on the diversity of our people, and the inclusion of ideas and solutions, that meets the needs of our increasingly global and diverse customer base.

And that means developing technology that is accessible to anyone – regardless of age or ability. Technology has the potential to become our sixth sense.

People with disabilities are among the most marginalized groups in the world. People with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.

Microsoft has a long history and commitment to accessibility. For more than 25 years, Microsoft has focused on creating technologies that make devices easier to use for individuals with a wide array of difficulties and impairments. Microsoft has listened, gained insights, and applied what it’s learned. The result is an increasing momentum toward the goal of making devices accessible and useful to all people. Today we empower hundreds of millions of people of all abilities around the world to use technology to enter the workforce, stay connected with friends and family, get things done and take full advantage of a digital lifestyle. We’ll spend more time in May looking at how apps can positively impact the lives of people with disabilities.

Today, I want to share with you how impressed I am with the teachers and students at CPS who visited us last week.

Making Technology Accessible for EveryoneLet’s start with CPS teachers like James Taylor. First, you just have to love his name! But more importantly, James spends his time focusing on all the students with disabilities at CPS, and one small part of his day is putting together field trips for the students to businesses, so the students can experience the corporate world. Originally, James thought we would have 2 or 3 students sign up. We had 27! Everyone arrived early and we began our day with a wonderful presentation by Paul Edlund, Chief Technology Officer – Microsoft Midwest, about the future of technology. It was a highly interactive session, with lots of questions and student engagement.

We then had a full tour of the Microsoft Technology & Innovation Center, led by Beth Malloy, Director, Microsoft Technology Center – Chicago and Bradley Trovillion, Technical Solutions Architect. The students examined our Internet of Things Fishtank, played Xbox and used the Kinect to understand motion capture of movement and worked real time on our PPI.

Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

After lunch, we had a terrific presentation via Skype by Patrick Maher, Director of Civic Engagement, SPR Consulting. SPR is a Microsoft Partner and Pat suffered a spinal cord injury during college. In addition to his very motivational personal story, Pat emphasized the great opportunities for careers in technology for people with disabilities. Pat runs a meet up group called ITKAN, which supports people with disabilities in the Technology field.

Making Technology Accessible for Everyone

He also showed an amazing video which I highly recommend:


To learn more about Microsoft’s investment in accessibility, see how our products have built-in accessibility features.

Innovation Lab Design Challenge Coming to Chicago in May

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United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) Life Labs initiative will bring an intensive, two-day design challenge called an Innovation Lab to Chicago May 19-20, 2015. Following successful events in London, Washington DC, and Sydney, Australia, the Innovation Lab (formerly called Enabled by Design-athon) brings together people from all walks of life under the principles of Universal Design to dream up the next big idea for people with and without disabilities

.Innovation Lab Header

At each Innovation Lab, this diversity of talent from a variety of fields is coached to use human-centered Universal Design concepts to solve every day problems as part of a competitive yet collaborative design challenge for team prizes. Designers, engineers, inventors, makers and hackers as well as professionals and caregivers in the disability field are all encouraged to contribute their unique perspectives to the process.

IMG_5911-3084068609-O (4)Innovation Lab Featured Speaker Paul Edlund – Microsoft Core Technologies Chief Technologist

The inaugural Innovation Lab scheduled for Chicago will take place at the Microsoft Technology Center and will be co-hosted by Smart Chicago. Smart Chicago is a civic organization devoted to improving lives in Chicago through technology by increasing access to the Internet, improving skills for using Internet, and developing meaningful products from data that measurably contribute to the quality of life of residents in the region and beyond.

“Here at Microsoft we are focused on improving the lives of citizens through technology,” said Shelley Stern Grach, Director of Civic Engagement at Microsoft. “The Innovation Lab focuses on the principles of design to provide opportunity and access to technology for diverse communities, and we’re excited to see what the teams come up with.”

Teams will design and build prototypes or present plans that demonstrate how products can rapidly be created to better fit with people’s lives and needs, no matter what those need may be. UCP’s Life Labs is intent on creating a movement of accessibility for the masses so that mainstream products work for as many people as possible, including those with disabilities and older people. The Innovation Lab events are meant to challenge preconceptions of assistive equipment, showing how products can be personalized, purposeful and beautifully designed too.

“Rather than continuing to retrofit our world to accommodate people with disabilities, there’s no reason why we can’t design our world to work for people of all abilities,” said Marc Irlandez, Director of UCP’s Life Labs.

Registration is now open at Space is limited.


Co-hosted by:

Life Labs Logo  smart-chicago-collaborative-logo-1024x269


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Young Inventor Focuses on People with Disabilities

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Srijay KatsuriAt 14 years old, Srijay Kasturi was the youngest person ever to compete in the Enabled by Design-athon innovation challenge held last November by UCP’s Life Labs program. Along with his mother Sudhita, Srijay was on the winning team which came up with an idea for an app for people with autism. UCP was thrilled to discover that Sirjay was an inventor with another concept, called STRIDE, already in progress. Although he has no personal connection to disability, his creations have centered on the concept of helping people with disabilities better navigate, and as a result, participate in the world. In this interview, Srijay describes his motivations and the evolution of STRIDE for people with visual impairment.

UCP: When did you first realize you had an interest in innovating with technology?
I have no idea when I realized I had an interest in innovating. My parents say that I have been thinking of creative solutions for day-to-day problems from a young age. One of my first innovations was around the age of 12, so about 2 years ago, and I’ve just been going since then!

UCP: What was your inspiration for STRIDE? Do you know someone with vision impairment?
No, unfortunately (or fortunately!) I don’t know anyone with vision impairment. STRIDE is really the evolution of one of my old(er) inventions, the Camera Centering Tripod Mount (CCTM). Once I finished my proof of concept for the CCTM, I submitted it to the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge where I, and the CCTM, were selected to be finalists in the competition. Once selected, I worked with a mentor from 3M, Dr. James Jonza, to develop the CCTM further. However, once I started working, my mentor and I discussed if there was a way for the CCTM to help more people… and from there, STRIDE ( was born. STRIDE eventually went on to win 3rd place in the competition, and well, the rest is history.


UCP: Tell us how it came to be and how you envision it working for people.

SRIJAY: I envision people using STRIDE in their everyday lives, 24/7. They put it on when they put on their shoes, and walk around all day using it. STRIDE alerts the user to any objects in their path. The closer the object the stronger the alert. One of the advantages of STRIDE is that if the user changes shoes they can move the device from one pair of shoes to another. STRIDE involved a lot of hard work, and a bunch of trial and error. They say to do anything, it takes 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration! This is definitely the case for STRIDE

UCP: Is this your first invention?

SRIJAY: Nope! STRIDE is based on an older invention of mine and shares a lot of the same ideas with said older invention. Since childhood my dad has encouraged me to think creatively and outside the box which has led to innovation and inventions.

UCP: What other areas of design and technology interest you? 

SRIJAY: Hmm… that’s a tough one. I love programming software, to the point that I used programming to finish an English class project – an innovative approach to English class! I love web-design, and I have created various dynamic websites using the Flask framework for the backend, and the Bootstrap framework for the frontend.

UCP: How did you hear about the November 2014 Enabled by Design-athon event?

SRIJAY: In March of 2014, there was a Mini Makers Faire, in Northern Virginia, near where I live. I was one of the Young Makers at the Faire and Mr. Patrick Timony from the D.C. Public Library stopped by my table to learn about STRIDE. Mr. Timony is their Adaptive Technology Librarian. He told me about the Design-athon and encouraged me to register.

2014 DesignathonUCP: What motivated you to want to attend?
When I realized that the aim of the Design-athon was to help people with disabilities, I realized that it would be a great event to go to, not only to help me understand what I needed to do with regards to STRIDE, but to meet other like-minded people, including the great people here at UCP! The event gave me a better understanding of the challenges faced by people who have disabilities and how many things we take for granted.

UCP: Tell us about your team, idea and experience at the event.
My team, called Stars at War, consisted of 8 people. We all came from various viewpoints, and different perspectives, so we each brought something unique to the table. Our idea was a product called Simplyfi. We learned that people with autism sometimes take take idioms literally. Simplyfi helps translate hard-to-understand idioms into simpler easy-to-understand straightforward English.

For example, if you say that the Design-athon was “a piece of cake”, a person with autism may think quite literally that the event was a piece of cake, while we’d understand that by a “piece of cake,” you really meant it was very easy. To help alleviate this problem, we built an app that defines these idioms, so that they can better understand the figurative language.

UCP: Are you interested in developing this idea further – possibly bringing it to market?

SRIJAY: Yes I am! There still is a lot of work that needs to be done for the programming of Simplyfi. However, I have been so busy developing STRIDE that I really have not had much time to focus on Simplyfi and finish programming it – but I do intend on finishing it sometime in the near future!

There is also a competition called DECA. For this event we have to write a marketing plan for a product and my partner and I decided to write a plan for Simplyfi. Here’s to hoping we move on to ICDC (International Career Development Conference)!

UCP: What is the status of your current project?
I decided to revamp STRIDE so it would better fit the needs and wants of the visually impaired. I would like it to be Bluetooth-enabled so access to building maps etc. via an app are available to users. For STRIDE to be more sleek, I am working on a hardware redesign using smaller components. I’m looking for advice in the fields of case-design and software to make the device more accurate and usable. I would also like to consult with a patent attorney and look into funding sources so I can take STRIDE to production. My goal is to have STRIDE ready for market by the end of the year. This of course, will mean getting some help in the area of marketing, if anyone wants to collaborate with me.

UCP: Do you collaborate with anyone on your ideas?
Yes! There are two amazing Facebook groups that I just love. The first is Hackathon Hackers (HH), a group of over 1000 people dedicated to helping others write programs and compete at hackathons. Also, I am a part of a Facebook group called High School Hackers (HSH). HSH was created for the sole purpose of getting high schoolers interested in programming, and attending hackathons. Aside from Facebook groups I am also heavily involved with a makers space in Reston called Nova Labs. Nova Labs is a great place full of people who are extremely knowledgeable about all kinds of things. In fact, I owe most of the success of STRIDE to Nova Labs, since I have learned so much from the mentors there!

UCP: Tell us more about your thoughts on open-source and why you would want to keep a part of this invention proprietary?
I believe that open-source is the future. Open-source projects basically allow for improved sharing of ideas, and allows for these ideas to help the most number of people. I decided to release enough of STRIDE for anyone to create it, but I am keeping enough of STRIDE proprietary so that I can still sell a unique product and have control over it’s pricing and future development.

UCP: What are your plans for the immediate future? Your career?
I am a freshman in highschool so a lot of my efforts are dedicated towards learning and doing well in school. I am also studying Sanskrit, an Indian language, learning to play the Mridangam, an Indian classical instrument, and I am a 2nd degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. In the immediate future I would love to take STRIDE to market. Making Simplyfi available as an easy to use Google chrome extension is another goal. I also want to pursue a career in filmmaking, so we’ll see how that goes…


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