"Rise with Us" is the theme of this year's Special Olympics USA Games and is also Microsoft's Vice President Brad Smith's petition to Seattle residents and the global community to make this year's event the most inclusive to date.
Inclusion is a shared mission between Microsoft, one of the world's largest technology companies and the Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for individuals with intellectual and other disabilities. The Special Olympics had humble beginnings as a backyard summer camp founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of former President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s. It is now a massive non-profit organization serving 5 million athletes in 170 countries, spanning 108,000 competitions with the support of thousands of volunteers.
Recording data, athlete performance, and medical and demographic information and more for such an endeavor is a massive challenge. That's why in 2014 Microsoft became the official Technology Partner for the Special Olympics. And this year that partnership reaches new heights as the two organizations common inclusion message receives special emphasis as Microsoft is the events presenting sponsor in its headquarters city of Seattle, Washington.
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Microsoft Cloud and the Special Olympics
Microsoft's technology has enhanced the data management for athlete care, medical information, athlete's personal bests, performance data and more. In fact, Special Olympics Senior Vice President, Lonnie Snyder said, "Microsoft's cloud has been critical to managing data that ultimately changed how the games were run. It also transformed how the athletes, who have a range of intellectual and physical disabilities, are cared for. "
The move of the Special Olympics Game Management System to Microsoft's Azure cloud platform has dramatically improved the system's efficiency. For instance, previously volunteers were required to take 500 pieces of paper with handwritten notes and type that data into the system. Now with updated Surface PCs and other tech, errors have been greatly reduced. Furthermore, Snyder said, "Now the back end is seamless, so it makes the front end really amazing. The focus is more on the athletes, not on the logistics of trying to make it happen, so the experience is better for everyone."
Clearly, this partnership enabled Microsoft to achieve its goal to provide the tools (Azure and Surface) to enable others (Special Olympics) to do more. Additionally, the technology's use allows all parties Special Olympic representatives and Microsoft to focus on the athletes and inclusion which is the common mission.
A city of inclusion
Smith, the honorary chairman of this year's USA Games is determined to ensure that the world realizes that this year's Special Olympics is about more than sports. The games will be the medium to communicate the mission for which they were formed and that Microsoft champions: inclusion.
Smith hopes to transform the city of Seattle into a city of inclusion this July when the games will begin. The entire scope of this Summers event is designed to incorporate everyone. For instance, 39 percent of competitors are participating in Unified Sports where the teams are comprised of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities. There will be youth-led initiatives and special events for the broader community as well.
With 50,000 expected spectators, Smith says that this summer's games will be one of the largest sporting events to ever come to Seattle. And as an effort toward inclusion Microsoft wants everyone's support.
How you can contribute
There are several ways that Smith says people can support this year's Special Olympics USA Games. Attending the opening ceremonies on July 1 at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium is one. There are also 10,000 volunteer positions needed to help these games succeed. Finally, cheering the athletes on as they compete in various sports across the region will convey a valuable show of support that may echo in the hearts and minds of the athletes long after the games have ended.
In fact, Microsoft's and the various inclusion efforts of the Special Olympics are encouraging cheers that are expressed to individuals with disabilities throughout the year. Our support by embracing inclusion and sharing the efforts of others is the message that Smith and others hope that we'll embrace. If we do, perhaps one day we can then expand from a city of inclusion to a world of inclusion.
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Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!