When Laura Palmaro was 10 years old, she woke one morning to find that the central vision in her left eye had all but disappeared. She was not ill and had no genetic issues—it was completely out of the blue. When she was 14, the same rare condition struck her right eye, and she began her freshman year of high school legally blind. Suddenly she was forced to depend on other people to read everything aloud, from school assignments to menus. The toughest part, according to Laura, was losing her sense of independence—and not knowing when or how she would get it back.
Laura has since adopted technological solutions to her vision challenges, using a combination of screen-readers and magnification software to read, work and more. Now a program manager at Google, she is following her passion, helping Chrome and Chrome OS teams make their products more accessible. “Technology has truly transformed my life,” she says. “Assistive technology can tear down boundaries, and empower people to find their independence and fulfill their dreams.”
We agree with Laura about the power of technology to change lives. And in order to support more people like her—people who see obstacles as opportunities—we’re launching the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities. We’re putting $20 million in Google.org grants behind nonprofits using emerging technologies to increase independence for people living with disabilities, and today we’re issuing an open call to identify new areas of opportunity at g.co/ImpactChallengeDisability.
We’re kicking things off with support for two remarkable organizations. Each of these organizations is using technology to dramatically reduce the cost of and access to prosthetic limbs and auditory therapy, respectively—which could be transformative for hundreds of millions of people.
- The Enable community connects people who want prosthetics with volunteers who use 3D printers to design, print, assemble, and fit them, for free. This dramatically cuts costs, increases speed of distribution, and meets unmet needs. We’ll support the Enable Community Foundation’s efforts with a $600,000 grant to advance the design, distribution and delivery of open-source 3D-printed upper-limb prosthetics.
- Diagnosing auditory challenges can be a struggle in low income communities—the equipment is expensive, bulky and unrealistic, particularly in the developing world. With our support, and a $500,000 grant, World Wide Hearing will develop, prototype and test an extremely low cost tool kit for hearing loss using smartphone technology that’s widely available—and affordable—in the developing world.
The Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities will seek out nonprofits and help them find new solutions to some serious “what ifs” for the disabled community. We will choose the best of these ideas and help them to scale by investing in their vision, by rallying our people and by mobilizing our resources in support of their missions.
But of course, we realize there’s always room to improve our products as well. We have a team committed to monitoring the accessibility of Google tools; and we provide engineering teams with training to incorporate accessibility principles into products and services. That doesn’t just mean improving existing Google tools, it means developing new ones as well. For example, Liftware is a stabilizing utensil designed to help people with hand tremors eat more easily, and self-driving cars could one day transform mobility for everyone.
Historically, people living with disabilities have relied on technologies that were often bulky, expensive, and limited to assisting with one or two specific tasks. But that’s beginning to change. Thanks to groups like Enable and World Wide Hearing, and with tools like Liftware, we’re starting to see the potential for technologies that can profoundly and affordably impact millions. But we’ll all get there sooner if we make it a team effort—which is why we’re launching Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities today. Together, we can create a better world, faster.
Posted by Jacquelline Fuller, Director, Google.org
We devoured pint after pint to get the scoop on vanilla ice cream — and uncovered the best-tasting brand along the way.
Go to the freezer section of your local supermarket and you’re bound to find a number of brands peddling vanilla ice cream. Sounds fine, right? However, there’s a problem lurking among the labels: Brands that print phrases like “natural vanilla” on their packages may actually be pushing products that contain anything but.
RELATED: Want to make your own ice cream? Arm yourself with the best recipes and detailed video tutorials (try it for free).
In our America’s Test Kitchen TV taste test segment for supermarket vanilla ice cream, Jack Bishop explains that counterfeit vanilla is a bigger problem than one might think, and implores smart shoppers to read labels before buying a pint of the stuff.
“Vanilla extract is the key to buying ice cream with good vanilla flavor,” says Bishop. “If it doesn’t say vanilla extract, walk on by.”
Bishop explains to co-host Christopher Kimball that shoppers might see the words “natural vanilla flavor” printed on ice cream cartons. “Sounds pretty good, right? It’s actually imitation extract made from wood pulp.”
Vanilla flavoring was all over the map in the 8 ice creams we included in our taste test, ranging from barely detectable in some to overpowering in others. We looked on the back of the cartons and noticed that each brand seemed to list vanilla in a different way—as Bishop explained—from the wordy and virtuous “fair-traded certified vanilla extract” to “natural vanilla flavor” to simply “vanilla.” Dairy expert Scott Rankin, a professor of food science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained that the different wordings on the labels amount to an industry shorthand for specific kinds of natural or artificial flavorings. As he helped us break the code, we looked at our favorite (and not-so-favorite) ice creams according to the type of vanilla.
First, a little background: The flavor in vanilla beans is predominantly due to the presence of a compound known as vanillin. Vanillin is produced three ways: from vanilla beans, from wood, and from resins. The first two types are considered natural, while the vanillin from resins is synthetic. Not surprisingly, our top three top-ranked brands all contained the real deal—“vanilla extract”—natural vanillin extracted from vanilla beans, just like the real vanilla extract in your pantry. Less favored brands were made with vanillin extracted from wood (“natural vanilla flavor”), which is chemically identical to the synthetic vanillin found in artificial vanilla extract. Simple “vanilla” turned out to be code for a combination of synthetic and natural vanillin, while “natural flavors” (with no mention of vanilla at all) indicates just a trace of natural vanilla (there’s no required level) and other flavorings such as nutmeg that merely trigger an association.
Bottom line: Our tasters strongly preferred brands containing real vanilla extract.
by Fatima Goss Graves
After being repeatedly harassed by a boy in her middle school, a 14-year-old girl in Alabama, who asked CNN to call her Jaden, went to school officials for help. What was their “help?” To try to “catch him in the act” — by using Jaden as bait. But when the day of the sting operation came, the boy raped her in a school bathroom before the staff intervened.
Jaden’s life has changed forever. We can’t turn back the clock, but here at the National Women’s Law Center, we’re using our expertise to help Jaden and her family fight back through the court system. Help Us Stand Up for Girls — and Your Gift Will Be Doubled
Your donation of $10 or more will help us fight for justice, work to prevent sexual assault, and support survivors.
Before Jaden was assaulted, she played basketball and earned good grades. After the assault, she transferred to another school, stopped playing sports, failed classes, and struggled with depression. The boy’s life didn’t change much, though. He was suspended for just five days.
We’ve got to keep standing up for students like Jaden — and the many other women and girls whose schools, workplaces, or communities have failed them.
Thank you for everything you do to support women and their families.
Fatima Goss Graves
Vice President for Education and Employment
National Women’s Law Center
P.S. Our expertise in Title IX made it possible for us to reach out to Jaden’s family in this case and offer our help. Your support can make it possible for us to help in more cases like this one — and if you give now, your donation will be doubled.