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Microsoft and University of Illinois partner to begin new accessibility program

URBANA, Ill. — Microsoft is investing $200,000 in the Accessibility Lighthouse Program, a collaboration that includes The Autism Program (TAP) in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois. The program was launched today and will run through June 2019.

The program will help build a clear career path for U of I students with autism to pursue STEM roles and increase the hiring pipeline of these students to Microsoft. The investment will also go toward building a fully outfitted, digitally accessible classroom using Microsoft tools, increase the number of computer science students who can make accessible software, and support the use of digitally accessible tools across campus.

“The University of Illinois has long led the way in enabling students with physical disabilities to fully participate in college life and obtain university degrees. Our intention in partnering with the university is to enable it to aspire to be a lighthouse to students with a broad range of disabilities by exploiting the growing advances in digital accessibility,” says Harold Javid of Microsoft.

The program is a collaborative effort between TAP, housed in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, the College of Applied Health Sciences including the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES), the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering, and the Department of Special Education in the College of Education.

“We are very excited to be part of the Microsoft Lighthouse initiative,” says Linda Tortorelli, director of TAP at U of I. “TAP brings a developmental approach to understanding autism, and consequently we have the ability to predict which aspects of the disorder will impact the accessibility of a traditional university experience for our students. We bring an understanding of autism from the perspective of the family and caregivers, as well as professionals who have helped support individuals on the spectrum from the time they were diagnosed as young children.

“The Lighthouse initiative will now allow us to shift some of our focus to illuminating the needs of adults with autism who are accessing higher education on this campus. It will give us an opportunity to take stock of what we’re doing well, and how we can expand our services to better support these students. We are honored to be a part of this journey that will help create the kinds of enduring supports that students with autism require to be successful in their academic pursuits, with the ultimate goal of promoting the necessary skills to make a productive contribution in today’s workforce.”

For more information, contact Tortorelli at

Sources: Linda Tortorelli, 217-244-0928,
               Rashmi Tenneti, 217-300-4754,
News writer: Stephanie Henry, 217-244-1183,

June 4, 2018