Google funds $20 million “Impact Challenge: Disabilities”

Google said Tuesday it is offering $20 million to nonprofit organizations using new technology to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

The grants from, the company’s charitable arm, will go to organizations that can show they are working on projects that increase independence, such as making prosthetic limbs and auditory therapy more accessible and reducing their cost.

“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,” said a blog statement Tuesday by Jacquelline Fuller, director of

The first two grants from what Google calls its “Impact Challenge: Disabilities,” will be $600,000 for the Enable Community Foundation, which helps connect people to 3D-printed, upper-limb prosthetics; and $500,000 for World Wide Hearing, which will use a low-cost smartphone tool to diagnose hearing loss in low-income communities around the world.

The project’s advisors include author and activist Temple Grandin; Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the UN Special Rapportuer on the rights of persons with disabilities; and Google’s chief Internet evangelist, Vint Cerf.

The charitable project reflects Google’s broader business interest in developing technology for the millions of people with disabilities. The company in September bought a 6-person startup called Lift Labs that has invented “Liftware” utensils and other eating and kitchen devices to help people with tremors or Parkinson’s. Google also has an accessibility engineering team that recently introduced a Chrome extension designed to improve the online experience for people who are color-blind; and another one to disable animation.

Above: Oakland resident Jessie Lorenz of the Independent Living Resource Center tested Google’s self-driving car prototype on May 13 in Mountain View. Lorenz, who is blind, hopes to one day use autonomous cars to get around. Google on Tuesday launched a $20 million grant program supporting nonprofits using emerging technology to increase the independence of people with disabilities. Photo by LiPo Ching of the Bay Area News Group.


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