Equity through Invention

We sat down with the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors while they were in Washington D.C. for the AAAS Annual Meeting.  We spoke to each about the importance of invention, the impact of their work, and what it has been like to be an Invention Ambassador. We kick off our recap of those conversations with Jason Grieves’ poignant remarks about ‘inventing for all’ as a way to change the world.  

Jason Grieves

“Inventing is important. I really think that at the core of it, it’s about people. It’s about helping people. That’s what invention is all about.  And I love my job because I get to do that everyday.”

 Jason Grieves is a Senior Product Manager at Microsoft that works with people with disabilities, specifically visual impairments. He creates inventions primarily around tools that help make computers more accessible. He became a AAAS-Lemelson Ambassador in 2017 and, currently holding 11 patents, Jason is an active advocate for people with disabilities. He is committed to ensuring that all people, regardless of any disability can leverage technology to become the world’s next leaders and innovators.

Why should we be investing in invention?

As a society we tend of think about inventing as something that has to help millions of people, but the truth is, if you can empower one person to do more, that’s empowering someone who can empower other people. At Microsoft, we like to think about building for one and extending to many. I think our mission is about empowering every person to achieve more. That’s how I really like to think about inventing, I love that focus on every person. So I think it’s neat to see invention in a global context and how it can impact so many people around the world. Part of this program has definitely opened my eyes to that.

How are your inventions making the world a better place?

I work on accessibility that helps people with disabilities, and I get the privilege of helping people see the computer better.  Building these solutions in is wonderful. We released a new version of Windows, and somebody said that the features that we worked on, the things that we built, were game changers for them. They could use the computer. And to me, that’s what it’s about. Changing someone’s life to achieve more is why I’m doing this.

Within Windows, I get to work with a lot of people with visual impairments. I actually have a visual impairment myself, so when I started to work with my current team it was great because I started to learn about visual impairments that I don’t have. I met people with similar visual impairments, but they used the computer completely differently. So I get to build things that make text bigger, make the computer easier to see by changing the colors on the screen and make them darker, so it doesn’t cause as much eye fatigue

What drew you to the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador Program?

What I love the AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassador Program is their focus is empowering kids and helping them understand how important invention is. Currently, the image of invention tends to be classic inventors like Albert Einstein. It’s an old guy, probably really smart, holding all these fancy degrees. That’s not an easily relatable image. But Lemelson is changing the game, they’re helping kids understand it could be any of us. The programs that they’re building to empower kids is just wonderful, and that’s why I’m proud to be a part of this program.

What have you learned as an Invention Ambassador?

The thing that I’ve really enjoyed is finding a way to tell my story and to talk about my inventions in a way that people can understand. It’s been super valuable.

Beyond that, I’ve learnt about politics, agencies, and how inventors can get to understand and influence our leaders. This is really useful because making connections and working with leaders might provide you more insight as to where your inventions can actually be used and who they can help. That was something that I really hadn’t thought about before. I work in Microsoft. It’s all about the consumer. We build products, we ship them. This was applying invention in a very different way.

Another thing that this program has really taught me is the point of influencing and showing our work to other people.  As an engineer, I tend to have blinders on. I build my product, and then I move on to the next thing. Being an Ambassador has taught me how your invention can reach more people and why that is important.

I think we build inventions to get them in the hands of the right people. You may not even know who they are, you may not have the ways to get them there, but you make sure that they get where they need to be. This program has been really helpful in expanding my thinking and making that happen.