Microsoft Brand Journalism
“Independence Day” is an effort to tell the story of Cities Unlocked, a Microsoft pilot program in the United Kingdom that uses technology to help people with sight loss experience city life like never before. The prototype technology—which includes a headset, a mobile phone app, and indoor and outdoor beacons—is a unique collaboration between Microsoft, the U.K. charity Guide Dogs, and urban innovator Future Cities Catapult, in addition to other partners from business and academia. According to Guide Dogs, of the two million people in the U.K. who have registered a visual impairment, 180,000 rarely, if ever, go outside. In the U.S., the unemployment rate for people with vision loss is about 65 percent. Microsoft and its partners would like to change that.
Journalist and Prowess employee Jennifer Warnick traveled to the U.K. to interview the Microsoft employees and partners who developed the solution, in addition to talking with the people with visual impairment who had helped test iterations of the new Cities Unlocked technology. She quickly realized that the best way to tell the story would be to truly understand the challenges of being visually impaired while trying to navigate an urban environment, so she donned a thick blindfold and traveled through a suburb of London, relying chiefly on a white cane and the new Cities Unlocked technology for guidance.
The Results: Independence Day
After an immersive reporting process, the writer worked hand-in-hand with editors, designers, and a photographer to create a multi-media, audio-rich package, including an audiobook so that people with visual impairment could enjoy the story. When the story launched, dozens of international media outlets shared the news or wrote their own stories about Cities Unlocked, and the news cycle inspired millions of impressions for Cities Unlocked on social media. Several months after the story published, the writer helped one of the Cities Unlocked co-creators to craft a TEDx talk on the subject, which drew heavily on the story’s themes and approach.