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Monday, May 21, 2018

MIT Students Hack Disability Solutions

According to the World Health Association, more than a billion people worldwide need one or more assistive devices to address physical, communication, or other disabilities. However, about 90% of them lack access to such technologies.

To raise awareness of the situation, jump-start innovation, and encourage students to consider careers developing assistive devices, the Assistive Technology Hackathon (ATHack) brings together teams of MIT students every year to brainstorm, design, and create solutions for problems faced by specific disabled “clients” from the Boston/Cambridge community.

The event is interdisciplinary and open to anyone. ATHack coordinators asemble teams of students with complementary skills, interests, and academic backgrounds. Clients often act as co-designers and meet with their teams at a dinner a couple weeks ahead of the hackathon to lay out the particular problem they need solved.

On the day of the event, the teams have 11 hours to produce their solution, from start to finish. It’s understood by all involved that the result may not be an immediately usable prototype, but development can continue beyond the event with some help and resources from the organizers.

Of this year’s 15 projects, eight or nine were completed by the deadline. Among the winners selected were a portable seat to allow someone to use a shower while traveling and an armband that vibrates to alert a hearing-impaired wearer when someone rings their doorbell.

More than 300 participants have collaborated on 70-plus projects since ATHack was launched five years ago. Its organizers hope to post a compilation database of hackathon projects within the next few months.

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