Makeathon to develop prototypes for people with disabilities

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Daryl Lovell

A makeathon to develop affordable assistive technology for people with disabilities will be held April 21-23 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s New Lab. The event is being presented by Cornell University in partnership with the Reut Group’s Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) and the New York City Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.

More than 180 people in teams of four to 10 “makers” – engineers, developers, coders and others – will be connected with “need knowers” – individuals with deep understanding of a specific disability.

The goal is to develop hardware and software prototypes that improve inclusiveness for people with disabilities, filling a need where there has been no market or government interest. Designs will be published online for public use.

Cornell Tech, Entrepreneurship at Cornell and the Cornell ILR School’s K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Institute on Employment and Disability are partners in TOM: NYC, New York City’s first TOM community. TOM makeathons have been held in 10 countries since they began in 2014.

“Cornell has an array of disciplinary and technical capital that makes it a tour de force in the place where technology presents solutions to everyday life, including those for individuals with disabilities,” said Susanne Bruyère, director of the Yang-Tan Institute. “The event contributes to the Yang-Tan Institute’s mission of identifying real solutions to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities in that it illustrates how technology can tear down previously perceived barriers to employment access for this group.”

Said Ami Stuart, Cornell’s tech events manager: “Entrepreneurship at Cornell hosts six or more hackathons annually. Beyond bridging the distance between students on the Ithaca and New York City campuses, hackathons connect students with diverse professionals for an experiential weekend, deep diving into a topic. Students use entrepreneurial skills to create solutions for the target market.” The TOM event is considered a “makeathon” because teams will produce physical prototypes.

TOM was shaped by the idea of an inclusive society and embodies this ideal in multiple ways, according to Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of Reut Group, which created TOM.

“TOM makeathons are a platform designed to make our entire society more inclusive. It allows the most talented top professionals to contribute the best of their skills toward alleviating the difficulties faced by societies’ most challenged,” Grinstein said.

Students from Cornell Tech will participate in the makeathon. Many worked with TOM this winter in Israel at a similar event hosted by the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, Cornell’s academic partner institution at Cornell Tech.

In addition to students, Niti Parikh, who leads the Cornell Tech MakerLAB, and professor Shiri Azenkot, whose research focuses on enabling people with disabilities to have equal access to information via mobile and wearable devices, will guide students.

Students will work on the development of a device that will allow users of nonmotorized wheelchairs to access their personal bag or storage, an idea proposed by a resident of Roosevelt Island, where Cornell Tech will open this September.

“It is an exciting opportunity for our campus as we expect that a number of the people with disabilities the students will be working with will come from Roosevelt Island,” said Jane Swanson, Cornell Tech’s assistant director of government and community relations. “It is a chance to directly help our neighbors before our new campus opens.”

Additional partners in the event include Cornell Engineering.

Mary Catt is interim assistant dean for communications and marketing at the ILR School.


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