Enabled by Design-athon: DC Edition drew a diverse crowd of creative innovators excited by the potential to solve everyday challenges faced by people with disabilities. More than 160 people from as far away as India, Boston, Atlanta and San Francisco registered to attend the kick off event held Wednesday evening at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library. Lightning talks aimed to introduce attendees to some of the unique challenges faced by people with disabilities and some of the inspirations that led to innovation, while a social hour hosted by Design Thinking DC introduced participants to each other in anticipation of the workshop ahead.
Adrienne Biddings, Policy Council for Google talked about Google’s cadre of developers and engineers, many of whom had little knowledge of disability but who are always trained in accessible design within a month of joining Google’s team.
Brett Heising, the CEO & Founder of BrettApproved, related his own personal experiences as a person who uses a wheelchair in finding accessible travel accommodations – experiences which let to his start-up of a website offering reviews of destinations for travelers with disabilities.
Maria Town, founder of the blog CP Shoes, read aloud her “love letter” to shoe brand Converse and creatively brought home the love/hate relationship people with cerebral palsy sometimes have with their shoes and how an item others take for granted can play an outsized role in the life of a person with a disability.
Diego Marsical, founder of 2Gether International and a paralympian gave the crowd of 150 at the library a sense of the international disability community and the importance of the diversity of people with disabilities.
Phillip Reeves of DC Department of Small Business Development encouraged ambitious innovators to go for government funding, reminding them that the “Roomba” was once considered a weapon to prove a point about how government agencies such as the Department of Defense a are ready and able to fund high risk/high reward projects.
The talks ended with John Salmen, President of Universal Designers & Consultants, Inc. with an enlightening outline of the concept of universal design, or design for all.
Early the next morning 10 teams of eight participants each gathered at Google to start the Deisgn-athon workshop which would end with workable ideas to improve the lives of people with disabilities. The teams were greeted by Bob Gootzit from PCS Engineering
With access to a Cube Pro Duo and Cube Gen Three from PCS Engineering and the assistance of two experienced 3-D printer operators, the teams would have the latest technology to help bring their ideas to life.
But before they were able to take advantage of the printers, they first had come together as a team and come up with an idea. Mentors with disabilities and team facilitators kept teams on track, leading the teams through empathy exercises designed to simulate some aspects of certain disabilities. Often the empathy exercises led to brainstorms about how to tackle the very challenges the teams had just experienced.
By Friday afternoon, a judge’s panel including UCP Chief Operating Officer Chris Thomson, Google’s Policy Council Adrienne Biddings, and Brett Heising, founder of www.brettapproved.com, was evaluating 10 minute pitches from each team, who tried to convince the panel their product idea should win.
Judged on their idea’s innovation, feasibility, marketability and other factors, the teams sweated under the lights on a small stage at Google’s state-of-the-art D.C. offices. They were peppered with questions about how the products might work, who they might serve and how they might go about bringing them to market.
“If you plan on keeping your profit margins low, then what’s in it for an investor?”
“Have you researched the cost of raw materials?”
“How often would this software be updated?”
Tough questions for a skilled entrepreneur, much less a team of diverse participants who only met each other Wednesday night and had less than 36-hours to dream, develop and dig in to the nitty-gritty of creating their prototype and their pitch.
In the end, three teams walked away with praise and prizes from Google and TechShop.
The Judges’ Choice Award was presented for the concept of a browser plugin for Chrome to add on-demand definitions for idioms designed for people with autism and/or English-language learner. (created by Sirjay Kasturi, Sudhita Kasturi, Sun Chee Blair, David MacPherson, Amnah Azizi, Susan Herngenrather, Lindsay Schultz and Celene Moore). Each team member was awarded a Google Chromebook.
The People’s Choice Award was presented to the team who came up with clip bracelet designed to provide stability for a hand with low-dexterity (created by Emily Flax, Clarice Torrey, Benjamin VanSelous, Jessica Bonness, Jessica Denson, Mike Ellis and John Levy). Each team member was awarded a membership to TechShop.
Best Prototype was awarded to the 3-D printed design for a relatch tool for keeping public bathroom doors with broken latches closed (created by Bita Salehi, Ken Ward, Mully Zacharia, Bagais Reem, Michelle Bendit, Jacob Johnson, Mallory Anderson, and R J Heller). Each team member was awarded a Google Chromecast.
Other ideas included an ATV-style modular customized wheelchair, a compression sock using biometals, a shoe key, a magnetic opener, a “smart” pill dispenser, a commuter app to aggregate data for people with disabilities and an app to help caregivers record instructions for later review.
Design-athon is an initiative of United Cerebral Palsy’s Life Labs, which fosters innovation in design and technology for people with disabilities and is held each fall. Find out more about UCP, Life Labs and Design-athon online.
Special Thanks to our Sponsors and Partners:
Google, CareerBuilder, TechShop, Sprint Relay, CEA Foundation, Sugru, PCS Engineering, Design Thinking DC, George Washington University’s Corcorcan School of the Arts, Marymount University, Mt. Ida College, and Coroflot