Young Inventor Focuses on People with Disabilities

Srijay KatsuriAt 14 years old, Srijay Kasturi was the youngest person ever to compete in the Enabled by Design-athon innovation challenge held last November by UCP’s Life Labs program. Along with his mother Sudhita, Srijay was on the winning team which came up with an idea for an app for people with autism. UCP was thrilled to discover that Sirjay was an inventor with another concept, called STRIDE, already in progress. Although he has no personal connection to disability, his creations have centered on the concept of helping people with disabilities better navigate, and as a result, participate in the world. In this interview, Srijay describes his motivations and the evolution of STRIDE for people with visual impairment.

 

UCP: When did you first realize you had an interest in innovating with technology?
SRIJAY:
I have no idea when I realized I had an interest in innovating. My parents say that I have been thinking of creative solutions for day-to-day problems from a young age. One of my first innovations was around the age of 12, so about 2 years ago, and I’ve just been going since then!

UCP: What was your inspiration for STRIDE? Do you know someone with vision impairment?
SRIJAY:
No, unfortunately (or fortunately!) I don’t know anyone with vision impairment. STRIDE is really the evolution of one of my old(er) inventions, the Camera Centering Tripod Mount (CCTM). Once I finished my proof of concept for the CCTM, I submitted it to the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge where I, and the CCTM, were selected to be finalists in the competition. Once selected, I worked with a mentor from 3M, Dr. James Jonza, to develop the CCTM further. However, once I started working, my mentor and I discussed if there was a way for the CCTM to help more people… and from there, STRIDE (stepwithstride.com) was born. STRIDE eventually went on to win 3rd place in the competition, and well, the rest is history.

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UCP: Tell us how it came to be and how you envision it working for people.

SRIJAY: I envision people using STRIDE in their everyday lives, 24/7. They put it on when they put on their shoes, and walk around all day using it. STRIDE alerts the user to any objects in their path. The closer the object the stronger the alert. One of the advantages of STRIDE is that if the user changes shoes they can move the device from one pair of shoes to another. STRIDE involved a lot of hard work, and a bunch of trial and error. They say to do anything, it takes 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration! This is definitely the case for STRIDE

UCP: Is this your first invention?

SRIJAY: Nope! STRIDE is based on an older invention of mine and shares a lot of the same ideas with said older invention. Since childhood my dad has encouraged me to think creatively and outside the box which has led to innovation and inventions.

UCP: What other areas of design and technology interest you? 

SRIJAY: Hmm… that’s a tough one. I love programming software, to the point that I used programming to finish an English class project – an innovative approach to English class! I love web-design, and I have created various dynamic websites using the Flask framework for the backend, and the Bootstrap framework for the frontend.

UCP: How did you hear about the November 2014 Enabled by Design-athon event?

SRIJAY:In March of 2014, there was a Mini Makers Faire, in Northern Virginia, near where I live. I was one of the Young Makers at the Faire and Mr. Patrick Timony from the D.C. Public Library stopped by my table to learn about STRIDE. Mr. Timony is their Adaptive Technology Librarian. He told me about the Design-athon and encouraged me to register.

2014 DesignathonUCP: What motivated you to want to attend?
SRIJAY:
When I realized that the aim of the Design-athon was to help people with disabilities, I realized that it would be a great event to go to, not only to help me understand what I needed to do with regards to STRIDE, but to meet other like-minded people, including the great people here at UCP! The event gave me a better understanding of the challenges faced by people who have disabilities and how many things we take for granted.

UCP: Tell us about your team, idea and experience at the event.
SRIJAY:
My team, called Stars at War, consisted of 8 people. We all came from various viewpoints, and different perspectives, so we each brought something unique to the table. Our idea was a product called Simplyfi. We learned that people with autism sometimes take take idioms literally. Simplyfi helps translate hard-to-understand idioms into simpler easy-to-understand straightforward English.

For example, if you say that the Design-athon was “a piece of cake”, a person with autism may think quite literally that the event was a piece of cake, while we’d understand that by a “piece of cake,” you really meant it was very easy. To help alleviate this problem, we built an app that defines these idioms, so that they can better understand the figurative language.

UCP: Are you interested in developing this idea further – possibly bringing it to market?

SRIJAY:Yes I am! There still is a lot of work that needs to be done for the programming of Simplyfi. However, I have been so busy developing STRIDE that I really have not had much time to focus on Simplyfi and finish programming it – but I do intend on finishing it sometime in the near future!

There is also a competition called DECA. For this event we have to write a marketing plan for a product and my partner and I decided to write a plan for Simplyfi. Here’s to hoping we move on to ICDC (International Career Development Conference)!

UCP: What is the status of your current project?
SRIJAY:
I decided to revamp STRIDE so it would better fit the needs and wants of the visually impaired. I would like it to be Bluetooth-enabled so access to building maps etc. via an app are available to users. For STRIDE to be more sleek, I am working on a hardware redesign using smaller components. I’m looking for advice in the fields of case-design and software to make the device more accurate and usable. I would also like to consult with a patent attorney and look into funding sources so I can take STRIDE to production. My goal is to have STRIDE ready for market by the end of the year. This of course, will mean getting some help in the area of marketing, if anyone wants to collaborate with me.

UCP: Do you collaborate with anyone on your ideas?
SRIJAY:
Yes! There are two amazing Facebook groups that I just love. The first is Hackathon Hackers (HH), a group of over 1000 people dedicated to helping others write programs and compete at hackathons. Also, I am a part of a Facebook group called High School Hackers (HSH). HSH was created for the sole purpose of getting high schoolers interested in programming, and attending hackathons. Aside from Facebook groups I am also heavily involved with a makers space in Reston called Nova Labs. Nova Labs is a great place full of people who are extremely knowledgeable about all kinds of things. In fact, I owe most of the success of STRIDE to Nova Labs, since I have learned so much from the mentors there!

UCP: Tell us more about your thoughts on open-source and why you would want to keep a part of this invention proprietary?
SRIJAY:
I believe that open-source is the future. Open-source projects basically allow for improved sharing of ideas, and allows for these ideas to help the most number of people. I decided to release enough of STRIDE for anyone to create it, but I am keeping enough of STRIDE proprietary so that I can still sell a unique product and have control over it’s pricing and future development.

UCP: What are your plans for the immediate future? Your career?
SRIJAY:
I am a freshman in highschool so a lot of my efforts are dedicated towards learning and doing well in school. I am also studying Sanskrit, an Indian language, learning to play the Mridangam, an Indian classical instrument, and I am a 2nd degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. In the immediate future I would love to take STRIDE to market. Making Simplyfi available as an easy to use Google chrome extension is another goal. I also want to pursue a career in filmmaking, so we’ll see how that goes…

Enabled by Design-athon from an OT’s Perspective

Guest post contributed by Clarice Torrey, occupational therapist and winner of UCP Life Lab’s recent Design-athon People’s Choice Award. 

 

Clarice Torrey

I nerded out a bit when I first saw @UCPLifeLabs tweet about the Enabled-by Design-athon in DC. I had already become familiar with Enabled by Design and UCP Life Labs through the wonderful world of Twitter, but this event was exactly what I’d been looking for. I’m an occupational therapist who works primarily with children who have cerebral palsy, and I want to blend my knowledge of disability with my passion for designing and making. Over the past 10+ years as an occupational therapist, I have designed and fabricated many adaptive aids and splints. The Design-athon felt like it was made for me.

Even so, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. Thursday morning I walked into the event at Google’s DC headquarters and was assigned to a team consisting of Jessica Bonness, an interior designer, educator and our team facilitator; Jessica Denson, an interior design student; Emily Flax, an industrial designer; Patricia Torres, a universal design student; and Reem Bagais, an interior design student. We started with empathy exercises to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to have a disability. For instance, we put on gloves to search for items in our purse and used earplugs/headphones to simulate a hearing impairment. The exercise that resonated the most with us was doing activities with limited dexterity and only having the use of one upper extremity.

Our question became this: How can we facilitate increased independence for people with limited to no use of one upper extremity? There are so many daily activities most people take for granted that are made possible or easier with two hands. We wanted a tool that could be worn or at least easily accessible to provide the stabilization that so many two-handed tasks require. For instance when zipping up a jacket, you can complete the task with only one hand, but it will probably take you longer and you might have to use your teeth or another awkward adaptation.Empathy Exercise

As an occupational therapist, I do activity analysis so often it’s become second nature. One thing I frequently tell families is that the two hands don’t have to have equal skills in order to be functional. Almost all of us have a dominant hand that does most of the work, I usually call the other hand the “helper hand.” It’s the stabilizer. We used this information to brainstorm: How do we stabilize or grip objects? How do we attach things to our bodies?

The wall and sticky notes quickly became our friends.

As the word wearable was written on the wall, Emily saw it as “we are able” and we quickly decided that was our team name. We continued brainstorming.

Emily took the lead and we began adding to our lists and calling out some really random things. At one point, I became extremely interested in the idea of electromagnetics. I excused myself from the group for a bit to consult with some engineering/tech friends: Philip Lindsay and Darian Ahler. One of the original team ideas was a bracelet with an attachment to stabilize something. In the case of zipping up a jacket, you would reach over to one side of the jacket and activate an electromagnet to stabilize the jacket, as your unaffected hand managed the zipper and pulled it up. My friends talked me through solenoids and balloon/coffee grounds grippers. As I tried to do some research on the feasibility of something higher tech, the rest of the team continued working on other ideas.

It was a real shuffle to present to the crowd and update them on our progress. It was also a good way to keep us moving forward. It was fun to hear what the other seven teams at the event were working on. There was clearly some amazing minds coming together to come up with beautiful, functional designs to benefit all.

Our design continued to develop that first day. We had the opportunity to consult with Brett Heising of brettapproved.com. He has limited dexterity in his right hand. He told us the most difficult tasks for him were tying a tie and buttoning the top button and sleeves of a dress shirt. I simulated our design theory by using my hand to form a “clip” and stabilize the material of his shirt sleeve held together. He still wasn’t able to button the button.

I asked Brett if he had ever used a button hook, which is a common buttoning aid. He said he had, but challenged us to come up with a better design. We realized that our stabilizer had the potential to develop by adding different attachments based on the individual needs. I continued problem-solving a tool for this specific task, but it is still in development.We Are Able Prototypes

The stabilizing gripper we had designed would facilitate tying a tie though and we began to list all of the activities it would help with. It could help zip up jackets, open ziplock baggies, open other packages, hold a fork for cutting with a knife, hold paper while cutting with scissors, and hold a smartphone for the other hand to easily access.

As our first day came to an end, we felt that the palm of the hand would provide more stability than the wrist and that a low tech attachment would be more feasible. The next day we would bring various materials and clips to problem-solve what would work best. We consulted with representatives from PSC Engineering who were on hand with 3-D printers to print out a modified version of a slide clip pants hanger clip, which is the type of attachment piece we were leaning towards.

As I left the first day, I was exhausted and exhilarated. Now that we had a basic concept, I needed some hands-on inspiration. I needed to touch and feel materials and process. I walked up and down every aisle of a local Wal-Mart letting my brain work through the possibilities. I bought ribbon, chain and leather bracelets, yarn, a crochet hook, metal picnic tablecloth clips, and various other supplies we could possibly use tomorrow to put together a prototype. I knew it wouldn’t be as pretty as I would like, but I knew it might help us make a functioning tool.

Friday morning was crunch time. Patricia set to work on the computer animated design. Jessica worked on the slides for the presentation. With everyone’s “supply” contribution in the middle of the table some of us began playing with materials. We ended up using the tablecloth hooks and reformed them into a universal cuff. We covered the metal in leather and attached a slide-lock hanger clip. We covered the clip in Sugru for aesthetics and for greater stability at the latch.

Winning DesignWe were still making changes it was time to present to the judges, but we were proud of what we made in just a short time. This small tool had the ability to assist people with cerebral palsy, stroke, arthritis and other disabilities be more functional and independent. Our presentation went well, and I really felt that the judges and the people in the room appreciated and valued our hard work and what we had done in such a short time. We were awarded the People’s Choice Award and a Google Chromecast each! Brett talked to us about a friend in Arizona that could help with bringing our design to market.

For me, the Design-athon was an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded people passionate about design and disability. It allowed me to blend my knowledge, creativity, and passion. Designing and making adaptive aides has been one of my life pursuits, and with this experience, I feel confident that I am moving in the right direction.

 

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Design-athon Draws Innovators

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 introduceDay 1 Team Meetingd 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 3D PrinterPSC Engineering 3D Printers3_D Printers

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Working in the hallsBut 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.Sketching 2

“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.

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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.

People's Choice

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.

Best Prototype

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

 

 

 

Leader in Universal Design Field to Kick Off Design-athon

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John Salmen, AIA, CAE, is scheduled to kick off the UCP’s Life Labs initiative Enabled by Design-athon: DC Edition on Wednesday, November 5. The president of Universal Designers & Consultants, Inc. and internationally recognized leader in the universal design field, Mr. Salmen has specialized in barrier free design for more than 35 years, creating environments to be usable by people of all ages and abilities, to the greatest extent possible. He is one of the leading experts in the technical aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and has authored several books including: Accessible ArchitectureThe Do-Able Renewable Home,Accommodating All Guests and Everyone’s Welcome.

He joins Adrienne Biddings, Policy Counsel for Google. Brett Heising of www.brettapproved.com and Maria Town, the influential blogger who created http://cpshoes.tumblr.com/. Also on tap is the 2013 DoSomething Grant winner, Diego Marsical. The speakers will offer “lightning” talks on accessibility and design for people with disabilities at the Great Hall at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library from 6:00-8:00 p.m., which will be followed by networking time at a happy hour at a local establishment to be determined. This event is the prelude to a two-day design workshop at Google’s D.C. offices on November 6-7 where teams will compete to come up with the best design. A $25 registration fee is required for the workshop, however, the Wednesday evening event is FREE and you do not have to participate in the full workshop to attend (registration is required and space is limited).

“This is an opportunity for designers, technologists, engineers, students, caregivers and people with disabilities to collaborate and learn from each other how to use human-centered universal design concepts to solve every day challenges,” said Marc Irlandez, Director of Information, Technology and Life Labs at UCP. “We believe good design goes a long way towards helping people live as independently as possible by making day-to-day tasks just a little easier.”

The event is sponsored by Google, CareerBuilder, Sprint Relay, PCS Engineering, Sugru, the CEA Foundation, Tech Shop and Coroflot. Academic partners include Marymount University and the Cocoran School of the Arts & Design at George Washington, University. It has been featured on the Core77 Design blog and in the Tech Shop newsletter.

Get more information and register at http://ucpdesignathon.org/.

Enabled by Design-athon Happening This Fall

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United Cerebral Palsy is bringing you another great event this fall! Sign up now to attend Enabled by Design-athon: D.C. Edition November 5-7. UCP’s Life Labs initiative is hosting this dynamic event to encourage innovation by designers, inventors, hackers and makers for the benefit of people with disabilities.

Spread the word to those you know who have the big ideas and perspective that have made three previous events in London, D.C. and, recently, Sydney, Australia, such a success. We’re looking to bring together teams of dreamers, including people with disabilities, to design and prototype accessible products which provide innovative solutions for the everyday challenges faced by people with various disabilities.

We’ll kick things off Wednesday evening, November 5 at the Great Hall at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library, where the public is invited to network and hear from keynote speaker Adrienne Biddings, Policy Counsel for Google. Adrienne will bring her expertise in making communications media accessible, diverse and responsive to the needs of all segments of the community. Other speakers include Brett Heising of www.brettapproved.com and Maria Town, the influential blogger who created http://cpshoes.tumblr.com/ and representatives from iStrategy Labs. Also participating is the Corcoran/GWU School of Arts + Design.

Thursday, November 7, begins the two-day design workshop at Google’s D.C. offices where team will compete to come up with the best design. A $25 registration fee is required for the workshop, however, the Wednesday evening event is free and you do not have to participate in the full workshop to attend (registration is required and space is limited)

“This is an opportunity for designers, technologists, engineers, students, caregivers and people with disabilities to collaborate and learn from each other how to use human-centered universal design concepts to solve every day challenges,” said Marc Irlandez, Director of Information, Technology and Life Labs at UCP. “We believe good design goes a long way towards helping people live as independently as possible by making day-to-day tasks just a little easier.”

The event is sponsored by Google, Sprint Relay, PCS Engineering, Sugru and the CEA Foundation.

Registration opens today! Get more information at http://ucpdesignathon.org/.

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