AT&T Challenge Connects People with Disabilities, Developers to Create Innovative Solutions

Thursday, May 7, 2015 - 11:15am
Member News
Photo montage of the Connect Ability ExemplarsRESNA is a proud partner of New York University and AT&T on the first ever Connect Ability tech innovation challenge, which will offer over $100,000 in prizes to developers for software, wearables and other technology solutions aimed at enhancing the lives of people with disabilities. The deadline for submission is June 24, 2015. Click here to visit the Connect Ability website.
What's unique about the challenge is that teams have the opportunity to work one-on-one with four "Exemplars," individuals with diverse abilities, who can provide feedback and share the challenges they face to help guide innovators to find solutions. The Examplars are Xian Horn, a teacher, speaker and writer who has cerebral palsy; Gus Chalkias, an assistive technology specialist, career counselor, and college student who is blind; Paul Kotler, a student, blogger, lecturer and advocate who has autism; and Jason DaSilva, a filmmaker who has multiple sclerosis.  
RESNA members Anita Perr, Jerry Weisman, and Paul Schwartz are involved in the project, helping AT &T connect with developers and forming teams in metropolitan areas with large numbers of computer science, rehabilitation science, and engineering students. 
In her position as Clinical Associate Professor at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, Anita Perr connected with NYU’s ABILITY Lab to host a hackathon in April that kicked off the Connect Ability Challenge. More than 100 hackers, makers, and innovators participated in the event. An app that retrieves and transcribes images from Twitter, another that helps speechless people communicate, and a third designed to prevent anxiety attacks earned $10,000 in prizes at the hackathon. Read the story here.
“Partnering with AT&T on the Connect Ability Challenge has been a great experience for us at the NYU Ability Lab,” said Anita. “The Challenge makes a strong statement on inclusion by encouraging and expecting developers to work with technology users in their design process. Tying in involvement from RESNA members across the country has been a great opportunity for our members.”
University of Wisconsin-Stout Rehabilitation Institute is hosting a “Developer’s Day” on May 16, to give students, faculty and others a chance to learn more about the Connect Ability challenge and how they can compete. The day-long workshop, hosted by Paul Schwartz, Assistive Technology Services Manager for Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute, will connect developers directly with people with disabilities and strategize on creating new solutions. 
“We are very proud to partner with AT&T on this exciting initiative that will help leverage technology to enhance the lives of people with disabilities,” said Paul.  “The fact that UW-Stout is hosting a local ‘Developer Day’ is a testament to our leadership both as a polytechnic university and in advancing innovative programs to positively impact the lives of those with disabilities.” 
Jerry Weisman, Principal, Rehabilitation Technology Services/President Assistive Technology Solutions Inc., and former RESNA President, is working to connect RESNA members with AT&T in other areas across the country. So far, sessions are planned in conjunction with Danger! Awesome in Cambridge, MA; John Hopkins University; and Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham. RESNA members who are interested in participating, and possibly hosting an information session, should contact Jerry as soon as possible. 
AT&T is also a sponsor of RESNA's 2015 Annual Conference in Denver (June 10-14), and will be on site to meet with developers. “Our membership of engineers and assistive technology professionals bring a deep bench of expertise and resources to this exciting project,” said Michael Brogioli, Executive Director of RESNA. “AT&T’s engagement of people with disabilities at every stage of this project is commendable and essential to help bring beneficial ideas from concept to reality.”