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Integrating the disability perspective: assistive technology, design, hackathons & makeathons

On July 21, 2015 the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco (ILRCSF) and the Disability Visibility Project organized a Community Dialogue on Assistive Technology Needs of People with Disabilities.

We were delighted by the presence of people with disabilities who use assistive technology (AT), people with disabilities who use AT, are in the tech industry and/or have experiences with hackathons and makeathons, and people from various organizations and companies that work on assistive technology.

Image of Itai Dagan of Tikkun Olam Makers and Erin Lauridsen, Assistive Technology Educator, ILRCSF at a table during the meeting.
Image of Itai Dagan of Tikkun Olam Makers and Erin Lauridsen, Assistive Technology Educator, ILRCSF at a table during the meeting.

There was a high level of engagement and participation by everyone in the room and via Google hangout. Here are a few ideas and issues shared during the meeting. Big thanks to Liz Henry for transcribing the notes and Erin Lauridsen, Assistive Technology Educator at ILRCSF, for facilitating the meeting!

[Please note these are condensed summaries and not exact quotes]

Skills and expertise of people with disabilities

  • “We might have a disability and a need, and skill at tinkering, but no formal background, but because of that we have brilliant, thinking outside of the box, solutions.”

Input from people with disabilities at hackathons: at the outset, not at the last minute

  • One person tells story of a horrible experience at a hackathon where people were very excited to make a bluetooth device to open all the automatic doors in the world. However, no automatic doors use bluetooth. LOL. Great idea, open the door, but make sure first that you know the technology that’s currently used. At this particular hackathon, people also asked for her input with 3 hours left in the competition.
Image of a group of individuals at a large conference room having a discussion on assistive technology.
Image of a group of individuals at a large conference room having a discussion on assistive technology.

Process of developing and making new AT

  • Don’t underestimate the usefulness of things breaking. There’s value in things both breaking and failing. Fail fast, that’s good. In hardware hacking, break fast. When things break we learn where they’re weak. We learn where we need to make them stronger.

Ownership and knowledge production

  • Some participants voiced concerns that they will participate, give ideas, and then have to pay for the resulting products.
  • When we contribute to things that become proprietary and then those ideas go into a black hole, out of reach of users with disabilities.
  • Arie Meir from Google.org said everything in the makeathon itself is open source and goes online. Participants in the Google.org makeathon have to sign a document saying they can’t be the proprietor of a patent of something that happens during the makeathon.
  • Itai Dagan from Tikkun Olam Makers said they want to use funding to make a treasury online of designs and information so it becomes easily available to others.
Arie Meir of Google.org talking about the Google Impact Challenge and the importance of participation and consultation by people w/ disabilities at ILRCSF
Arie Meir of Google.org talking about the Google Impact Challenge and the importance of participation and consultation by people w/ disabilities at ILRCSF

On organizing successful events

For hackathons and makeathons that are 72 hours and 24/7…

  • Events need to be clear about accessibility so that the event will be successful and could work for people who are marginalized.
  • What will self care look like?
  • People with access needs may need help or maybe toughing it out is wrong idea
  • How do we participate without brutalizing our bodies for a ‘competition’?
  • Events might be free, but there are incidental costs like transportation, food.
  • How do you post information on sliding scale, dietary restrictions, accommodatons or financial help without stigmatiizing people?

For more information about the upcoming Bay Area Makeathon for Assistive Technology (September 11-13, 2015): http://www.tomglobal.org/bay-area-makeathon

Feel free to participate in survey on the assistive technology needs by the ILRCSF (Google doc): https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1sP85aB7RDnhXYFn3m8w5zxNdK5BJNM2krD5-0OZzDyo/viewform?c=0&w=1&fbzx=2952773239276616563 

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