Assistive Technology Networking Event

Kathy Cahill, Associate Dean, Assistive Technology Information Center (ATIC)

On May 1, UAAP and ATIC sponsored a networking event in E25 for staff, students, and faculty involved or interested in assistive technologies for people with disabilities. While there are a number of groups and individuals on campus dedicated to this work in many capacities, they are spread across campus and don’t often come together. This was a chance to share information and ideas about future collaborations.

At the networking event, student leaders who organized the 2017 Assistive Technologies Hackathon gave a presentation about their annual event, which was held in March at the Beaver Works makerspace in Kendall Square. The AT Hackathon fosters collaboration between students and community members around impactful projects, exposes students to assistive technology, and provides an opportunity to work with a client to design a tool that meets a real need.

Persons with disabilities who have a need for an assistive technology are matched with student project teams. They meet for dinner and discussion two weeks before the Hackathon occurs so that project teams can understand what the customer is asking for. During the two weeks between the dinner and the Hackathon, project teams develop sketches and plans for a solution. During the Hackathon, the teams attempt to create an actual product from their plans. 

Some examples of projects include:

  • Team Dan – Man with cerebral palsy. Team created a number of pieces of technology for Dan’s house and installed them after the Hackathon.
  • Team Mary – Hackers created a head-mounted device that attaches to a baseball cap.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering created a video about an AT Hackathon customer named Lilly and her project team (above), which captures the spirit of the event.

Hackathon organizers are happy to report the event is so popular that it always has a waitlist. This year, 80 students participated in the AT Hackathon, but 200 applied. The organizers would love to expand the event further and are seeking ideas regarding bigger spaces, identifying further funding sources, and other assistance. If you are aware of any possible spaces for such an event or would like to get involved, please contact the AT Hackathon organizers at at-hack-core@mit.edu. You can learn more about the event on the AT Hackathon website.

The AT Networking group hopes to hold more networking events on campus with guest speakers discussing their work and research. If you are interested in future AT Networking events, please email Kathy Cahill at kcahill@mit.edu to be added to the list.