Developers Urged to Create Software, Wearable Solutions and Other Tech to Enhance Lives of People with Disabilities

NEW YORK, May 28, 2015 — In honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, AT&T* and New York University’s ABILITY Lab are working with the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) to find ways technology can enhance the lives of people with physical, social, emotional, and cognitive disabilities. To do this, they’re challenging technology developers to take part in the first ever Connect Ability tech innovation challenge.

Developers across the country are invited to design software, wearables and other technology solutions as part of this virtual challenge aimed at enhancing the lives of people with disabilities.  $100,000 in prizes will be awarded to winning developer teams on July 26th.

AT&T and RESNA will host a series of informational sessions and workshops to give developers and members of the disability community a way to become more familiar with the challenge, build teams and begin creating solutions.

A session will take place today in Cambridge, Massachusetts in association with maker workshop and community space Danger!Awesome with help from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Assistive Technology Club.  Additional sessions are scheduled during June at the NYU ABILITY Lab in New York City;  the American Underground in Durham with support from students and faculty from Duke University; the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley, California; the RESNA 2015 annual conference in Denver, Colorado, and in collaboration with disability employment services nonprofit LaunchAbility in Dallas, Texas. Earlier this month, the University of Wisconsin-Stout hosted a successful “developer day” to raise awareness about the challenge.

The Connect Ability Challenge is encouraging developers to actively engage the disability community.  A group of volunteers, called “Exemplars”, have agreed to talk with developers about problems they face and provide feedback and insight on their various projects.

Some of the Exemplars include:

  • Xian Horn, a teacher, speaker and writer who has cerebral palsy, which impacts her mobility.
  • 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. Kotler communicates using computer-assisted technology and struggles with anxiety and impulse control. Read this article from Paul.
  • Jason DaSilva, a filmmaker who has Multiple Sclerosis. DaSilva uses a powered wheelchair and has limited upper- and lower-limb use.

Through a series of collaboration sessions, Developers will be able to speak with these and additional volunteer Exemplars confidentially, in virtual and in-person meetings.  This will give developers insight and feedback on their designs before the June 24th submission deadline.

“The ADA was landmark legislation that helped people with disabilities participate more fully in our society. Now, advances in technology can remove barriers in ways we never before imagined,” said Charlene Lake, AT&T senior vice president of public affairs and chief sustainability officer.  “AT&T is excited to partner with RESNA and these organizations to attract innovators from across the country.  We look forward to seeing them harness their creativity and skills to create innovative and life-changing solutions.”

“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.”

“Since the enactment of the ADA 25 years ago, mobile technology has evolved at an astonishing rate.  By bringing technologists and people with disabilities together, the AT&T and NYU Connect Ability Challenge has all the right ingredients for innovation,” said Carl R. Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind,”  We are looking forward to the exciting solutions that will come out of this challenge.”

“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 Schwartz, Assistive Technology Services Manager for the Stout Vocational Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  “Through our Voc Rehab Institute, we work hard to help people with disabilities overcome the barriers they face every day.  We are excited to participate in this challenge and see how technological solutions can help improve the lives of those with disabilities.”

 “The enthusiasm for the Connect Ability Challenge is infectious, and it is inspiring students, entrepreneurs, designers and engineers to learn more about accessibility and assistive technology,” said William Li, PhD student in computer science and a graduate instructor at MIT.

“Duke University students and faculty are looking forward to competing with the region’s best and brightest students, developers and people with disabilities in an effort to build winning solutions that can further enhance people’s lives,” said Kevin Caves, a rehab engineer at Duke University.  “We are excited to be a part of the Connect Ability Challenge.”

“AT&T has a corporate culture of social responsibility and engagement that flows down to the individual level,” stated Kathryn Parsons, CEO of LaunchAbility. “Every single person I meet from the organization represents the company with energy and smart-thinking that they apply to their work with passion and success. The Connect Ability Challenge embodies this philosophy to create technology that serves everyone – regardless and inclusive of challenges and disAbilities. At LaunchAbility we say that we acknowledge disAbilities, but emphasize possibilities, and are proud to work with AT&T to serve the global community.”

ChallengePost is powering the challenge.  A panel of experts from the engineering, technology and disability community has agreed to judge the submissions, which are due at 5 PM on June 24.   

Connect Ability Challenge winners will be announced July 26th, on the 25th Anniversary of the ADA. For more information or to register, visit  Follow the latest news on Twitter using the hashtag #ConnectAbility.


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