Putting people first: Engineering students’ showcase highlights accessible technology

The Centre of Entrepreneurship and Engineering Design (CEED) at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa recently hosted a design showcase of engineering students’ final semester projects. Five teams pitched their projects and explained how they approached making specific, everyday tasks easier for persons with disabilities.

A panel of guest judges, including Shannon Archibald, SSC’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Jeffrey Stark, manager of SSC’s Accessibility, Accommodation and Adaptive Computer Technology (AAACT) Program, considered how each team’s proposal integrated accessible technology and design to improve the user experience.

The students developed solutions to challenges presented in everyday activities. All of the prototypes presented in the showcase were designed to support their uses complete a task with greater independence and dignity.

User-centric design

Wayfinding, or navigating through a building, is a common accessibility challenge for the visually impaired and blind. Students walked the judges through sets of raised map prototypes that were designed to provide clear directions to key areas in a building, including: entry points, hallways, elevators, stairs, washrooms and boardrooms.

Another team created devices that assist with the shaking and tremors that are a side-effect of Parkinson’s disease. The devices, one a bracelet and another a coaster that attaches to a cup, alerts the user with vibrations when the item they are holding is tipping and at risk of spilling.

After thoughtful deliberation, the judges declared the assistive touchscreen device, a stylus that enables a person to use touchscreens with greater accuracy, the winning project.

Shannon explained, “Showcases like this bring ideas to life. They show what’s possible when we put the people’s needs at the heart of innovation.”

Continuous learning is key to innovation, and these students impressed the judging panel with how well they understood their users and adapted to their needs. Our department is proud of the collaborative relationship we are building with post-secondary institutions, including the University of Ottawa.

Accessible Canada Act

The Accessible Canada Act passed in June, so the timing for this showcase was especially meaningful. Accessibility falls under the Chief Information Office’s (CIO) mandate, so Shannon and Jeffrey were equally eager to participate in this showcase.

Shannon and Jeffrey were particularly interested in hearing the students explain how they approached problem solving with accessibility built in from the start, because that’s the direction we are moving toward for a more accessible country.

Many of the students expressed an ongoing interest in advocating for improving accessibility as they continue their education. Our colleagues who work in accessibility look forward to the fall showcase on November 28, 2019 and learning more from the next generation of innovators.

We look forward to continuing to work with the University of Ottawa and other post-secondary institutions on reducing barriers for persons with disabilities or accessibility challenges.

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