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Tech4Good 2018 Awardees Seek to Enhance Accessibility

July 17, 2018

When Becca Hume was 16, she got a part-time job where she met a deaf person for the first time. “I realised how isolated he was at work, so I started learning sign language to be able to talk to him properly,” she says. It made her understand the daily frustrations facing people who cannot hear and she wanted to do something about it. An MA focused on accessible product design at Ulster university gave her the idea for TapSOS, an app that sends users’ location and medical history to the fire, police, ambulance services and coastguard at the tap of a few buttons. “I came up with this idea with the deaf community in mind, but actually it is potentially life-saving for lots of other people who cannot speak to 999 operators,” says Hume. “Anyone with breathing difficulties, allergies, in situations of domestic abuse or being held against their will can now call for help without having to talk.”

The app is due to be approved for integration into BT’s emergency service network this month and by September all 999 UK operators will be able to receive emergency alerts from TapSOS, with users able to download and use the app from September. The simplicity, likely reach and potential to save lives made it the digital health winner at this year’s Tech4Good awards announced on Tuesday. The other finalists were Moment Health, an app and online community to help tackle maternal mental health, Immersive Rehab – virtual reality neurological and physical physiotherapy and Apart of Me – an app providing grief therapy for bereaved children. These characteristics were all shared by the other deserving winners.

The awards, run by AbilityNet, recognise organisations and individuals who use digital technology to improve the lives of others. Now in their eighth year, there were more than 200 entries in 11 categories including community impact, accessibility and health. Mind of My Own won the community impact award. Its suite of apps allows young people and children to express their feelings, say where they feel unsafe or safe, and what they like or dislike. One app older children and young people can use any time of day or night, while the other is for younger children. It has lots of illustrations, friendly graphics and is designed to be used with a professional worker’s support. Both apps are particularly helpful where users find it hard to talk. Social workers say the apps improve their relationship with children and reduce their workload as they don’t have to type up handwritten notes so much. So far, 6,400 public sector workers use the apps with the young people they work with.

Making it easier to talk was the theme behind three of the finalists in the community impact category. Suicide, Let’s Talk is an e-learning course to help people talk about suicide, and another entry also focused on improving communication with children in care: Digital Voice for Communities. The winning entry in the accessibility category, Be My Eyes, is a free app connecting blind and partially sighted people with volunteers for visual assistance through a live video call. The 82,115 users can ask for help from more than 1.3 million volunteers to identify a can of beans from a can of sweetcorn, for example, or to read a letter, or get help with navigation outside. It is available in more than 150 countries and in over 180 languages. Four of the finalists in the accessibility category use technology to improve lives for partially sighted and blind people.

WaytoB, an app designed to help people with learning difficulties to find their way around, won the people’s award voted for by the public. Two winners use technology in very practical settings. Water Watcher, which won the BT Young Pioneer award, is a device that fits on to any tap and once activated by the vibrations of the water, uses a timer and alarm system to alert the user if the tap is left on too long. Four young people aged 9-16 came up with the idea after one of them, Atticus Ticheli, who has dyslexia, was having memory lapses and kept leaving taps on. Worried about both the waste of water, accidental flooding of homes and personal safety, the boys, from London, came up with the device.

“We believe this product could really help people with short-term memory problems such as dyslexia and dementia,” says Elye Cuthbertson, 14. “We are thrilled to be working with a company to put the Water Watcher into production, to help people save water and protect their homes from water damage.”

Small Robot Company, meanwhile, won the BT Connected Society award. Run by farmers, the company has developed small robots which can plant, feed and weed arable crops autonomously, with minimal waste. The “farmbots” can use lasers to kill weeds and individually feed each plant, reducing the need for chemicals and use of heavy machinery. Finally, Anna Holland Smith was awarded digital volunteer of the year, for helping refugees, women and those in the LGBTQ+ communities to learn to code.

• Anna Bawden is deputy editor of Society Guardian and a Tech4Good judge

Source: The Guardian

Related Information

App Blind Deaf Tech4Good Awards