Technical and Category Briefs

Your solution must be entered into one of the five prize categories described below. When you enter, you should choose the category you believe best describes the features, functionality, and target users of your solution. We may re-assign your solution to a different category during review, if we find that it better matches a different set of expressed needs. These category descriptions are intended to help guide you. They are by no means exhaustive.

You will be evaluated on the potential impact of your solution for assisting people with disabilities and the extent to which you demonstrate user feedback that includes people with the disabilities you’re trying to address. We recommend engaging a person or people with category-related disabilities in the creation, execution and testing of your software and device prototypes for submission to the challenge. You can demonstrate this collaboration in the video produced to accompany your solution and by completing the End User Feedback Form.

While proprietary and fabricated solutions are of course welcome, you should try to use off-the-shelf and especially smartphone technologies to create your solutions. This ensures that end-product solutions can be made production-ready and affordable for people with disabilities. Also, don’t forget to check out our tips on building for accessibility to make sure you’re designing products for the widest use.


Solutions for People with Sensory Disabilities

Sensory disabilities include blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, tactile (touch) sensation problems, and problems with balance movement or knowing where your body parts are in space. These are called proprioception and kinesthesia.

Gus describes how his vision impairment changed his life. Before becoming blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa he was an avid reader and loved karaoke. Now Gus memorizes all his songs and listens to books and materials read by software on his smartphone or computer.

What else changes about life when a person’s senses are compromised or impaired? A synthetic voice may express words from a digital page but what about the items on the shelf? Can the tactile experience of reading a book be replicated? Spending time outdoors, another one of Gus’s passions, changes dramatically with a sensory disability. More practically, getting around safely can be a challenge. For instance, as Gus points out, it is easy to get lost inside a building, or spend a great deal of time looking for something like the buttons for an elevator.

How can off-the-shelf mobile, wireless and wearable technologies compensate for sensory impairments? Could augmented reality or high definition sound aid someone in making their way around their apartment, workplace or on the sidewalk? How might we make video games, online shopping, and other online recreational activities better for all audiences? Alert systems, public announcements, and timers tend to be audible. Are there better ways for the oven to signal that the pizza is ready? Is there a way to identify dangers in the environment or how something feels for people who are unable to touch or feel with their hands? How do these technologies work in conjunction with wireless and other smartphone sensors to remove barriers to access? How can the existing accessibility functions in mobile technologies be leveraged for new purposes? These are some of the guiding questions for considering Gus and every person with a sensory disability.

Other examples of technologies that adapt the environment for a person with sensory disabilities include:

  • Solutions for navigating inside buildings
  • Beacon and crowd-sourcing technologies that make in-building way-finding seamless
  • WiFi Direct and other peer-to-peer communications that crowd-source smartphone connectivity to make getting around on sidewalks and in public places more safe and efficient
  • Wearable devices that replicate smartphone functionality and are integrated into clothes
  • Camera vision and language detection for reading printed text on labels, signs, etc.
  • Natural language processing for real-time captioning for people with hearing impairments
  • Haptic feedback for alerts, navigation, gaming, etc.
  • Accessible games
  • Connected devices that use accessible interfaces and controllers
  • To learn about the needs and technical vision for people with sensory disabilities articulated by exemplar Gus, click here.
Mobility Solutions

Mobility disabilities include those that make getting from one place to another difficult. They also include disabilities that make using one's body or body parts difficult. Xian uses two ski poles to help with her ability to stand and walk. She explains how being hands free could be a life changer for her. When she’s on the go, she cannot use her smartphone for messaging, calls, or navigation. Her hands are busy holding her ski poles. Jason also expresses a desire for an augmented reality tool to help him navigate without having to use his hands. How could hands-free technologies such as wearables and voice-activated applications extend the benefits of smartphones to people like Xian and Jason when they’re mobile?

Another way to improve mobility is through solutions that accommodate a range of fine motor abilities. Jason is a filmmaker and describes how amazing it has been to witness the digital technologies that have transformed his work. But, Jason’s MS has limited his use of his hands so that moving a mouse around is difficult. Solutions that compensate for this loss of fine motor skills could help Jason, Paul, and others continue their creative work.

This category also extends to solutions that can augment the experience of physically getting from place to place. Jason and Xian travel in New York on public transportation and by using accessible taxis. Both of these options require a great deal of planning. It is nearly impossible for Jason to spontaneously decide to go to another borough for dinner. How might technology tackle our transportation systems to improve access for people with disabilities? Can accessible taxis be tracked better for a more seamless pickup? Is it possible to tell when a curb cut is too steep? Are bus stops and train entrances easy to find for someone with a visual impairment? Think about the steps people must take to plan travel and get around a city as a guide for developing solutions for mobility

Examples of other technologies that adapt the environment to a person with motor disabilities include:

  • Applications that utilize voice control
  • Wearable devices that provide visual, audible or haptic alerts
  • Technology similar to Kinect or Leap Motion, allowing for alternative and custom gesture controls for applications
  • Improvements or uses of eye tracking, head tracking, switch controls and other methods of navigating computers and tablets without the use of hands
  • Assistive guides for wheelchair alignment
  • Better-networked accessible taxis
  • Aggregated information about service outages and best routes within transportation stations
  • Improvements to wayfinding in public places like subways, train stations, stores, etc.
  • To learn about the needs and technical vision for people with mobility limitations articulated by exemplars Xian and Jason, click here for Xian and here for Jason.


Social / Emotional Solutions

Social and emotional disabilities are those that affect a person’s mood or ability to develop relationships with other people. They often are defined by what a society considers appropriate or acceptable. Anxiety and impulsiveness may accompany autism or other conditions. Paul defines perseverance as “the ability to keep working at something even as your whole body screams to go the other way.” This makes it difficult for him to focus during social interactions. Some people are turned off by Paul’s behaviors, making it even more stressful for him to socialize. As the anxiety builds, it gets harder and harder for Paul to function. Wouldn’t it be great if there was technology for the rest of us that allowed us to see past those behaviors and just let Paul be Paul? Paul uses ice-skating and yoga to calm his body and clear his mind. How can technology intervene to help people like Paul identify stressors and their reactions to the them, manage their emotions, find calm, and realize a more fulfilling social life? Paul suggests using visual indicators on his screen to help him “see” when his anxiety is increasing. Perhaps temperature and heart rate sensors could monitor and indicate changes in his anxiety level. Could these early warnings be combined with interventions, like playing music, that help calm strong emotional impulses?

Xian works with girls and women with disabilities to increase their confidence and self-esteem. How could technology help with this training? What are the reasons that self-esteem might not skyrocket in people with disabilities? How might technology help a person who encounters physical and attitudinal barriers throughout the day, and how might it break down those barriers altogether? While the solutions might be developed for girls with disabilities, could the same technology be useful for other people who need a boost in self-esteem? Consider a range of communities and online activities that foster social interactions.

Examples of technologies that support social/emotional needs include:

  • Wearable devices that provide visual, audible or haptic biofeedback with an aim to reduce stress or anxiety
  • Applications that monitor body temperature, heart rate, and other stress indicators and then make suggestions for interventions
  • Accessible dating sites
  • Social platforms for support and community building
  • To learn about the needs and technical vision for people with social/emotional disabilities articulated by exemplar Paul, click here.


Solution for People with Communicative and Cognitive Disabilities

Communication is the basis of the interactions people have with each other. If you cannot communicate, there is no way for other people to know what you are thinking. Paul says that people often think he is not smart because he communicates differently. Typing is difficult for him and he is concerned that people lose their patience waiting for him to type out what he wants to say. Paul relies on a synthetic voice to speak the words he types and wishes he could speak with his own voice. He describes how when he learned to type he was finally able to prove his thinking and caring nature. Paul’s autism hampers his focus and his typing speed, making it difficult to have more fluid communication. Word prediction, abbreviation expansion and other keyboarding enhancements would be useful to him. Improving these enhancements would also help people with cognitive impairments in their typing speed and accuracy. Since everything that Paul says is typed, he would also like a better way to save documents for easy storage and retrieval. Each keystroke is difficulty for him so EVERY ADDITIONAL KEYSTROKE MATTERS.

Millions of other people have disabilities that affect their ability to express their thoughts in a fluid manner. Cerebral palsy, stroke, head injury, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are among the other diagnoses that can limit a person’s ability to communicate in traditional ways. Some of the difficulties are due to problems in the brain and affect memory, planning, and organization. Other difficulties are due to problems in the brain’s ability to make the body do what it should. This category includes solutions for all of these problems.

Other examples of technologies that adapt the environment to a person with communication and cognitive disabilities include:

  • Free-standing and computer based augmentative communication devices, including a wide range of complexities from simple picture boards to multi-layered software- based devices that require the user to have excellent memory and navigation skills.
  • Software that helps the user to organize his or her writing through graphic means such as visual flowcharts and outlines
  • Use of American Sign Language to substitute for or augment spoken language
  • Improvements to eye tracking, head tracking, and alternate input solutions for people who cannot communicate using standard keyboards
  • Natural language processing software to learn to understand and translate speech that is not clearly understood
  • Organizational software for helping people with memory problems
  • To learn about the needs and technical vision for people with communicative disabilities articulated by exemplar Paul, click here.


Solutions Impacting Policy and Society

This challenge celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While major advances have been made in the past 25 years to provide equal access to people with disabilities there is still more we can do. If we think in terms of universal design, anything we develop for people with specific needs will likely help many other people as well. Some potential solutions could help people with disabilities by impacting policies, information sharing, and awareness in society.

Jason, who uses a power wheelchair, dreams of a hands-free, augmented reality tool that allows him to go around the city and find all the accessible places around him. This would require detailed information about building accessibility, like whether there is a step or whether a doorway or other passage is wide enough to pass. Solutions that help people like Jason get more detailed information on accessibility can build momentum for better data collection and disclosure. Better data will lead to better solutions for more people in more locations.

Gus describes how difficult it is to find a location of a specific building and entrance, and how easy it is for him to get lost once he’s inside. Are there ways for publicly available plans to be aggregated and used for interior wayfinding? Can beacon technology be used to make public spaces easier to navigate? Can these technologies be flexible enough so that different people can find the things in building that they want to find?

This category also includes solutions that help gather information and inform relevant parties about barriers to access and ADA noncompliance. For example, there may be solutions for reporting broken sidewalks, curb cuts that require repair or places with poor lighting that make it difficult for people with visual impairments to find their way. There may also be new solutions for developers to user test and check their work for accessibility.

Each of the exemplars is an advocate for people with disabilities and through their work helps to raise awareness. Xian runs workshops on beauty and self esteem and started teaching because she wanted other people with disabilities to understand that they’re awesome. Jason made the film When I Walk, a documentary about his experience with MS. Gus teaches other visually impaired people how to use technology in work, academic, and personal settings. Paul blogs and teaches about autism acceptance and feels that he bears “responsibility for getting most people to see that people with Autism are like each normal person inside.”

Many of the barriers that people with disabilities face have to do with society’s attitudes. Technology can help improve awareness and advocacy for people with disabilities. We will consider solutions in that category that help educate and connect people with and without disabilities and make them better advocates and neighbors.

Examples of technologies that could impact policy and society regarding disability include:

  • Augmented reality applications which integrate city data about building accessibility. Visit to learn more about the ADA Accessibility Guidelines
  • Beacon or WiFi Direct powered applications that crowd-source smartphone connectivity to make getting around on sidewalks and in public places safer and more efficient
  • A streamlined way to alert city officials of broken sidewalks, damaged curb cuts, or other issues related to access
  • Methods for checking websites and applications for best practices and compatibility with existing technology accessibility functions
  • Connected networks of community and volunteers