Sunday, 9 December 2018

< Hackcessing Leadership Opportunities />

Last week, four members of SELA participated in the UK’s first ever accessibility make-a-thon, hosted by Hackcessible. Hackcessible, in its inaugural year, presented challenges from eight individuals with different disabilities and accessibility issues, enthusing teams of engineers and designers to work together to come up with innovative solution.

Our SELA members describe their experience taking part in Hackcessible.

Aiden Findlay, SELA Cohort 2018 (Hackcessible winning team)

Vicky, our euphonium playing team challenger, has a visual impairment resulting in her struggling to read standard music scores. Our challenge was to make her sheet music more accessible.

We would find or write a program to scan sheet music, edit it into a more accessible format, and work out how to navigate the music using foot pedals, all on one phone or tablet. On a tight time-scale, it was important to use a ‘hacking’ style approach, tweaking pre-existing software to our advantage. By breaking the task down into smaller steps the challenge was much more manageable to solve.

After creating a solution to Vicky’s challenge, we reached out to The Sheffield Royal Society For The Blind and Tapton School. We hope that through their help, our product will be distributed to visually impaired musicians and make a meaningful difference in their lives. 

George Nightingale, SELA Cohort 2017

I was part of Team Jake. Jake is a 19 year old with a keen interest in electronics. Forced to leave higher education due to his deteriorating eyesight, his challenge for us was to make electronics manufacturing more easily accessible, to allow him to return to university and complete his studies in electrical and electronic engineering.

Our solution was a combination of hardware and software. We built a workstation which, with the use of an iPad’s camera and flash, as well as an external Raspberry Pi camera, allowed for hands-free magnification and illumination of electronic components. We also developed a piece of web-based software which took real-time data from an oscilloscope and processed it to be more easily visible.

Yomna Eid, SELA Cohort 2018
Most contemporary and modern buildings have lifts inside them, but many have remaining steps before the actual entrance. This was a challenge for Ben, our challenger and a wheelchair user, who asked to design a convenient portable ramp which could be easily assembled to overcome up to four steps.

As a team we started by analysing the challenge and thinking about the criteria and the barriers we faced, such as the weight of the ramp.

Our proposed solution was a sliding ramp which extended up the steps using a drawer-like mechanism. We designed a stopping mechanism as a spring pin which stopped the sliders from separating from each other. We paid special attention to the materials, using acrylic for the sides of the ramp to lower friction, and MDF to increase friction to make ramp itself safer. We used steel for the sides to support the ramp. Our team is now eager to build a real-life ramp to test it works!

Tahira Resalat, SELA Cohort 2017

I was a part of Team Ellen. Ellen is a passionate 31 year-old artist with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. Ellen’s challenge for us was simple: to create a device that would allow her to paint with control using the two headrest mounted switches on her wheelchair.

She had previously used a paintbrush mounted to a bike helmet that she would wear on her head to paint. However, this gave her little to no control. We desperately wanted to change this for her and put our designing and engineering skills to use, coming up with a solution for her.

As a team, we created an automated sketchboard for her, compatible with her wheelchair, allowing her to draw and paint in eight directions, as well as use any colour she wanted.

Taking part in Hackcessible provided an opportunity to use three key skills developed through SELA:
  1. Teamwork - I exercised my ability to work in an interdisciplinary team, which I learnt to do very well in SELA, and understood the dynamic of the individual team members very quickly. I was thrown a bit out of my comfort zone with the brief, but relied on the expertise of my teammates and learnt from them as I have previously done in SELA. This enabled us to meet our brief, work cohesively under strict time constraints and enjoy each other’s company.
  2. Leading teams - I realised the strengths of individual members and appropriately took charge in delegating tasks while still recognising everyone had a part to play. For our challenge, we split up into a hardware and a software team, centred around the outcome of what we intended to create. This was similar to the strategy we devised in structuring our teams for project, Engineering: Think Inside the Box.
  3. Networking - I was able to put my networking skills to great use over the course of the challenge, meeting design engineers from different companies and organisations, as well as professors and other experts in their respective fields, who will be beneficial in taking our prototype forward towards commercialisation. I have since followed up on our conversations via LinkedIn to ensure our network remains.
Hackcessible was a great example of our students seizing the opportunities presented to them and applying the skills they have learnt through SELA in engineering contexts. SELA continues to encourage all their students to take up challenges and learn from them, helping to develop the engineering leaders of tomorrow. 

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