“When I go into a building–especially a new building–it’s one of the most stressful experiences of my life,” said Gus Chalkias. “I have no idea the layout, I have no idea where I’m supposed to go.”
Chalkias is blind. Google Maps can get him to his desired location, but once inside, he’s lost. There are times, he says, when he doesn’t know where he is at the end of the day.
As of now, all the apps, devices, and wearables out there don’t meet Chalkias’s needs. That’s why he has volunteered to work as one of four exemplars for AT&T’s latest app challenge, which is offering up $100,000 for technology specifically aimed at aiding those with disabilities. In a partnership with NYU’s Assistive Technology and Ability Lab, AT&T is putting out a call to developers to create new apps or devices aimed at what Chalkias calls “atypical users”–other disabled people like him. Submissions will be due at the beginning of July, and AT&T will announce the winner on July 26, the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Technology for the disabled is often created without the input of the people whom it’s supposed to serve. AT&T didn’t want to operate in a vacuum. In addition to Chalkias, AT&T has, with the help of the Ability Lab, solicited the services of three other “exemplars,” one with cerebral palsy, another who is autistic, and another with multiple sclerosis. “We have these exemplars to showcase different types of challenges that different disability communities face, and types of solutions that can help them in their daily lives,” Marissa Shorenstein, president AT&T New York, told Fast Company. With the launch of the challenge, AT&T has released a series of videos featuring each of the exemplars, hoping to not only raise awareness but spark ideas.
Some possibilities: Chalkias would love technology to help him navigate elevators. Xian Horn, who has cerebral palsy, has completely different challenges than Chalkias. She walks with the aid of two poles and would love better hands-free technology. Her current experience: Shouting “OK, Google” into her phone, and ending up calling the wrong person.
Developers, however, are not limited to these suggestions. In fact, AT&T and the Ability Lab hope that people come up with ideas they haven’t even considered. “I have lots of ideas that could happen, but I hope the things that come up are things I never dreamed of–my imagination is limited,” Anita Perr, who heads up the Ability Lab, told Fast Company.
To ensure that the finalists appeal to a broad audience, the judging panel includes city officials, experts in the field of assistive tech and disability, people from AT&T, and the four exemplars. The idea is that the experiences of Chalkias and Horn will carry over to a larger demographic. “We’re not looking at millions of people using them,” added Shorenstein. “We’re looking in New York at the different parts of the disability communities who are affected by each of these impairments to hopefully help them. If only thousands or hundreds of thousands use these apps, we’ll consider it a success.”