Accessibility for all: 5 projects from Abilities Hackathon expanding tech's reach - Baltimore

Software Development

Accessibility for all: 5 projects from Abilities Hackathon expanding tech’s reach

Winning hacks helped people in wheelchairs, found new uses for Alexa and reinvented MS Paint.

Team "Rain Rain Go Away" presents its work at the 2017 Abilities Hackathon.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The Abilities Hackathon was back at the Digital Harbor Foundation’s tech center last weekend for the second year of accessibility solutions.

The hacks combined technology that would be seen at any hackathon, but opened up to new uses. There was a chatbot for patient satisfaction surveys, IBM’s Watson had a role in creating captions for phone calls and Alexa was enlisted to help prevent falls.

See all the projects

Abilities Hackathon Founder Ed Slattery urged the teams to keep working on their projects, and said a follow-up event is planned for April 18.

Here’s a look at the winning projects:


We think of Paint as one of the most basic programs, but not for everyone. Jonathon Prozzi created an app that allows users to paint hands-free. Speech and head motion replace the keyboard and mouse. The project won the leisure category.

Rain Rain Go Away

Dianne Weeks and Sapna Kumar set out to create a way to keep people who use wheelchairs dry in the rain. They created a retractable wheelchair umbrella, which opens and closes with a switch. They inverted a standard umbrella to keep users dry. The prototype won the transportation and mobility category.


To help communication between the deaf and hearing this team created a solution to detect American Sign Language, and translate it into English. The team of Krzysztof SitkoChris Uehlinger, Joseph Cureton, Ethan Burrow Fairweather and Alison MacMullan won in the wearables category.



The aging population and people in wheelchairs need help reaching items on high shelves, which is where this gripper comes in. It’s adjustable for height, and parts are 3D-printed. It also has a camera mounted for live streaming video of the item you’re reaching, and browsing on the shelf. The team of Bella Palumbi, Derek Fields, Caitlin Romanczyk and Amber Velasco won in the aging category, which was introduced this year in conjunction with the Aging. 2.0 accelerator.

Smart Track Chair

Charlie Seitz, Anthony Garcia and Kaio Wilson set out to create a way to control a wheelchair with smart glasses, so the wheelchair can be controlled through a head motion. They got it working, and picked up the hacker’s choice prize.

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