A team that made additions to an online map of the accessibility of locations in Philadelphia was chosen as the best project at #Hack4Access, a weekend-long hackathon held this weekend. More than 60 projects were pitched, among some prepared before the event, and six were completed and presented.
The event, which took ideas from Friday to project completion Sunday, was organized by, full disclosure, Technical.ly Philly, Philadelphia Link, a coalition group of disability and aging advocacy groups and GenPhilly, a network of advocates. It was the close of an event series that has focused on technology and disability issues in past months.
#Hack4Access was the Philadelphia addition to the National Day of Civic Hacking, an effort that was part of a network of similar mission-minded technical events held in 140 cities around the world. The Philly event, held at the First Round Capital building in University City, had more than 75 people participate, including a Friday reception and the weekend team building, which featured 40 or so attendees, half of whom were technologists and the other half subject matter experts, from physical therapists to advocates, home health providers to people with various disabilities.
Unlike many civic hacking events that focus strictly on software-based solutions, #Hack4Access included a partnership with the nearby Department of Making + Doing makerspace, allowing for two of the six final projects to be hardware focused.
After working from 11 a.m. Saturday to 3 p.m. Sunday, each of the teams presented to a panel of judges, which included GIS firm Azavea founder Robert Cheetham, Nancy Salandra, the director of independent living services at Liberty Resources, City of Philadelphia Director of Civic Technology Tim Wisniewski and Youngmoo Kim of Drexel University’s ExCITe Center. The projects, vying for $1,000 in money toward further development from Philadelphia Link, were judged on criteria that can be found at ph.ly/hackguidelines.
The six projects that were finished enough over the weekend to present are as follows:
- Unlock Philly additions (WINNER) — Built on an on-going hobby project by pharma developer James Tyack, this team added apartment listings and more location information to Unlock Philly, which started with SEPTA elevator outages and aims to track the accessibility of locations in the city. Other team members included active local civic hackers Chris Alfano and Jim Smiley, who extended Google Maps to list transit stops that had active elevators.
- Fall Fighter (2nd place) — One of two hardware hacks, this device features an accelerometer that helps sense changes in posture to alert a person with balance issues — which is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease — that she may be near a fall. Many existing products on the market are focused on correcting posture or creating an alarm after someone has fallen, not predicting one, said project lead Christopher Nies. This team also featured Bulogics engineer Kyle Shepherd, in addition to James Foley, Jessica Hartfield, Katherine Huseman, Howard Bilofsky and Nick Porcari.
- Gesture-based touch screen (3rd place) — Led by the Penn robotics masters student Dalton Banks who co-created the Haxbox assistive technology video game controller, this team developed a prototype for a more accessible gesture controlled touch screen-replacement for people with limited hand mobility. The team also included Germán Parodi of Liberty Resources and Ather Sharif, who operates the Spinal Cord Injury video blog.
- VA Digitization tool — Focused on what team-members called the inaccessibility of the filing process with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an agency racked with inefficiencies, this team worked on developing a more available process for online PDF form completion. The team was made up of Erin O’Brien, Christopher Vaughn, Eric Hegnes, Villanova student David Siah and Drexel student David Clark.
- Facial Recognition for Android — Two Drexel computer science freshmen Siddhanathan Shanmugam and Paritiosh Gupta built an Android app with OpenCV that can recognize faces from a user’s database that also features notes and context. Gupta said their focus was on people with memory loss issues, though the app could clearly be more wide-ranging. Hold your phone up to a crowd and get context on who everyone is.
- Canary Lift — Originally pitched as “Uber for people with mobility issues,” this project pivoted several times during the weekend in search of its focus. The final aim was an open API with various standard needs that would be familiar in the accessibility community (does the passenger need to be lifted into the car?) that ride-sharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, could use to open their marketplace up for drivers that would specialize in giving rides to people with mobility issues. This team was led by physical therapist Jordana Barmish, Drexel computer science student Alex Shaindlin, Anthony Balogun, Ian Nieyes and Angel Rivera.
All of the projects will be reviewed for possible use by and incorporation in existing advocacy and outreach efforts, said Faith Haeussler, who operates the Philadelphia Link coalition and was a co-organizer of the event.
In addition to Technical.ly Philly and Philadelphia Link, Azavea and Code for Philly sponsored the event.