At the “hackathon”, technology is at the service of the disabled

She would like to be able to turn the pages of a book again, but the mobility of her upper limbs prevents her from doing so. At 27, Rivka has spinal muscular atrophy, a rare genetic disease characterized by muscle weakness. A translator by profession, she is forced to ask her parents for help or read on her personal computer. “I would really like to rediscover the taste for paper, while being less dependent on my loved ones”, says the young woman. Around her, a dozen people – engineers, coders or designers – are busy making her wish come true, in a room full of plans and tools of all kinds. Tuesday, July 12, the team is working on a prototype “page-turner” that can be activated by a simple look via a camera.

“Designed by one, useful for all”

Rivka is one of the ten people with disabilities, called “project leaders”, who were invited to formulate needs related to their daily life during this “hackathon”, organized over two days in Paris. The association TOM France, at the origin of the initiative, then selected professionals via business networks to create objects that respond to it, using inexpensive materials and 3D printers. A concept developed in Israel in 2014, since then exported to more than 34 countries.

“The idea is to bring the world of technology and disability closer together. This diversity allows new ideas to emerge”, explains Claire Chokron, president and co-founder of the French association. At the end of the hackathon, the manual for making the prototype thus produced is put online on TOM’s global network, allowing everyone – individuals and companies – to make it their own. “Professionals are volunteers, and inventions are copyright free. Our motto is “designed by one, useful for all”. she specifies.

Search for meaning

A little further on, at another table covered with various materials, Cédric is also one of the “project leaders”. Suffering from a disability that forces him to move around in a manual wheelchair, the 40-year-old encounters many difficulties when he travels. “My wife, who normally pushes me, cannot at the same time carry the suitcases. So we often have to find hotels that are close to the station,” he relates. After taking the dimensions of his chair, he and his team imagined three prototypes, including an aluminum structure to be affixed to the upper part of Cédric’s legs, where the suitcases would rest.

“Between the moment when we discovered that we were in charge of this project, two weeks ago, and the start of the hackathon, there were several changes, because we had to adapt as well as possible to the specificities of Cedric”, develops Fabien, one of the product designers, who has been self-employed for more than fifteen years in Lyon. When he learned of the existence of this event on television, he did not hesitate. “I needed to do something really useful. »

A quest for meaning shared by Sébastien, an engineer. “When you meet people with disabilities, you think differently. It allows us to defocus, he details. Illustration with Jonathan’s project, who has lost the use of his hands and wants to use a virtual reality headset. “I had never thought about this problem”, admits Sebastian. “Through our approach, we want to change the lives of all these people, but also the view that able-bodied people have of disability”, concludes Claire Chokron. With one hope: to make this first French hackathon the start of a long series.


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