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Enable Makeathon brings together key players to power innovative assistive tech solutions

In our weekly feature #TechThursdays, we bring you the story of Enable Makeathon's unique approach that is helping foster incredible breakthrough innovations in assistive technologies.

From education to employment to independent-living to communication, assistive technology has the power to increase and improve the functional capabilities of adults and children with disabilities. The challenge in developing the appropriate assistive technologies at an affordable cost and making it available especially in rural, low-income settings are many.

For this to happen, there needs to be an ecosystem, one that brings together innovators, the disabled community, designers as well as businesses on one platform, and facilitating that is the Enable Makeathon (EM).

Launched in 2015 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), EM calls for unique and ground-breaking answers that will guarantee people with disabilities accessibility and employability. The purpose is to enable them to live with dignity, says Manas Tiwari, Co-founder, Inkludo Consulting and Advisory Pvt Ltd., who was earlier Innovation Consultant with the ICRC, which supports a large number of disabled people across the world.

The idea was to innovate was for the ICRC itself because we used to work in the conflict zones and felt the need to as the existing assistive designs that were being used were quite old. Once we started, we connected with loads of people and realized there was a lot of work that needed to be done. There were a lot of start-ups coming up that do not get the support they need. - Manas Tiwari, Co-founder, Inkludo Consulting and Advisory Pvt Ltd.

The first edition of EM in Bengaluru saw close to 186 teams from around the world applying, of which 32 were shortlisted for the final program. "In the first edition, we focused on physical disabilities, but realizing that there was more to do, we expanded to include visual and hearing disabilities in the second", says Tiwari.

Going ahead, there are plans to include intellectual and developmental disabilities as well.

How it works

What makes the approach so different is that the technologies are not developed in isolation but in close partnership with the community. Substantial time is spent by the innovators with the disabled community to understand their needs closely in order to develop a solution that is most appropriate.

"The fact that disability and innovations for people with disabilities is being talked about on such a big platform is a big motivator for start- ups", says Janhavi Joshi, Co-founder, Bleetech Innovations, which won the first prize in Enable Makeathon 2.0 for developing a low-cost encyclopaedia, where users can ask questions on a mobile platform, in sign language or English, and receive answers in Indian Sign Language.

"As a start-up, we have an internal framework for how we design products or design strategies, but we have never learned it as such", adds Joshi. "At the EM, we were exposed to many entrepreneurs in this space and it gave us a clear direction of how it's supposed to be done and how to implement the same methodology in a more systematic manner. Being with our peers and mentors gave a clear perspective of where we need to go".

From the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B) to disability rights organizations like Association of People with Disabilities (APD) and Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled, the EM brings together domain experts across a wide spectrum, including law.

"From an initial focus specifically on hardware, we expanded to look at solutions relating to software and services", says Tiwari, who is happy with the ecosystem that has developed over the two editions. He is hopeful that nearly 700 start-ups will apply for the third edition, details for which will be announced in a few months.

For Preethi Srinivasan, who is the Founder of Soulfree, an NGO that reaches out to people with spinal cord injuries in Tamil Nadu, Enable Makeathon is playing a vital role by giving innovators such a large platform.

"Enable Makeathon is giving people the incentive, infrastructure and funding hey need to turn their ideas into action and I hope these innovations will find the funding that can bring it into the market and actually be used by people who need it the most".

Other stories in the #TechThursdays series:

BleeTV offers accessible, stimulating content, on demand, in Indian sign language

Updated version of Avaz app has plenty to offer, enables access to wider audience

Handicare enables people with lower limb disability to move around in a safe, hygienic manner

Learning becomes richer, deeper for children with vision impairments with Tactopus

Tobii Dynavox eye tracker is opening new world to little Ganga & others like her

TouchVision brings pictures alive for people with visual disabilities

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