Apps for differently abled make way to top innovations at IIT Madras hackathon

By Anusha Ashwin

CHENNAI: At the recently concluded International Accessibility Summit that took place at IIT Madras from December 31, 2016 to January 3, 2017, a large number of young developers, coders, entrepreneurs and University Professors convened to identify the problems faced by people with disabilities and to find solutions to make products, services and environments more accessible to them.

Organizers Udith Krishna and Ramprashanth indicated that the summit proved to be a platform for multiple stakeholders in the field of Accessibility and Assistive Technology to come together and share their knowledge. The Summit had a competition where 35 students were selected from a large pool of applicants from all over India and overseas, including Netherlands and Sri Lanka.

There were two tracks to the Summit’s competition. Selected participants were part of one of two tracks — policy proposal track or the social enterprise track. The policy proposal track involved a case study for which students had to submit their study and propose solutions for the same. Those interested in the social enterprise track had to make a video pitch of their idea of a social enterprise which is related to accessibility.

The highlight of the Summit was the first ever ‘Hackathon for the Visually Impaired’. Students of IIT Madras associated with professors from MIT and UC Berkeley to train 20 visually impaired students to code in Python for the past two months. Along with 20 beginners, there were intermediate and expert visually impaired coders from Stanford University and Bengaluru who showcased their projects.

Two apps at the summit that caught Voice&Data interest are:

Talking ATM India: Developed by Mumbai-based Saidarshan Bagath, this web and mobile app-based database eases withdrawal of money while commuting, especially for differently-abled who are on the look-out for a Talking ATM. This initiative of ‘Talking ATM India Locator’ website is a voluntary and non-commercial/not-for-profit endeavor. A Talking ATM is a type of automated teller machine that provides audible instructions so that persons who cannot read an ATM screen can independently use the machine.

At present Talking ATM India site’s search database contains a total of 11,132 Talking ATM addresses from 9 banks in India. The core idea, by the developer, is to develop a database of all Talking ATMs in India installed by nationalized, private, foreign and cooperative banks. This website is mainly a quick and easy search tool for various platforms and devices. The database helps avoid a call to the bank’s customer care to find details of talking ATMs. (https://talkingatmindia.org).

Personal Disability Assistant – emmaassist: Developed by Kartik Sawhney, Paras Jain, and Akashdeep, Emma Assist is a chatbot that has answers to disability related questions, providing an open forum for sensitization and awareness. The website uses Natural Language Processing and Artificial Intelligence. (bit.ly/emmaassist)

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