It doesn’t end at the hackathon

Assistive technology hackathons are interdisciplinary events where engineers, designers and anyone who is interested in creating products to help people with disabilities come together to build prototypes for their client they are matched with. While these events are great for raising awareness in the field of assistive technology and inspiring others to participate, the end result could be a project that fixes a problem the client faces because of their disability and improves an aspect of their daily life routine.

That is exactly what happened at ATHack 2015 where a group of MIT students won the first place by building a ‘low-cost sip-and-puff joystick controller’, called “Puffin” that enables the user to manipulate a tablet, smartphone or laptop.

Team Adriana members (left-right) Kate Tatar, Esther Jang, Shirlene Liew, and Ned Burnell watch anxiously as Adriana Mallozzi (center) tests their prototype at the ATHack. Image Source:

Their client was Adriana Mallozzi who has celebral palsy that is a congenital disorder of movement, muscle tone, or posture. She worked with the team during the hackathon, providing input and experimenting with several iterations of the prototype. Puffin worked great for Adriana, and she was happy. However, the team did the right thing and did not end things at the hackathon.

Puffin quickly put together a product website where they share what they are up to with development. They decided to take their project a step forward and produce it for more people. Now, they are trying to make the product smaller, more affordable and more customizable. They want it to have a variety of use cases so that they can target more people with disabilities and provide help.

Puffin sets a great example by trying to take their hackathon work further. What needs to be pointed out is that you do not need to do win the hackathon to pursue your project. Even if you do not have a usable product at the end of a hackathon, there are people who are happy to help and provide resources. The Assistive Technology Industry Association also provides a lot of funding resources. So, keep on building!




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