History was made last month at the the U.S. Business Leadership Network‘s massive national conference and expo. For the first time, a group of over 50 people with disabilities and 15 mentors came together on teams competing to present innovative ideas to some of the most influential companies in the U.S. The competition was part of an Innovation Lab, a concept rolled out by UCP’s Life Labs initiative to foster innovation through the principles of Universal Design.
Two weeks prior to the event, the teams started getting to know each other and swapping ideas online. By the day of the event in Austin, TX, many teams were ready to dive right in. They brainstormed how to pitch their ideas and solve problems, tapping into the insights of the many mentors circulating around their tables in their conference room. After two days of hard work, they were ready to show off their fast-tracked innovations at the USBLN Expo Hall, where corporate leaders, potential investors, and possibly future employers roamed around the various exhibits.
Expo attendees then voted on their favorite innovations and the top two teams were selected to pitch their ideas, “Shark Tank” style, at the conference’s closing plenary session. A panel of distinguished judges including Aaron Bangor, Lead Accessible Technology Architect at AT&T, Paulette Jagers, VP & Managing Director of Talent Management at BMO Harris Bank and Stacy L. Zoern, President of Kenguru, Inc., which makes accessible cars. Each judge is a business leader with a disability.
The winning team, as selected by the judges, named themselves 9’s Design. They pitched an idea to innovate upon the typical fobs and key cards are used now to identify workers going in and out of buildings and gaining access to secure areas. The team’s idea was to make a hands-free wearable device that would be easier to use for people with disabilities – instead of having to swipe or touch the device to a scanner next to a door, a scanner would be able to pick up the embedded information as the person wearing the device got close enough.
To make this innovation truly universal, the team envisioned other information being transmitted by the device and a universal system of scanners which could not only pick up information such as whether or not an employee had permission to enter a building, but possibly personal information which could help first responders help the person in an emergency or eliminate the need to pull traditional ID’s like driver’s licenses out of wallets or purses.
“People with disabilities are overwhelmingly vulnerable when it comes to emergency preparedness, so when we were tasked with solving a common workplace problem, emergency evacuations seemed the most logical problem to tackle,” said Tailor Dortona of the winning team. “The security applicability of the device was inspired by the necessity to create something that ALL people would have a reason to wear, no matter their disability status. Having just ended an appointment with the U.S. Department of Navy, incorporating RFID chip technology into our wearable safety medallion seemed the best way to make our creation status quo while simultaneously promoting independence and increasing worker productivity.”
Second place team, My Ears, focused on a digital CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) application for smart phones.
“We were so happy with this event and with the enthusiasm and hard work of the participants,” said Gabriel Forsythe y Korzeniewicz, Program Manager of UCP’s Life Labs. “We hope this was an experience they can take with them and apply to all aspects of their profession and creative lives.”
The Winning Team: 9’s Design
- Joseph Uvalle
- Jewel Melvin
- Kathleen Uva
- Paul Alan Williams
- Tailor Dortona
- Benjamin Griffiths
- Kevin Kundiger
- Elizabeth O’Neal
- Marcus Tuck
A special thanks to Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, and their Director, Kevin Webb for serving as MC for the “Shark Tank”- style presentation rounds!