Hackathons bring together people to create real, working solutions to technology related problems over the course of an event. Hackathons create a collaborative environment of passionate and talented individuals working and learning together to solve problems with new and innovative solutions. Hackathons focusing on the accessibility of IT for people with disabilities can be used to introduce computing students and professionals to accessibility issues and solutions and increase their awareness about the need for making technologies that they design accessible to a broad audience that includes people with disabilities.

evoHaX is a series of accessibility-focused hackathons organized by the non-profit EvoXLabs, which aims to bridge the gap between technology and people with disabilities. The fourth evoHaX was held in 2017. EvoHax hackathons are designed to not only ensure the active participation of people with disabilities in the tech field, but also allow for great solutions to be developed that will solve real problems and change lives.

Participants and Location

Between 17-28 students have participated in past evoHaX hackathons. An open call for participation was made to local schools and tech firms to recruit teams. Selection of teams is first come first served and limited by the space available for the event. All student participants were part of a hackathon team, either as developers/engineers or as subject matter experts (SME), individuals with disabilities who served as mentors for the teams.  Each team was randomly paired up with a Subject Matter Expert (SME), who was typically a person with a disability as well as an industry expert and medical professional to ensure a diverse group. For example, a team of five students may be paired with an individual with vision impairment, an occupational therapist, and a web developer.

Volunteers were also recruited from local schools, tech firms, and organizations. Between 35-50 volunteers supported each hackathon so that the teams could develop and showcase their technology solutions. All of the volunteers contributed something important to the overall success of the event from serving lunch to judging and sharing expertise about engineering, design, or working with individuals with disabilities.   Subject matter and industry experts with experience and expertise serve as judges. 

Logistics

Each evoHaX has had a theme. Themes have included accessibility, accessible wearable technologies, and “Technologies for the Future: Green, Sustainable, and Accessible.” Teams of up to five individuals from schools, local tech firms, and the public were invited to participate in each hackathon. The goal of the team is to work with the SME, understand their limitations, and develop a solution that the SME can use in their daily lives. Each team has assigned mentors, and there are also mentors floating around to answer questions.

Teams are generally expected to bring all hardware and software items they need for development, however, in some years, sponsors have provided some hardware or equipment that can be used in the event.. Hardware needed includes, but is not limited to, laptops and chargers. We recommend that participants wear comfortable clothing and bring any personal items needed to be comfortable for 12 hours of coding.

The judges considered the universality, creativity, scalability, creativity, and practicality of the projects, among other things. Most years prizes have largely been donated to the hackathons. Prizes have included Amazon Echoes, Google Homes, Google Chromebooks, and Pebble Times.

Each evoHaX has kicked off on Friday evening with a panel discussion of experts for participants to learn more about accessibility before teams begin working on their individual projects. Saturday is devoted to explaining guidelines, forming tools, and beginning projects. On Sunday, projects are completed and presented to the judges and an audience of spectators. When presentations are over, the judges and audiences vote, winners are chosen, and prizes are announced. An agenda follows:

Schedule

Friday, April 28 -  6:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.
Panel Discussion: Accessibility in the Contemporary World of Technology 

Saturday, April 29 -  10:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M.
The Hack - Check-In, Breakfast, Rules, Hackathon 101, Team Formation, Hacking, Lunch, Dinner

Sunday, April 30 - 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.
Finale - Breakfast, Hacking, Lunch, Demos, Presentations, Judging, Awards, Pictures, Wrap-up.

The schedule is largely unstructured to allow time for teams to formulate their project and work on developing it.

There are no formal rules for the hackathon beyond some basic guidelines:

  • All work needs to finished before the presentations.
  • Borrowed equipment must be returned before leaving.
  • Clean up after yourself.
  • Respect other teams and their equipment.

When choosing a space be sure that it is accessible. It is helpful to have quiet areas that individuals can use to focus on their work or to be able to take a break.

Outcomes

Technology developed at various evoHaX events include a map system showcasing accessible entrances, a visual home alarm system, a touch-reading device, and a tactile oriented input device. Teams were able to learn about the importance of keeping accessibility in mind during the design process. Many team members have expressed a desire to continue working on these projects after the event. The team mentors, each of whom had a disability, were able to get directly involved in the design and development of the final product, allowing them to see the way in which this process can help create better technology solutions. Individuals who attended the final presentations were inspired by the projects developed and wanted to get involved in similar work.

Lessons Learned

For individuals who wish to conduct a similar activity, project organizers suggest the following:

  • Include individuals with disabilities in the hackathon teams. This gives participants the ability to learn from a person with a disability and experience including people with disabilities in the design process.
  • Give teams sufficient time to work on their projects. The more time teams are givin to working on their projects, the more polished the projects are likely to be by the end of the event.
  • Provide resources to help teams learn about accessibility. This includes the participation of people with disabilities as well as accessibility experts who can serve as mentors. 

Resources