“No Silent Night as Hackathon Teams Compete in ‘Voice Assist for All’ Event”

Raising our voices for equality and empowerment took on a whole new meaning last month when digital health entrepreneurs gathered in Playa Vista at USC’s Tech Campus to hack the night away in a unique 30-hour competition created by USC Center for Body Computing (USC CBC) and the WITH Foundation.

The purpose of the event was to design an app based on Voice Assist technology provided by Amazon and Google using Orbita’s sandbox trial voice software solution that supported two special populations: adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and aging seniors. The competition challenged the multidisciplinary teams to create universal design concepts so those with hearing or speech difficulties could utilize this omnipresent technology in their lives. Today, more than 40 million people use voice search or assist daily. By 2020, analysts predict 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches.

These numbers could be even higher if special needs populations were not excluded from the design and functionality of this technology as it evolves. According to WITH, 4.7 million people in the U.S. live with IDD and the CDC reports 1 in 4 Americans have a disability. In addition, AARP and Oxford Economics reported that 111 million people are currently over age 50 and by 2050, the 50+ crowd will represent 40 percent of the total population. We also know that statistically hearing loss starts to begin in our 30s and 40s and more than half of the hearing impaired population are of working age.

Taking all these considerations into the design process is what the WITH Foundation with USC CBC’s help is trying to achieve.  

Dr. Leslie Saxon, who founded the USC CBC and serves as its executive director, calls this effort “building the digital health ramp” much like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) built actual ramps for our special needs population 28 years ago.

Design for All

Universal design is not a new idea – its purpose of aiming for the triple As (Accessible, Adaptable, Assistive) can be found in automatic doors, bendable straws, velcro shoes (ease of use for seniors and toddlers), dropped sidewalk curbs (giving accessibility for both wheelchairs and baby strollers), eReaders and tablets for those ages 18 months to 88 years and the ubiquitous OXO Good Grips home utensils (carrot peelers, coffee pots and more).

While Silicon Valley and other new technology designers and developers create functional products and services, addressing broad consumer needs through universal design is not always on their checklist. According to Ryan Easterly, executive director of the WITH Foundation, it should be.


And the winner is…Amplify

While the five hacker teams who were chosen from among 30 entrants all had exceptional concepts, the expert judges – which included representatives from USC CBC, WITH Foundation, AARP Foundation and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) – chose Team Amplify.

By focusing their winning idea on using voice assist in an innovative and impactful way to deliver a gamification concept and interactivity for speech therapy to children with cerebral palsy, Team Amplify delivered on the Hackathon’s promise to amplify voice assist development efforts to design for all!

Read more about Amplify’s winning entry and watch the event video here: