Ontario universities tap into student creativity to make life more accessible for all in annual IDeA competition

TORONTO, May 24, 2013 /CNW/ - A navigation system that will alert users with visual disabilities to obstacles in their environment and a wheelchair seat that adjusts to help users reach higher cupboards are designs from the finalists of the Council of Ontario Universities' (COU) annual Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) student competition.

"Ontario universities are committed to the provincial goal of creating an accessible environment for everyone," says Alastair Summerlee, Chair of COU and President of the University of Guelph. "The IDeA competition brings awareness about accessibility to our classrooms by engaging the minds of our students and tapping into their incredible creativity."

Nine finalist teams from five Ontario universities will showcase their inventions to break down barriers to accessibility in all walks of life at the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery conference on May 27 at 5:15 p.m. at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building.

"It's inspiring to see the innovative and cost-effective solutions to barriers to accessibility that have been produced by Ontario's talented undergraduate students," says Bonnie M. Patterson, COU President and CEO. "Our hope is that these students will take what they've learned with them as they finish university and move into their careers, creating a culture of accessibility wherever they go."

This is the second year for the IDeA competition, which is supported through the Ontario government's EnAbling Change program and COU's partners at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario in the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

This year, 18 of 21 Ontario universities participated. The Hon. Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, will announce the winners at the event.

"Competitions like IDeA help prepare our youth to become leaders in the development and marketing of accessible goods and services," says Hoskins. "Not only will this benefit Ontarians with disabilities, it will also give our province a competitive edge in global markets, where the demand for these products and services is growing. I commend all the IDeA participants for opening our minds to countless possibilities, and for demonstrating new ways of advancing accessibility in our communities."

The IDeAs include:

  • A system that tracks facial movement and brain electrical activity to provide inputs to a computer, as an alternative to using a mouse and keyboard - David Newman and Trinette Wright, McMaster University

  • A low-cost mechanical hand designed to be produced on a 3-D printer - Tim Inglis, Alim Baytekin, Natalie Lavasseur and Alborz Erfani, Carleton University

  • A variety of assistive devices developed for users in rural Uganda who require better mobility to participate in small business - Ruby Hadley, Carmen Liu and Andrew Theobald, Carleton University

  • A height-adjustable wheelchair seat that allows users to reach higher cupboards - JD Sherman, Carleton University

  • A navigation system that alerts users to obstacles in their environment and provides location on command via audio - Neil Voorneveld, Carleton University

  • A leveling device designed for users with Hemiagnosia, a sight disorder, to increase awareness of proximity to objects they cannot see - Erik Gluk, Devang Saxena and Ali Al-Safi, University of Toronto

  • A sensor that provides users of an iPod or MP3 player with an audio warning when they are reaching the end of a swimming pool - Shuang Song, Joseph Santarelli and Nicole Kucirek, Western University

  • A custom computer controller, in place of a keyboard and mouse, that can be modified to a user's unique needs - Calvin Chu, University of Waterloo

  • A design solution that gives the user complete control of a motorcycle - Tiziano Cousineau, Carleton University

The winner and two runners-up receive cash rewards of $1,500, $1,000 and $500 respectively.

Next year's competition will focus on parasport and active living, in honour of the upcoming Pan American Games taking place in Ontario.

OCE's Discovery Conference brings together industry, investors, entrepreneurs and researchers to showcase leading-edge technologies and research in Ontario.

COU is a membership organization of 21 publicly assisted universities in Ontario. It works closely with the provincial and federal governments to shape public policies that help universities deliver high-quality programs for students, and the research and innovation that improves the social, cultural and economic well-being of Ontarians.

Visit the Council of Ontario Universities website at www.cou.on.ca
Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CouncilofOntarioUniversities
Follow us on Twitter at @OntUniv

SOURCE: Council of Ontario Universities

For further information:

Wendy McCann
Director, Strategic Communications and Media Relations
T: 416-979-2165 ext. 233
C: 647-271-0825
Email Wendy McCann


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