Ontario university students competing in COU's annual IDeA awards contest could help remove barriers for people with disabilities

TORONTO, May 8, 2014 /CNW/ - A wristband that vibrates for people with visual disabilities to signal when friends are nearby, a portable toilet that expands to be big enough for wheelchairs, and a mapping system that rates the accessibility of each campus path, are among finalists in the Council of Ontario Universities' (COU) annual Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) student competition.

"Ontario's goal is to create an environment that is accessible to everyone - and Ontario universities are supporting students so that they can succeed and contribute strongly to the future of our province," says Max Blouw, COU Chair and President of Wilfrid Laurier University.

Nine finalist teams from seven Ontario universities will showcase their inventions at the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery Conference on May 12 and 13 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building. Winners will be announced on May 13 at 2:15 p.m.

"Universities recognize the value in encouraging students to think about barriers faced by people with disabilities," says Bonnie M. Patterson, COU President and CEO. "It is our wish that Ontario graduates will take that awareness into the world and break down barriers whenever they see them."

This year, 18 of 21 Ontario universities participated in the contest, which is supported through the Ontario government's EnAbling Change program and partners at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario in the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

IDeAs include:

  • A mobile app and wristband that vibrates to alert those with visual disabilities that friends are nearby, allowing them to initiate conversation instead of having to be approached – Katie Roepke, Carleton University
  • A portable toilet that can expand by four times the usual size to make room for wheelchairs, walkers, strollers and personal support workers – Jasmine Yeung, Carleton University
  • A mapping system that rates the accessibility of campus paths and corridors to help students with disabilities navigate unfamiliar territory – Nicholas Schoenhoff, McMaster University
  • A tablet-like device that allows fans who have visual impairments to get tactile experiences of  sports events as they follow the ball by feeling a puff of air, and following the players by feeling pegs – Alley Krug, Carleton University
  • A sensor that emits a sound when swimmers who have visual impairments near the end of a pool, or runners make their way around a track – Joseph Santarelli, Ahmed Tanashi, Justin Lam, Shuang Song and Nicole Kucirek, Western University
  • A mobile app that gives users insight into how things look for those who have visual impairments - Mark Goldberg, University of Guelph
  • A workshop that teaches Grade 3 students what life is like for friends and family in a wheelchair -  Shannon Misketis, Mackenzie Danen, Chris Bar and Kyle Boham, Brock University
  • A device that uses Open Source data to help students anywhere in the world with cognitive and other disabilities to audibly respond in class – Toni Kunic, York University
  • A device that allows users to take pictures on their smart phone that can then be translated into text and audio - Gentian Licenji, Hester Lai, Ryerson University

The winner and two runners-up will receive prizes of $1,500, $1,000 and $500 respectively. A bonus prize of $1,500 will be awarded to the IDeA that best addresses a barrier in Para-sport and Active Living.

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 advance the research and innovation that improves the social, cultural and economic well-being of Ontarians.

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SOURCE: Council of Ontario Universities

For further information: Wendy McCann, Director, Strategic Communications and Media Relations, Telephone: 416-979-2165 x233, Cell phone: 647-271-0825, Email Wendy McCann (wmccann@cou.on.ca)

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