FWDThinking Episode 23: Meet the IDeA competition winners

Alistair Croll in conversation with the 2021 IDeA competition winners.

Each year, the Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) student competition challenges university students across Canada to use their creativity to develop innovative, cost-effective and practical solutions to accessibility barriers for people with disabilities.The objectives of the program are:

  • To contribute to the creation of a culture of accessibility in Canada.
  • To motivate students to think about accessibility issues and to include accessibility in their creation of social and technological innovations now and in the future.
  • To develop cost-effective, practical and innovative concepts, programs, initiatives or designs that address everyday accessibility issues.

While the pandemic prevented us from welcoming winners as we usually do, we still found a way to sit down with representatives of the winning groups in all 4 categories.

Category 1: Attitudinal/Systemic Barriers 

1st place: Closet, Carleton University 

Innovative labelling system lets people with visual disabilities manage their clothes more independently Closet is an accessible clothing tag system designed by a team of students at Carleton University that allows people of all visual abilities to reliably access information about a garment’s size, colour, material and care instructions. As well as displaying this vital information on the tags visually through texts and symbols, the innovative system also allows people to access it tactically through braille and digitally through mobile devices. This means those with visual disabilities can navigate, identify, match and care for their clothes independently, rather than relying on the help of sighted people. 

The tags are easily designed and manufactured with existing technology, providing a low-cost solution that can be realistically implemented by clothing manufacturers. 

Winning team: Liana Meere and Mandy Hui 

Category 2: Architectural/Industrial Design Barriers

1st place: SlapBra: An Assistive Bra Dressing Device, University of Toronto 

SlapBra: Novel device supports ease of dress Every day, people living with only one functional arm due to chronic conditions such as arthritis, stroke, and amputation face struggles to dress themselves independently. While many adaptive dressing aids exist for most garments, there is a noticeable paucity of quality products to assist people put on their bras.   

Designed by a team of students from the University of Toronto, The SlapBra aims to remedy this.  At a cost of approximately $20, this assistive device is affordable, accessible and ambidextrous, making it easier and more comfortable for people to don, fasten and remove a bra with one functional arm. 

Winning team: Casie Lee, Luke Sandor, Lynn Li and Tiffany Igros

Category 3: Technological/Communication Barriers 

1st place: A 3D Drawing Toolkit for Blind and Partially Sighted Drawers, OCAD University and Ontario Tech University 

3D drawing toolkit for blind and low-vision learners. 

Drawing aids problem solving, collaboration and presentation in design, science and engineering, as well as enabling artistic creativity and expression in the arts. Unfortunately, blind and low-vision learners still lack an effective drawing tool to foster their inclusion in these areas, even in our era of digital multimedia.  

Raised-line drawing kits aim to provide this, but blind users claim finding these to be barely comprehensible, most likely because a line representing a surface edge reflects a visual bias that violates principles of haptic perception. In contrast, participants found 3D models to be more effective, as they afford 3D perceptual cues.  

This 3D drawing toolkit prototype was developed by two students in close consultation with blind and low-vision drawers. It has a digital interface that translates 3D-haptic drawings into an online virtual environment, which makes it suitable for 3D printing and collaboration. It also allows drawers to continuously react to their prior marks while developing their drawings.  

Winning team: Mitali Kamat (OCAD U) and Lillian Fan (Ontario Tech)  

Category 4: Virtual Learning and Distance Education 

1st place: Side by Side, Brock University

Building community online .

Being part of a community helps increase people’s physical activity and sense of belonging – both which lead to improved health outcomes. However, adults who identify as physically, mentally or otherwise neurodiverse often face barriers to participating in exercise or social opportunities.  

Side by Side is an online program designed to offer this group physical activity and social connections through online adaptive programming, thus removing external barriers such as access to transportation, inaccessible facilities and financial constraints, all which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was developed by a team of students at Brock University. 

The program offers group exercise classes and individual physical programs tailored to users’ needs as well as monthly social sessions with discussions and games.  

Winning team: Michael Zutautas, Aaron Wexler, Aqui Laidlaw-Allan, Leona Noble, Nikki Nguyen, Sydney Hollander, Roxana Gilgor and Jessica Dobroski

Find out more about Universities Canada’s IDeA competition.