Accessible Learning Hackathon: Solving the right problems for students with disabilities

Accessible Learning Hackathon: Solving the right problems for students with disabilities

There are approximately 1 billion people with disabilities globally, which account for 15% of the world’s citizens. Of these, 80% live in developing countries. In Thailand, there are over 1.8 million people with disabilities who have registered with the government. However, they are not likely to attend school.

To promote awareness on access to the right to education for people with disabilities, UNESCO Bangkok in collaboration with the Special Education Bureau, Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC), Ministry of Education Thailand, Microsoft Thailand and Social Technology Institute organized the “Accessible Learning Hackathon: Solving the right Problems for students with disabilities” from 10 July to 24 August 2018. This competition marks the first Hackathon of the Ministry of Education to provide an opportunity for young innovators and students in Thailand to learn and understand learning difficulties of the students with disabilities, and find solutions through the design and development of the applications. The applications aimed to reduce barriers and promote learning of students with disabilities with the use of ‘Assistive Technology’ (AT).

The orientation of the Hackathon was held on 10 July 2018 at UNESCO Bangkok to provide knowledge and understanding on learning problems of students with disabilities for all 10 teams from 9 schools and universities who participated in the competition. The semi-final round of the Hackathon was organized on 21-22 July 2018 at Microsoft Thailand. Through this round, 5 finalist teams were awarded with 20,000 Thai Baht scholarship to further develop their applications. The scholarships were supported by Theppadungporn Coconut Co., Ltd., and UNESCO Bangkok.

The final round of the Hackathon competition took place on 24 August 2018 at the Palazzo Hotel in Bangkok. The event was well attended by 270 participants across the country including administrators, teachers, special educators, researchers, policy makers, students and other stakeholders.  The event also provided a platform to share knowledge as well as build network and collaboration on Assistive Technology.

The 5 finalist teams who passed the semi-final round of the competition further developed the apps for students with disabilities, and made a presentation on their apps to the judges.

‘Reborn to Step’ team from the Redemptorist Vocational School for People with Disabilities in Pattaya won the Royal Trophy of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, by developing an app called ‘Reborn to Step’ which is an information platform for people with disabilities to learn more about their rights. The app also features a system for people with disabilities to be connected with the volunteers nearby. They will be able to call for help from the ‘Hero’ who are other normal app users to assist them.

The first runner-up price winner is ‘BB Lab’ team from King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMIT).  To alleviate travel difficulty for people with movement disabilities, the team developed the app called  ‘Be Your Eyes’ which can assist blind students to do homework and help teachers to check their assignments in Braille format and Thai text into Thai audio format. The app also comes with a model ‘Scanner Case’ that supports the use of the app by people with visual impairment.
‘Accessibility Friendly’ team from Rajamangala University of Technology Thanyaburi (RMUTT) won the second runner-up price for their ‘Blind Friendly’ app which assists the blinds to travel to unfamiliar places through the use of camera of the mobile phone. The object viewer will interprets the object into audio output.

In addition, another two teams won the consolidation prices: ‘BFG-Soft Control’ team from Burapha University created the app called ‘Funography’ to assist people with dyslexia to read Thai alphabets by using sounds of the characters and interactive game. ‘EyeSelf @_@CSTU’ team from Thammasat University also developed ‘EyeMath’ app which to support blind students to read basic algebra and polynomial equation.

The participants also learnt about Microsoft YouthSpark project in which Assistive Technology was used to support learners with disabilities as well as private sector roles on digital skills by  Ms. Supahrat Juramongkol, Community Affairs Manager, Microsoft Thailand.
Mr. Ichiro Miyazawa, Programme Specialist in Literacy and Lifelong Learning, UNESCO Bangkok provided the statistics on education and disabilities, ten recommendations from the Global Monitoring Report and the development of the UNESCO Bangkok’s regional guideline on Assistive Technology to provide inclusive education for children with special needs.

Asst. Prof. Proadpran Punyabukkana from Faculty of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University shared experiences, challenges and best practices in providing education with the use of Assistive Technology and developing learning materials for students with special needs, especially with their first student with visual impairment.

Another guest speaker, Dr. Montien Boonton, member of the National Assembly of Thailand also provided an overview on legislations and policies related to Assistive Technology in Thailand as well as the current challenges in developing systematic policies and effective implementation for student with disabilities. Capacity building for the government officials is also essential in order to enhance quality support for students with special needs who often have struggled in learning or accessing education system.