The Swiss Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (SBV), in collaboration with Red Hat, VSHN, and Tech Data, launched a hackathon for blind, visually impaired, and sighted people. Over 30 programmers and IT professionals met for two days in June 2022 at the Sheraton Hotel in Zurich. They worked on valuable solutions to supporting blind and visually impaired people’s everyday lives.
Luciano Butera, Head of the Technology and Innovation Department at SBV, and Dominik Wotruba, Head of TechSales Switzerland at Red Hat, welcomed the over 30 blind, visually impaired, and sighted technology professionals. Together, they developed new solutions that make everyday life easier for blind and visually impaired people. Five project ideas submitted in advance made it into the final selection: applications for recognizing the expiration date on food, obstacles on the street, arranging tandems for activities, reading out menus in restaurants, and querying the status of elevators and escalators in the train station, including indoor routing.
The participants from Red Hat, SBV, customers, and partners split into five projects. “Small communities developed around the ideas–quite similar to open source projects,” Dominik Wotruba notes. And he adds: “Everyone was able to contribute their skills and thus contribute to the projects’ success.”
The teams got a functional prototype up and running in only two days. On the technical side, VSHN provided each group with DevOps support and an APPUiO Cloud hosting platform based on Red Hat OpenShift. At the same time, Tech Data offered its AI solution Tech Lab. Red Hat programmers also prepared programming skeletons: basic framework templates for developing the solutions to make it easier for the participants to start the projects, followed by busy brainstorming and coding. “The work was completely focused–and practically non-stop. You could tell: people had a mission,” says Luciano Butera.
At the end of the hackathon, the teams had to present their solution to the jury of four: in addition to Luciano Butera and Dominik Wotruba, Jonas Janz, solution architect at Red Hat, and René Jaun, editor at the publishing house Netzmedien, were responsible for assessing the projects.
The jury was particularly enthusiastic about and awarded the winning “MENUista” project by Selamet Aydogdu, Dominique Hofstetter, Lars Jenzer, Alexey Loubyansky, and Erik Jan de Wit. They developed a smartphone app that displays and reads aloud the menu of nearby restaurants, making it easier for blind and visually impaired people to find a suitable restaurant nearby and be less dependent on sighted companions.
Luciano Butera and the jury praised the solution’s benefits, the project’s progress, and the presentation. “The app is easy to use and does what it is supposed to. As far as the team was able to develop the solution at the hackathon, it brings the users the greatest benefit on balance,” says the co-initiator of the hackathon. He agreed that automatically collating menu cards from nearby restaurants is helpful. “The winning project is an excellent demonstration that software for blind and visually impaired people can also be practical for sighted people,” comments Luciano Butera.
The feedback after the hackathon was overwhelmingly positive. Aarno Aukia, Co-Founder of the sponsor VSHN, was on hand to advise the teams at the hackathon. He praised the successful integration of all participants: “When finding their way around the event location, the blind and visually impaired participants were happy to receive support. But as soon as everyone sat down at the laptop and started working, there was no difference.”
Christopher Schmidt from Red Hat partner InnoQ and a participant at the event particularly praised the “open, friendly atmosphere” on site. “Also, the opportunity to hear directly from the people concerned about their daily challenges and to work out solutions was one of the highlights of the two days,” is his summary. Dominik Wotruba has a similar view: “For the teams, the task was to develop solutions tailored to the users’ needs. Therefore, responding to the input of the blind and visually impaired participants was central. From that point of view, the hackathon was a prime example of customer-centric work.”