Students create assistive technology solutions to help people with disabilities

  • Students from the University of Sheffield have collaborated with individuals with disabilities to help them overcome everyday challenges using assistive technology
  • The winning ideas from the project were announced at an open event on International Day of People with Disabilities (3 December 2019)
  • During the event, inspiration keynote speaker, Dr Kate Allatt, shared her incredible recovery from locked-in syndrome

Winning teams from hackcessible 2019

Teams of students from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University have collaborated with people with disabilities to help them overcome everyday challenges using assistive technology.

The annual Hackcessible make-a-thon aims to give students real world experience in manufacturing as well as providing solutions that will increase accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

Individuals directly affected by disabilities presented four thematic challenges for the students relating to visual impairment, communication, wheelchair use and ageing-related memory loss.

Winners were announced for each category. The communication challenge had two winning teams who both created an iPad app which used artificial intelligence to allow someone with locked-in syndrome, who is only able to communicate through eye movements, to control their iPad using these gestures.

The winning team in the wheelchair use category developed a retractable rain cover which could be used independently by wheelchair users who have very little physical dexterity.

In the visual impairment challenge, the winning project was an accessible and tactile version of the board game Kingdomino, and the winners of the ageing challenge created a wearable memory prosthesis for a former NHS surgeon suffering from short term memory loss.

The projects were judged by an expert panel which included representatives from the Academic Health Science Network, the NHS, Dyson, Devices 4 Dignity and both universities.

The winners were announced at a prize-giving ceremony on International Day of People with Disabilities (3 December 2019). Dr Kate Allatt gave a keynote talk at the event on her extraordinary recovery from locked-in syndrome.

Almost 50 students took part this year, using tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters within the iForge makerspace facility at the University of Sheffield to build and prototype the ideas they had developed at workshops over the previous five weeks.

Students and co-designers with disabilities attended the weekly workshops, supported by a team of mentors in healthcare, technology and academia, including Dyson engineer and Sheffield alumnus Kieran Riley, to help them develop both their technical and collaboration skills.

Lucy Edwards, a student from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said: “It’s been great to experience collaborating in a team with different skills. For the first time I’ve tried equipment for manufacturing and design like a 3D printer, laser cutter and vacuum former.”

Simon Wheatcroft, a computer scientist and ultra-distance athlete who is blind, set the task of creating puzzles and games for people with blindness to keep the mind active and provide bonding opportunities.

Simon said: “The team brought ideas to life that I’d never have thought of. Blending our concepts through co-design has created something truly special. The team has put in an astounding amount of design work and time and they made huge progress in a range of different materials. The game the team designed not only functions well, but looks and feels beautiful.”

Aejaz Zahid, the event organiser and Programme Director (Innovation) at South Yorkshire & Bassetlaw Integrated Care Systems, said: “We live in a world where accessibility challenges are everywhere and in every walk of life, from day to day tasks to pursuing hobbies. Hackcessible provides a unique innovation platform that brings together and empowers teams that include individuals with disabilities and students from various disciplines to find new ways to address these accessibility challenges.

“This year we have a highly talented and enthusiastic group of students and mentors representing a diverse range of disciplines including design, engineering and healthcare. The ideas and prototypes developed during Hackcessible could have immense impact on the lives of the individuals who brought us these challenges but also on the wider community and the care sector.”

Hackcessible is a collaboration between the University of Sheffield’s iForge, the Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare (CATCH) and Assistronix.

For futher information on Hackcessible visit:

Additional Information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


For further information please contact:

Emma Griffiths
Media and PR Assistant
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1034