Singapore’s First AT Invention Competition to Improve Lives of the Disabled

Singapore, 15 September 2004 – Permanently disabled from neck down, Mr Yeong Sam Choi relies on his family members and maid in the simplest tasks. He is unable to eat or get dressed without their help. To decrease his dependence on them, he uses the Sicare Pilot, a voice-activated remote control system that allows him to control his TV, audio system and hospital bed on his own.

Assistive Technology (AT) is the term coined for any equipment or system that helps people with disabilities increase, maintain, or improve their functional capabilities. Like Mr Yeong, many people with physical disabilities rely on such devices to help them overcome their limitations and be more independent.

The Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) in collaboration with the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R) is staging Singapore’s first AT Invention Competition to help people with physical disabilities. The objective is to create awareness of AT, promote the need to include the disabled population in considerations when designing new products, and encourage local companies to develop affordable and reliable AT devices.

The competition was launched on 15 September at the 2nd International Conference on Smart Homes and Health Telematics (ICOST 2004) held at the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort.

Most AT devices used by people with physical disabilities here today are imported from abroad. They are generally costly to acquire and is a problem to service and maintain. Through the Competition, the Society hopes encourage the local production of AT devices so that the devices could be more accessible for people with physical disabilities, and be of better fit.

According to Mr Koh Nai Teck, President of SPD, “AT helps to enable individuals with disabilities to be better integrated into the mainstream. The Competition could be a crucial step in helping to make Singapore a more inclusive society.”

Senior Finance Executive Mr Philip Ang is no stranger to the benefits of AT. The 38-year-old who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy has up till recently relied on his friends and colleagues to get around. Philip then needed assistance to push his wheelchair whenever he had to go to the toilet or photocopy or fax documents and colleagues had to go to his workstation for discussions. Having acquired a motorized wheelchair in May this year, he is able to move about on his own and has found a new lease of life.

He says, “I think Assistive Technology can help increase the self-esteem of people with physical disabilities and give them more freedom. My social life has improved after getting the motorized wheelchair. Now I only hope that someone can invent a solar-powered one so that I needn’t have to worry about the batteries going flat!”

The competition comprises two categories, one for students of local universities and polytechnics and an open category for the general public. Participants in both categories can opt to enroll as individuals or as a group.

The AT Invention Competition is limited to devices for people with physical disabilities only. The devices should be either a living, vocational or study aid, or an augmentative and alternative communication aid.

The closing date for applications is 30 September 2004. Proposals should include drawings or photographs of the invention, a needs analysis, the cost of development and evaluation indicators. Participants of the submissions shortlisted may be required to demonstrate and explain their proposed inventions to an Evaluation Committee and subsequently exhibit them at the awards ceremony in April 2005.

Entries will be judged on originality, impact, practicality, cost efficiency and the inclusion of universal design features. Three prizes ranging from $500 to $2,000 may be won in both categories. The intellectual property rights of inventions submitted for the AT Invention Competition will remain with inventors.