Experiencing the Microsoft Hackathon with Muscular Dystrophy UK

As an adult with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy assistive technology is a vital element of living an independent lifestyle alongside physiotherapy support.  With the recent explosion in voice assistants like the Amazon Echo into the mainstream, it seems viable for technology giants to innovate in the assistive technology sector. Working from the top down is the best way to make industry wide changes so that improvements can benefit people with disabilities. Assistive Technology is the future for progressive conditions as it can adapt to our changing abilities or enhance our independent lifestyle.

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I was approached by Nic Bungay (Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Director of Campaigns, Care and Information) to join MDUK at Microsoft HQ in Reading to pitch an idea to incentivise physiotherapy through gaming whilst collecting data regarding upper-body movement in non-ambulant people with MD. Physiotherapy can seem time-consuming and boring however it is very important to maintain upper-body muscle strength for the future so that you can continue accessing the advancements in technology. Current physiotherapy thinking focuses primarily on keeping us walking for as long as possible however due to the increased number of adults living with MD awareness is beginning to shift to a focus on arm, hand and finger physiotherapy.

The Microsoft Hackathon on the 4th and 5th of December was another chance for Microsoft to meet someone living with a muscle-wasting condition to gain an insight into the daily challenges so that we could work together to find a solution to the problem of how to incentivise physiotherapy through gaming.

The expert physiotherapy knowledge from Gita Ramhdarry and Sunitha Narayanan from MDUK was extremely vital to get the perspective on the challenges they face when giving out exercises to carry on at home. From the information gathered we made a framework to create a wearable device which will collect vital data on heart-rate, respiratory rate and movement. This is a more exciting way for the user to do their physiotherapy exercises at home whilst having fun, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. It is empowering to take control of your exercises in this way so that you can fit important health activities around your life.

I was glad to be part of the MDUK team with Nic Bungay during such an incredible opportunity, as recently my focus has been on improving assistive technology. It is wonderful news that MDUK initiated dialogue with a tech giant like Microsoft with their vast Azure cloud to support charities by making technology that really matters to people with muscle-wasting conditions.

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The whole Microsoft Hackathon experience was remarkable, Eve Joseph and Claire Ashton Tate organized everything perfectly from locating empty rooms, leading us on the 500-metre trek from one building to the other and looking after us well. The Hackathon Microsoft team led by Christos Matskas were extremely welcoming, knowledgeable and focused even working tirelessly overnight to complete our device. Without their incredible work, MDUK would never have had the chance to bring our proof-of-concept to life, especially to the stage where we can deliver this device into an internal pilot study.

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Hector Minto Senior Technology Evangelist for Accessibility at Microsoft allowed me to test out the new Tobii 4C eye-tracker. The Tobii 4C does not rely on your eyes having to both move the mouse pointer and click instead you click by focusing on a mouse drop-down menu. This makes the device intuitive so that unwanted clicks during use are decreased. The Tobii 4C eye-tracker has the potential to be an excellent product after some final bugs are ironed-out.

The future of Assistive Technology looks exciting, disabled people are no longer the forgotten population of computer users. 

 

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