Microsoft Encourages Innovation Development to Enhance Learning of Student with Disabilities with “Accessible Learning Hackathon” Competition

 |   Thornthawat Thongnab

Group of people with three students in wheelchairs holding certificates

Bangkok, 25 September 2018 – Microsoft Thailand has recently partnered with the public and private sectors, to host  the 7th National Academic Conference for special education and announce the 2018 winning team of “Accessible Learning Hackathon: Solving the Right Problems for Students with Disabilities”. The competition was open to high school and university students who are interested in technology and wanted to learn real about daily challenges of students with disabilities. Teams of participants worked together to come up with an innovative solution of an application that could help eliminate various issues making education more accessible to them.  Team Reborn to Step, from the Redemptorist Vocational School for People with Disabilities emerged victorious amidst stiff competition between the five finalist teams,  and received the royal trophy from HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. The team impressed the judges by developing an app for people with mobility disability that facilitated their daily lives by using chatbot to answer various questions and helped connect with nearby volunteers.

“Accessible Learning Hackathon: Solving the Right Problems for Students with Disabilities” competition was held under a partnership between Microsoft Thailand and several organizations including Office of the Basic Education Commission, Ministry of Education, UNESCO Bangkok, Social Technology Institute, Faculty of Engineering, Chulalongkorn University and National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC). The objective is to give an opportunity for tech-savvy high schools and universities students to understand the real challenges of the students with disabilities. The students had a chance to come up with solutions in a form of application that tackled these issues, advanced their learning, and reduced inequality in education for disabled students – all with a bigger goal to elevate Thailand’s special education to global standards, as part of the national 4.0 policy. The submitted projects dealt with the many challenges the students with disabilities face and provided many options to enhance the special education in various areas.  From an app that helps read homework to the blind and reads braille to teachers, and an application that uses voice notifications and photo recognition to help the blind identify objects in front of them; to a program that assists in learning mathematics, one of the subjects that the students with disabilities are given less opportunities to excel in – all of the submissions were outstanding.

Mr. Dhanawat Suthumpun, Managing Director of Microsoft Thailand, said, “Microsoft is committed to helping all Thais move forward together without leaving anyone behind. Thus, we are providing a full support in innovation development to enhance the special education. We truly hope that ‘Accessible Learning Hackathon: Solving the Right Problems for Students with Disabilities’ initiative will raise awareness of challenges in the society that the people with disabilities face, and hope judges’ advice to be beneficial for all teams to further develop their idea. This is one of many steps that will reduce social inequality and increase educational opportunities for the students with disabilities”.

Team Reborn to Step the winning team of “Accessible Learning Hackathon: Solving the Right Problems for Students with Disabilities” who received the royal trophy from HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn consists of four members – Mr. Kittipop Kingskul, Mr. Somchai Kamsukum, Mr. Warawut Thasungnoen, and Mr. Phitawat Dangrot –all of them second year students at Information System Development Program, the Redemptorist Vocational School for People with Disabilities. The team came up with the idea of an application to assist the people with mobility disability with two key features – an AI chatbot that excels in understanding human needs, and quickly provides information that is crucial for the people with disabilities and their caretakers to live their everyday lives. The application also includes an ‘SOS’ feature the people with disabilities can use to ask for help, for example a lift from volunteers or “Heroes” nearby by simply sending a text message through the application.

Mr. Kittipop Kingskul, a Reborn to Step team member, said, “Every member of our team has mobility disability, lives in upcountry, has faced inequality in education and challenges in schools that struggled to accommodate us. So, we wanted to raise awareness of the numerous challenges that the people with mobility disability face in their daily lives society and help address these issues. We were aware that many Thais are willing to help or volunteer but do not know where or how to start. Then we learnt that technology can ease these challenges and support the education of the people with disabilities by sharing crucial information with them more conveniently and quickly. It can also serve as a platform that connects them with the volunteers. That’s when we decided to develop this application and hope it will be beneficial for a wider group of people in the future”.

The Redemptorist Vocational School for People with Disabilities is also a partner of Microsoft YouthSpark initiative. With this partnership, 1,600 youths with disabilities from the school have been trained with coding skills in the past two years. The skills they have learnt will help them make a living and become independent in the future as well as reach the goals in lives even in an era where the economy and the society are changing rapidly.