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Student inventions break down barriers to accessibility

A class assignment has turned into a great opportunity for Faith Lauzon-Collins. The communications major is one of two UWindsor students among eight finalists in the Council of Ontario Universities’ annual Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) competition, which focuses on removing barriers for people with disabilities.

Tasked by professor Brian A. Brown in his new media studies course with finding applications for Google Glass, Lauzon-Collins proposed an app that can read American Sign Language and display a real-time translation.

With some updates to her paper, she took third place in the UWindsor’s internal IDeA competition, and went on to qualify for the provincial final. She will present the concept, “I Saw the Sign,” at the Ontario Centre of Excellence Discovery Conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on May 9 and 10.

Windsor’s first-place finisher, Laura Pineault, also made the cut. The behaviour, cognition and neuroscience student launched a campaign to educate businesses and their employees on aphasia—a language impairment that affects the production or comprehension of speech—giving them the ability to better serve customers affected by it and other disabilities. Pineault recruited five local enterprises to participate in her Aphasia Friendly Business Campaign.

COU president David Lindsay said the competition challenges students to come up with creative solutions to improve access for all Ontarians.

“It’s incredible to think of the lives that could be improved as a result of the remarkable ideas featured here today,” he said. “This is a great example of the value our universities place on encouraging students to think about barriers faced by people with disabilities and to take that awareness into the world with them in order to help make our province more accessible.”

All 21 Ontario universities participated in the contest. The winner and two runners-up will receive prizes of $1,500, $1,000 and $500 respectively. A bonus prize of $1,500 will be awarded to the IDeA that best addresses a barrier in business.