Bristol Braille Technology, which won the accessibility award, created an affordable braille electronic reader, designed with, by and for blind people. Photograph: AbilityNet
With so much coverage about the dark underbelly of the internet and how many of our technological advances have been hijacked for nefarious activities – whether it’s our computers having the potential to spy on us, Russian hackers interfering with democratic elections or our hospitals’ IT systems being hacked – it was a relief to be asked to judge this year’s AbilityNet Tech4Good awards. As the name suggests, these awards showcase the people and organisations using technology to make the world a better place. And I’m pleased to report that there are many amazing tech entrepreneurs working across the globe to create a brighter digital future.
Among the winners in the eight categories who were announced yesterday, are Bristol Braille Technology, the winner of the accessibility award. The social enterprise has created an affordable braille electronic reader, designed with, by and for blind people. Unlike existing readers which can only display a single line of text, Bristol Braille’s device can show a full page of words and numbers. This means users can deliver speeches, use spreadsheets easily and read music notation, scientific and mathematical formulas. Currently being trialled in Britain, Ireland and the US, the social enterprise hopes to launch the device later this year or early 2018 for around £600–£800.
Chatterbox, another communications aid, was developed by Mursal Hedayat, a refugee from Afghanistan, to provide language tutoring. It recruits, trains and supports talented individuals who are refugees through a website to find work as language tutors. Refugees, who are dispersed across the UK, are linked up with individuals and organisations – often based somewhere else – which require those language skills.
One of the most inspiring categories this year was the digital health award. The winner, Haiyan Zhang, developed a wireless sensor, Fizzyo, in her free time, to make physiotherapy exercises more fun for two teenage brothers with cystic fibrosis. By connecting the sensor to their physiotherapy equipment, she turned the exercises into controls for video games. Working in conjunction with Great Ormond Street hospital, Zhang is developing the sensor further, so it can be trialled in 100 homes around the UK to study the long-term efficacy of physiotherapy treatment.
It was also good to see the Guardian 2014 Charity Awards winner, Sky Badger, pick up an award from the tech community for helping parents with disabled children through its extensive website and social media platform.
A new category, in conjunction with Comic Relief, recognised the contribution of technology to improving lives in sub-Saharan Africa. The winning entrant, Praekelt’s MomConnect project, allows pregnant women in South Africa with a mobile phone to access vital information and advice to improve maternal health during pregnancy.
Technology can seem remote and tricky to grasp. But as in previous years, the 2017 Tech4Good winners prove that it can not only improve people’s lives, but save them.