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May 11, 201503:26 PMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Software ‘developer day’ for disability apps puts UW-Stout in strong company

(page 1 of 2)

After AT&T and New York University held the first hack-a-thon to come up with technologies to help people with disabilities, the call went out for other likely campus hosts for the software-based Connect Ability Challenge.

Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stepped forward with solid ideas. So did UW-Stout

Yes, that UW-Stout — the same campus of roughly 9,400 students in Menomonie that brands itself as “Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University,” and which perennially chalks up job placement rates of 95%-plus for its graduates.

“It’s the four R&D universities you normally think of, right? Johns Hopkins, Duke, MIT, and us,” joked Paul Schwartz, who helps manage Stout’s Vocational Rehabilitation Institute. “It’s a feather in our cap, and we’re definitely up to it.”

The Connect Ability Challenge was launched in April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark federal law passed with bipartisan support. Developers in the competition will create software, wearable devices, and other technology solutions to enhance the lives of people with disabilities.

A daylong workshop, or “Developer Day,” will be held Saturday at UW-Stout to give students, faculty, and others outside the campus a chance to learn more about the competition, and to test their ideas. The deadline to enter the contest is still about six weeks out – 4 p.m., June 24 – but the UW-Stout workshop will give developers a head start. Teams will be formed, and participants will hear from people with disabilities and strategize around possible solutions.

Why UW-Stout? The campus offers a unique combination of gamers, software developers, and other techies, along with a certified program designed to help people with disabilities.

“I’m very impressed with the students we have here at Stout,” said Schwartz, who has been a part of the campus for nearly 25 years. “They are hands-on, minds-on doers. They’re not theoretical kids. You give them a problem statement and they’re going to hit it hard.”

(Continued)

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Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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