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Western team takes second in IDeA competition

By Jason Winders, Western News

A team of five Western students with an idea to aid visually impaired athletes finished in second place among the finalists in the Council of Ontario Universities’ (COU) annual Innovative Designs for Accessibility (IDeA) student competition.

The Western team – comprised of Joseph Santarelli, Ahmed Tanashi, Justin Lam, Shuang Song and Nicole Kucirek – developed a sensor that emits a sound when swimmers who have visual impairments near the end of a pool, or runners make their way around a track.

Song, Santarelli and Kucirek were part of a team that competed with the idea in the competition last year.

In addition to their second-place finish, the team received a bonus prize of $1,500 awarded to the IDeA that best addresses a barrier in para-sport and active living.

Nine finalists from seven Ontario universities showcased their inventions at the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery Conference Monday and Tuesday, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Winners will be announced Tuesday.

A team from Carleton University won first place for its portable toilet that can expand by four times the usual size to make room for wheelchairs, walkers, strollers and personal support workers.

McMaster University and Carleton tied for third place. McMaster won for a mapping system that rates the accessibility of campus paths and corridors to help students with disabilities navigate unfamiliar territory. Carleton won for a mobile app and wristband that vibrates to alert those with visual disabilities that friends are nearby, allowing them to initiate conversation instead of having to be approached.

This year, 18 of 21 Ontario universities participated in the contest, which is supported through the Ontario government’s EnAbling Change program and partners at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario in the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

Last year, Carleton swept the top three awards.