The Emmaus Center of the Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) and UCU’s Social Work Department organized a coworking event “Technology for an Inclusive Society.” Over a three-day period, students in interdisciplinary teams looked for technological solutions that would help people with developmental disabilities integrate into society. The project was implemented by UCU in cooperation with Thomas More University in Belgium.

The main idea of the weekend was to help those who develop technological solutions so they better understand the needs of those for whom they are creating. So each multidisciplinary team included, in addition to social work and computer studies students, people with developmental disabilities, whom the Emmaus Center calls “friends.”

The participants of the weekend had an assignment: to help Oleksandr, Maria, Ostap, and Ivanka, people with special needs, independently purchase groceries and prepare dessert. The students analyzed the problems that the friends encountered and looked for ways to solve them with the help of technology. “Technology for an Inclusive Society” anticipated not only the development of ideas and prototypes of technological solutions but much practical experience: getting acquainted with the friends, visiting supermarkets, and the actual preparation of dessert.

“During the weekend I understood how important it is to have direct contact wth the people we’re trying to help,” said Kateryna Symonenko, a social work student. “We interacted with our ‘clients,’ came up with ideas, and eventually observed how they work in practice. Thanks to this, we were able to notice challenges and problems which at the beginning were not so obvious. This helped us improve our ideas and create a product of maximal quality.”

During the weekend, the teams, among other things, developed the prototype of a game that teaches how to count change, mobile apps with a simple and maximally understandable interface, which have dessert recipes, a list of groceries to buy, and also a “help” button if a friend with special needs gets lost in the store.

“The weekend was exceptionally interesting and busy,” explained Vladyslav Zadorozhnyi, a computer studies student. “Combining programming and interaction with people is an unquestionable plus of this project. I also discovered prospects for the development of a new path in technologies which were earlier not even imagined.”

Jan Dekelver, a representative of Thomas More University, summed up: “Sometimes it might seem that the IT field is only about Google, Apple, and Microsoft. But technologies are also a way to solve the problems of people with disabilities. I know that at your university you call them ‘friends,’ and I am glad to see that during this weekend that was not simply a name.” Dekelver is the father of three, including a son with Down syndrome, and a professor of engineering.