Technical University of Denmark: Students and people with disabilities develop universal solutions

Most of us have tried to oversleep, but few of us can blame the alarm clock when that happens.

23-year-old Rasmus Rejnholt Knudsen can, due to his severely impaired hearing. His hearing disability means he is awakened in the morning by a vibrating alarm clock clipped to his pillow. But the clip tends to fall off during the night, the alarm clock ends up somewhere else in the bed where Rasmus Rejnholt Knudsen can’t sense the vibrations, and thus he oversleeps.

His problem is just one of many that 16 young entrepreneurs with disabilities have come to the innovationhub DTU Skylab to solve. Here, they have been teamed up with DTU students as part of an workshop to develop solutions that relate to the problems they know from their own disabilities. A process that has inspired both participants and students.

“It’s amazing how much insight I’ve gained. And how many ideas can be further developed. For example, I never thought before about how a person with a hearing impairment get up in the morning, but I do now,” says Line Stub Madsen, who studies Process and Innovation at DTU.

At the workshop, she has worked in a team with Rasmus Rejnholt Knudsen to develop a technological solution that can solve his problem of oversleeping. That collaboration has turned into a concrete idea that Rasmus Rejnholt Knudsen is now considering to develop further.

Good business
“We make technology for people, and if anyone is good at recognizing the overlooked needs in our society, it’s someone who experiences challenges in the form of a disability.”
Marianne Thellersen, Vice President of Innovation and Entrepreneurship
The idea development at DTU Skylab is part of a 10-week boot camp for young entrepreneurs with disabilities.

Among others the boot camp is organized by the Danish Association of the Physically Disabled (DHF), and—as the first of its kind in Denmark—it will provide participants with tools that can help them use their disability as an asset in the labour market rather than a disadvantage.

“There are about 50,000 people with disabilities in Denmark who really want to work, but who cannot get into the jobmarket. One of the primary reasons is prejudice and ignorance regarding the value disabilities can bring to a workplace. That’s why I thought: Why not just learn to design your own worklife,” explains Signe Hartvig Daugaard, one of the initiators of the boot camp and founder of the media company Great Minority.

The initiative was met with great interest from DTU from the start. Not only because of its strong message, but because it taps into a large, unresolved business potential, which, according to Senior Vice President of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Marianne Thellersen, can help create a more equal world.

“It’s important for DTU to be part of this. We make technology for people, and if anyone is good at recognizing the overlooked needs in our society, it’s someone who experiences challenges in the form of a disability. By including them in the innovation stage, I think we can create a world where the products we surround ourselves with don’t divide us into a majority and minority, but where we design something from the very beginning that everyone can use,” she says.

Problem-solving for all
One of the key points of the workshop is that by working with disabilities as a source of innovation, products can be developed to both solve a problem for a person with a disability while it can be used by others as well.

It is called working with inclusive product design and Rasmus Rejnholt Knudsen’s idea for a new alarm clock solution is a good example of this.

“I thought how convenient it would be if the alarm clock wasn’t just a separate aid, but part of the bed itself. I imagine a sheet with built-in electrodes that can be set to vibrate when you have to get up in the morning. It could easily benefit others besides people who are hearing-impared,” he explains.

Like several of the other participants, he now plans to use the tools he acquired at DTU Skylab to develop his idea further.

“I have been given some concrete tools on how to operationalize my idea and act on it. And it certainly can’t be ruled out that I might want to continue working on this at DTU,” he says.

The boot camp runs until December and another boot camp has been planned for the new year.

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