The value in joining the Hack Access Dublin community

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As a DCU business studies student, I really wanted to become part of networks and create opportunities for myself, but until I joined the Hackaccess community I never truly realised the potential and promise that surrounds quality networking, and (more importantly) the good that can be achieved in doing so.

I first came into contact with Hackaccess Dublin when I attended their 2017 hackathon with a few of my friends from university.  Hackathons are 54-hour events that work to solve an issue posed by the organising committee. I was really intrigued by the fact that this hackathon was focused on tackling the social issue of accessibility in Dublin for people with disabilities, which I came to find was an extremely important and pressing matter. 

We were bringing an idea that we had already starting of thinking of pre-competition, and I was amazed by the progress made in the short 54-hour period we had in the google headquarters. Hackaccess brought an array of different talents to our team that we originally didn’t possess; including a graphic designer and a computer scientist. 

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I was impressed by the passion and drive all the attendees had in working towards creating a more accessible Dublin for those with disabilities, and every team had thought of really interesting and innovative solutions to the problems they were addressing. The competition was well run and had a welcoming and friendly atmosphere, with mentors and judges who brought insightful views into the creation and implementation of the products/services each team was working on. Some mentors even had their own successful social enterprises that dealt with similar issues that we were trying to address, such as Gavin Neate of Neatebox; an app-maker that aims to create more independent lives for those with disabilities.

After the presentations to a hugely diverse panel (with expertise in tech and of the disabled community), our team was lucky enough to win the data analytics prize, which brought great support to our project C-Park, as well as assurance that we were on the right track to making a more universally accessible Dublin. Hackaccess Dublin is partnered with Smart Dublin who gave us a monetary prize, as well as some of the resources we need for our project. 

Something I hadn’t anticipated or thought about was the network created post-competition. In bringing so many like-minded people together, Hackaccess has created a community of ideas and skills that can be used for the progression of one’s project, and the creation of opportunities and availability of expertise.

Apart from the personal aspects of meeting new people and enjoying yourself along the way, Hackaccess Dublin addresses such an important issue that is overlooked and forgotten about by many in our community. 18% of people in Irish society have a disability of some kind. We all know someone that has one, and some of us may be even acutely aware of the challenges and difficulties they face in a world of (often unintentional) exclusion. This can include an inability to venture out into the world and deal with the obstacles that may present themselves along the way; a zebra crossing, a pothole on the footpath, a difficulty utilising transport services effectively; the list goes on. 

The cities and urban areas present a minefield of issues that increase people with disabilities exclusion and prominence in our society. I was really taken aback by how many don’t ever leave their home due to the fear and stress of such a journey. It seems almost neglectful of those who can make a change to do nothing. 

Working with Hackaccess Dublin brought our project to the level where I was accepted to go to the 2018 Global Engagement Summit in Northwestern University, Illinois as an international delegate. There, I one-to-one presented the project born in Hackaccess Dublin to American industry leaders, such as the Deputy Director of the Illinois environmental council. I also got the chance to attend lectures with the ex-CSO of Interbrand (the world’s biggest branding consultancy) and the ex-CEO of Walmart.com. Never did I realise that by attending that Hackaccess Dublin hackathon, I was joining a platform that would allow me to reach a greater number of experts and enthusiasts than I ever imagined.

Janice Valentine