Google's charity arm is awarding millions of dollars in grant funding to nonprofits working to assist people with disabilities through inventions like affordable 3-D printed prosthetics, smart glasses for the visually impaired and an open-source power platform that turns manual wheelchairs into electric ones.
The awards – $20 million in total for more than two dozen projects – are part of an initiative announced by Google.org last May called Global Impact Challenge: Disabilities, and Google shared the full list of winning projects online this week.
Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, the lead on the Google.org challenge, said in a blog postthat the charity initiative dovetails with the tech giant's own efforts to make its offerings – including its Android and Google Docs platforms – more accessible to people with disabilities.
"More than a billion people have a disability," she said. "One in three people with a disability lives in poverty. In places like the United States, 50 to 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed; in developing countries that number increases to 80 to 90 percent. And only 10 percent of people with disabilities in developing countries have access to the assistive devices they need."
The projects awarded grants by Google.org aim to make it easier to assist disabled people with work, education and communication, or simply in moving from place to place.
The Center for Discovery will use its grant of $1.125 million to continue development of its indieGo add-on for a manual wheelchair that can convert the chair to an electrically powered one. The device will provide users with a power chair at a much lower cost than normal, and eventually could "increase mobility for hundreds of thousands of people," according to Google's post on the award.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People and researchers from the University of Oxford, meanwhile, will use Google.org funds to develop smart glasses to help people with limited vision see nearby objects by turning them into high-contrast shapes.
Mission Arm and Exii are using grant funding from Google to offer greater accessto affordable 3-D printed prosthetics, and will make their design files publicly available. My Human Kit is also trying to help people in need of affordable prosthetics through Fab Lab, an online platform it will launch to help people around the world connect with makers of 3-D printed limbs.
The Perkins School for the Blind will use the grant funding to aid visually impaired people in navigating the last 50 feet to a destination. With help from transit authorities and crowd-sourced, app-collected information offered by people with sight, directions will be created that will lead vision-impaired people precisely to where they want to go.
Miraclefeet will use Google.org support to help offer improved treatment to some of the 1 million children worldwide with clubfoot, a lifelong disability that makes walking difficult. The nonprofit will use the $1 million grant to communicate with families via text messaging, monitor patient progress through software and provide online training to local health care providers.
"From employment to education, communication to mobility, each of our grantees is pushing innovation for people with disabilities forward," Gosselink said.
Published April 13, 2016