See how assistive tech is changing people’s lives for the better…

What is assistive technology? Well, it does what it says on the tin – it’s a device or system that helps people with disabilities perform everyday tasks that might otherwise be very difficult or impossible.

While we all get excited about the latest smartphones and gadgets, advances are being made in assistive tech that actually have the power to transform people’s lives, yet this is something we hear very little about.

This is where Dubai’s Al Noor Training Centre comes in. The non-profit organisation, which looks after 250 students with various physical and cognitive challenges such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism, is hosting an event called Assistive TechX.

The event will take place from October 29 to November 3, and is an opportunity for the public to better understand the impact of assistive tech on the lives of people with special needs (or “people of determination” as they are called in the UAE).

As well as workshops for parents and caregivers, there will be a conference with speakers who are leaders in the field of assistive tech, and an exhibition area where the latest assistive tech will be displayed. There will also be an experience zone where students will demonstrate to visitors how they can use equipment such as speech-generating devices and eye-tracking technology to communicate.

As part of the event, Al Noor is also holding the region’s first Hackathon for Special Needs.

Sixteen teams have registered for the Hackathon, which will take place on October 29 and 30. Each team has been assigned an individual with a real challenge, and must come up with an assistive technology solution to help the person.

The coolest part is, the winning design will actually become a reality – so it could end up helping a number of people.


One of the Al Noor students taking part in the Hackathon is Kevin Daniel Verghese, who has been attending the school full-time since he was two-and-a-half years old.

The 24-year-old was born with cerebral palsy, and is quadriplegic, and while he isn’t able to speak, his comprehension is fantastic says his dad Verghese Daniel.

“He’s got a great ear for music. If you ever sing something wrong, he’ll be the first person to laugh at you.”

Before advances in assistive technology, Kevin’s family and school relied on basic picture cards to communicate with him. To work out if he was hungry or thirsty, for example, they would show him a picture of a cookie and a picture of a glass of water, and see which one he responded to.

Now, Kevin has a lot more choices thanks to a special tablet that is controlled by his eyes. He can watch videos, read books, and answer questions.

Verghese says they hope Kevin’s Hackathon team will be able to develop a device that could offer him more independence, enabling him to convey his basic needs of life without prompting – such as thirst and hunger.

Such a device could also help him with more advanced things like controlling the programmes he watches on TV, switching off the lights in his room, and adjusting the temperature of the AC.

“As his parents, we understand every single sound or move he makes that conveys a message. But what about a day when we are not there? We’re looking at the future.”

Al Noor Assistive TechX, Al Noor Training Centre, Al Barsha 1, Dubai. October 29 to November 3, 8am to 8pm. For more information and registration, visit the website.

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Photos: Mustufa Abidi