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On the unique genetic makeup of RIT, collisions, access technology, and our partnership with the Al Sigl Community of Agencies

January 6, 2017

“The accessibility problems of today are the mainstream breakthroughs of tomorrow” (Interview with Google’s Even Andersson

“The power of the collisions’ outcomes can create solutions to wicked problems, can change ghettos into urban neighborhoods, can transform a stagnant corporation into a living company, can create vaccines for horrid diseases, and can change just one life.” Deborah Mills Scofield, Forbes Contributor, Innovator & Strategist, always challenging Status Quo,


Whenever I am asked to tell the “RIT Story”, I often refer to its ‘genetic makeup’: recognized programs in technology and design, the use-inspired nature of both its research and education, and of course the more than 1,200 deaf and hard of hearing students thanks to the existence of the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID).

I suppose most universities can boast of their unique genetic makeup but what sets RIT apart is the opportunity for these unique strands to collide. A perfect example of the RIT collision is the RIT startup company, Hz Innovations, that created the home sound recognition system, Wavio. The story of the company’s founder, RIT student Greyson Watkins, is fascinating. This should be required reading for any new RIT employee.

The point here is that when these three RIT strands collide, the world is a better place as a result. This is why I get so excited by our broad research and innovation efforts we label ‘access technology’. Often referred to as assistive technology, access technology refers to those objects or systems that are used to increase or maintain functional capabilities of people with differing abilities. Wavio certainly qualifies as assistive or access technology.

We have lots of examples of access technology projects led by student teams and assisted by faculty. All of these are made possible by the superb innovation ecosystem that consists of unique educational programs and exquisite examples of interdisciplinary hubs of student centered activities such as the Simone Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Construct, and Studio 930. Studio 930 is a great example of the collision opportunities; it is a collaboration between the Simone Center, the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, the Saunders College of Business and the industrial design program of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences where many access technology projects have incubated and become reality.

Our success with access technology would not be possible without our strong partnership with the Al Sigl Community of Agencies. This organization is a collaborative community network of agencies serving Rochester children and adults with differing abilities and special needs. By tapping into the real needs of the clients served by Al Sigl, our students can provide real solutions that improve the lives and welfare of a wide variety of individuals in our community and well beyond. Al Sigl has sponsored many co-op opportunities for our students and each case, our students have made a huge impression and impact through their work and dedication.  In addition, Al Sigl has been a key supporter of our conferences on Effective Access Technology and competitions such as President Destler’s Innovation Challenge at Imagine RIT.  The rewards of working with the Al Sigl organization are many and impactful for all involved!

If you’d like to learn more about access technology at RIT, I am pleased to point you to electrical engineering professor Dr. Dan Phillips, a faculty associate whose mission is to continue growing the partnership between RIT, and organizations such as the Al Sigl Community of Agencies. Dr. Phillips seeks to connect industry and individuals in need, resulting in research and development aimed at providing truly effective, affordable assistive and access technology. Dan has a real passion for access technology and has been the perfect liaison between RIT and Al Sigl as well as other organizations and educational institutions.

Another genetic trait of RIT is its interdisciplinary and collaborative nature.  Richard DeMartino from Saunders College of Business, Stan Rickel from the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, Beth DeBartolo from the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Gary Behm from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Clark Hochgraf from the College of Applied Science and Technology, Caroline Easton and Laurence Sugarman from the College of Health Science and Technology, and Vicki Hanson and Matt Huenerfauth from the Golisano College of Computing and Information Science have all been instrumental in providing opportunities for students to participate in this partnership. Of course, there are many more who are making RIT a place known for its contributions to access technology and in a larger sense, for making the world a better place.

A tip of the proverbial hat to all!