Neil Squire Society, a Canadian non-profit organization, and their Makers Making Change initiative have officially set a Guinness World Records title for the most people to take an online assistive technology lesson in 24 hours. Assistive technology (AT) is any device, gadget, or system that allows someone with a disability to improve their functional capabilities.
In total, 1,816 people from all over the world joined the lesson on 3 December 2021, a date that also marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
The organization’s main goal was to raise awareness around the need for more access to affordable assistive technology. Participants ranged from students, professionals, and volunteers to disability advocates.
Over one billion people around the world live with a disability but 9 in 10 don’t have access to the assistive technology that they need. As cost is cited as the main barrier, DIY assistive technology — community-created devices that can easily be made by makers and volunteers — can help fill this gap.
"Our Guinness World Records title attempt is a great opportunity to raise awareness for the accessibility of DIY assistive technology, for both people looking to volunteer and people with disabilities, and to celebrate and support the Makers Making Change community." - Dr. Gary Birch, Executive Director, Neil Squire
There were several challenges that Neil Squire Society faced on the path to breaking a world record. Covid was a serious point of uncertainty for the program.
The initial idea to attempt the record title in an in-person event, changed quickly into an online format as more cases of Covid were announced. Still, the goal was clear: the team at Neil Squire Society wanted to go big and help people build assistive devices together, shaping a worldwide community.
As if the pressure of attempting a Guinness World Records title was not enough, one of the most stressful moments presented itself in the morning of Friday, December 3rd.
While people started joining the online lesson and the organization’s website saw a major sustained spike in activity, the system triggered security protections, essentially thinking that it was being hacked, and shut itself down.
With the clock ticking off and most of the web department having worked tirelessly for the last 24 hours, the entire team walked the extra mile and finally resolved it all just in time to start the Official Attempt and fulfill the title’s requirements.
“Totally worth it!”, says Justin Pezzin, Program Manager at Makers Making Change, who adds that their email list has nearly doubled since the record-breaking campaign started, and calls and emails inquiring about this type of work and volunteering opportunities had increased, meaning that more people are now learning about DIY Assistive Technology.
"There were so many new people joining in on the record attempt on December 3rd that breaking the record broke the website! But we quickly resolved the issue and it turned out to be an amazing and unforgettable experience for all of us" - Kristina Mok, Pran Pandey and Dan Spelt, GWR Technical Support Team - Makers Making Change
One of the main requirements for this record title was that people stayed on the lesson for at least 30 minutes, without skipping ahead.
The lesson was impressively interesting for participants, it covered everything from what a disability is, the basics of assistive technology and the use of innovations such as 3D printing, including real life examples like a mouth-controlled device that can be used to move the mouse of a computer or to tap on a smartphone screen.
For over 35 years, Neil Squire has worked to improve the lives and opportunities of people with disabilities through technology.
Makers Making Change, a Neil Squire program, embodies this work by providing a platform to connect people with disabilities to volunteer makers, and an open-source DIY assistive technology library of designs that can be made by makers of all skill levels.
The only cost to device users is reimbursing the maker for cost of materials, allowing for much more affordable assistive technology solutions than commercial offerings.
"Attempting to set a Guinness World Records Title was a big undertaking with lots of hidden challenges along the way. The response in the end has been truly humbling. Now what I want to know is who’s going to step up to break our #ATWorldRecord?" - Justin Pezzin, Program Manager / GWR Project Lead, Makers Making Change
Congratulations to Neil Squire Society for achieving this Guinness World Records title and for their positive contribution to a worldwide community of people with disabilities.
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