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Tech4Good Awards Celebrate Digital Inclusion

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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The eight winners include SpecialEffect, which helps victims of paralysis play video games

On Thursday evening, some of the UK’s top charities and social entrepreneurs were honoured at the fourth annual Tech4Good Awards, the event which celebrates organisations and individuals who use digital technology to improve the lives of others.

Most of this year’s winners are working to enhance digital literacy skills and help people with disabilities enjoy the online world.

Among the winners are a British charity which helps rehabilitate severely disabled people through video games, a company that developed an eye health diagnostics app that can run on almost any smartphone, and Jimmy Wales, who got the special award for his work with Wikipedia.

The champions

Tech4Good Awards were established by the UK charity AbilityNet and BT in 2011. This year’s competition was supported by more than a dozen sponsors, including Go On UK and Microsoft.

In 2012, the work of AbilityNet was recognised by professor Stephen Hawking, who admitted that without computers, his life would be miserable and his scientific career – ‘impossible’.

“The right tools in the right hands can help everyone regardless of our frailties to achieve our true potential and advance as civilization,” said the famous physicist.

BuffaloGridThis year’s event attracted hundreds of entries including submissions by Samsung and Young Rewired State, but there could be only eight winners.

BuffaloGrid received the BT Ingenious Award for its unusual business model – the organisation provides free solar charging units to local entrepreneurs in areas which are yet to be connected to the electrical grid. These chargers (pictured left) give people living in the remotest parts of the world the ability to charge their mobile devices, and they can even pay for the service using their mobile phones.

Gaming charity SpecialEffect won the Accessibility Award for giving people with disabilities the tools to join their able-bodied friends in virtual worlds, using innovative hardware and software. For example, one of the charity’s projects involves a device which enables paralysed children to control the characters on the screen with the movement of their eyes.

elliot-pic“Video games are, at the very least, a doorway to social inclusion and friendship, especially for young people. But SpecialEffect’s highly personalised combinations of technology and games are also enabling therapy, rehabilitation, independence, self-esteem, competitiveness, escapism from disability, distraction from pain, and even providing respite time for carers,” said Mark Saville, head of Web and Communications at SpecialEffect.

WIMPS (Where Is My Public Servant?) from Northern Ireland got the Community Impact Award for creating a website which helps young people participate in local politics and hold their elected representatives to account.

Peek-Vision1-624x416Peek Vision received the Digital Health Award for its mobile app (pictured left) which helps doctors remotely examine the eyes of the patients and diagnose preventable conditions which, if left untreated, can lead to blindness.

UCanDoIT won the Digital Skills Award for teaching people with disabilities how to use computers and the Internet. Volunteers Craig Oxley-Brookes and Ryan McMurdo also got individual awards for running digital literacy classes.

Jimmy Wales was honoured with a special award for establishing Wikipedia, a non-profit run by volunteers, which has forever changed the way we access information, and inspired thousands of similar ‘wiki’ resources.

“The growth of mobile in the developing world is connecting hundreds of millions of people who could never be reached before. They’re coming online for the first time and joining the global conversation; they’re using Twitter or Facebook or Wikipedia, they’re reading newspapers,” commented Wales.

“People are now finally able to get organised against the tyrants that rule over them and the kleptocrats that steal money from them. They begin to gain the opportunity to gain some power, and I think that’s incredible.”

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