114 Years Young, The Lighthouse Keeps Innovating

Momentum 2020, Industry Disrupter Award Finalist, lightning bolt in circle logoOn Thursday, October 1, Chicago Lighthouse Manager of Assistive Technology Patrick Andrade sat in a Zoom waiting room along with several tech entrepreneurs. He was awaiting the announcement of the 2020 Industry Disrupter Award presented by Chicago-area tech incubator 1871. The award recognizes companies for their innovative use of technology.

Others in the virtual waiting rooms came from startups, the kind of tech companies you might hear about in five years. To say Patrick, who represented a social service agency founded in 1906, might have seemed a bit out of place would be an understatement. Yet, here he was.

The Chicago Lighthouse was one of only five finalists for the prestigious award, and the only-not-for profit in the group. Judges from 1871 were impressed with our “OrCam Universe,” a pilot program in which 18 Lighthouse employees with visual impairments received assistive technology devices to use in their work and personal lives. Through these employees’ experiences, The Lighthouse is gathering data to demonstrate how assistive technologies can lead to a more inclusive and accessible workplace.

“Most 114-year-old organizations are not recognized for their groundbreaking use of technology,” says Lighthouse President and CEO Janet Szlyk. “Of course, we are not most organizations. One of the reasons we continue to be successful helping people with disabilities is because we embrace the potential of new developments and technologies.”

The OrCam Universe is one of the many partnerships, trials, and opportunities The Chicago Lighthouse is developing with organizations throughout the country and the world. In addition to OrCam, we have recently begun working with IrisVision on its namesake low vision assistive technology headset and will soon be assisting with clinical trials on new prosthetic devices developed by scientists at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University.

Ultimately, the 2020 Industry Disrupter award went to tech startup StoryBolt, a platform that uses documentary storytelling to help organizations address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Though we were not triumphant in winning the award, our status as a finalist – out of 212 total submissions – is something no other not-for-profit can claim. We look forward to our future work and partnerships being recognized in the future.

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