In its third year, ADI’s “Make the Change Challenge” STEM accessible design contest drew 227 exceptional entries from students across North America. But it was Naomi Ghitelman from the Posnack School in Davie, Fla., who won the day, claiming the contest’s $1,000 grand prize and successfully spotlighting the issue of inaccessibility and the communal responsibility to make a change.
Run by ADI, Israel’s network of specialized rehabilitative care for those touched by and living with disability, to mark Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (#JDAIM), the contest promotes “selfless STEM.” It also encourages students to hack the modern world, create new devices and improve existing ones in an effort to help people with disabilities overcome the challenges that hinder their independence and inclusion.
Ghitelman prevailed with her “Massaging Car Seat,” an adapted comfort and communication-focused car safety seat for children on the autism spectrum. Inspired by a neighbor with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), for whom car trips are a nightmare, she envisioned a car seat that includes several sets of rollers and airbags to massage and physically stimulate scared and restless children, while also piping in calming music through a specially stabilized headrest. The cherry on top is an integrated tablet with a simplified interface that allows the child to communicate his or her needs to the driver, as well as play games independently.
“Our ‘ADI Bechinuch’ (literally ‘ADI in Education’) disability inclusion programming has become a staple in classrooms across North America, and students from our partner schools excitedly research and develop original accessible design ideas from November through February in order to participate in our STEM contest,” said Elie Klein, ADI’s director of development for the United States and Canada. “We are thrilled that our curriculum is making such an impact, and it is particularly gratifying to see that so many of our partners, including the Posnack School, the Ramaz School in New York City and the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, have made the contest a central component of their STEM curriculums.”
More than 30 Jewish schools across North America, including many affiliated with JNF-USA, utilized “ADI Bechinuch” this year, employing the in-class activities, virtual tours and STEM contest to encourage the next generation of Jewish leaders to see the world through the eyes of others.
“Though our ADI centers are located in Jerusalem and the Negev, this programming allows us to effectively promote disability inclusion, equity and access around the globe,” said Klein.
Instead of developing prototypes, contest entrants were asked to prepare compelling presentations that clearly explain how the original solutions they are envisioning would solve the persistent accessibility issues they choose to tackle. Ghitelman drew a beautiful sketch that brought her idea to life.
“It made me sad to hear how difficult it is for my neighbor to go on long car rides. He is always annoyed and uncomfortable in the car, so I wanted to create a car seat that would be so calming and comfortable that he would want to stay in the car forever,” explained Ghitelman in her contest entry. “This design can help so many children, and I hope that a car seat company that can actually create it will take notice.”
On Feb. 26, ADI’s panel of experts, including members of its professional staff, innovation journalists and specialists in the field of accessible design, met via Zoom with the top five finalists, as well as their parents and teachers, to discuss the entries in greater detail. Following an uplifting discussion, the proceedings concluded with Naomi Ghitelman being crowned the contest winner and presented with the $1,000 grand prize, a gift from the Avraham and Esther Klein Young Entrepreneurs Fund. Ghitelman says she plans on donating 10% of her winnings to ADI and putting the rest in a college fund.
The “Final 5” also included entries from students at Donna Klein Jewish Academy in Boca Raton, Fla.; the Ramaz School in New York City; and the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore.
ADI provides its residents and special education students with the individualized growth plans and specialized services they need to grow and thrive, its rehabilitation patients with the treatments and therapies they need to heal and return to their lives, and the community at large with tangible opportunities for encountering disability, raising awareness and promoting acceptance.