Annegret Kern: How CYBATHLON is helping to shape a more inclusive world
CYBATHLON is gaining recognition for its work promoting the development of technology that helps people with disabilities in daily life. CYBATHLON Co-Head Annegret Kern, who is responsible for communication, event operations, project strategy and more, tells us about the event’s importance and their work to raise awareness.
Starting with a global overview, what drives CYBATHLON?
Our goal is a world without barriers. We want to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities, and we do that by promoting the development of useful assistive technology. Useful means that people with disabilities can have support in their daily lives.
What's been the best CYBATHLON moment for you so far?
It was the very first race, an arm prosthesis race in CYBATHLON 2016. No one had done a competition or an event like that before. I organised all the teams that went to the field.
When they started the race, I cried. It was so emotional for all the people involved. We made it happen. It was such a great day, but I think all CYBATHLON events are great…
You talk about CYBATHLON promoting inclusion and development. How do you do that and how do you improve public perception about people with disabilities?
It helps create a more aware and inclusive world. If you do not encounter or know someone in a wheelchair, for example, you might not know what challenges they have in daily life.
If you are a wheelchair user, all of your friends might take the stairs whilst you have to find an elevator. When the public watches CYBATHLON they realise that it would make sense to develop a stair-climbing wheelchair so that the user can go with their friends.
That’s great. But to create a wider change, you have to get more people to see it, to know about it, right? How do you do that?
We try to create awareness for the development teams, for the industry and of course for people with disabilities through our competitions and events.
We do a lot of different communication. We put it out to the media, we do a lot of social media and every competition is live streamed in different languages, in sign language and with audio description for people that are blind, so that everyone in the world can enjoy the event.
We also include stories about the pilots and the technologies, so that people that are not aware of all the challenges or innovations can easily understand what assistive technology is, how it helps people and how a society can benefit from the technologies and inclusion. The pilots are the heroes of the competition.
What does the future hold for CYBATHLON?
I think, personally, that the awareness about people with disabilities and technology has increased. But to get to a fully inclusive world where assistive technology can support people in daily life is still a big challenge.
There is still a lot to do in terms of promoting the research of assistive technology and also in promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities and this is where CYBATHLON can make an impact.
Talking about impact, what are you most excited about in the world of assistive technology?
I'm really excited about the prototypes. They are very interesting to look at and then when it really works it's so exciting. It’s very encouraging to see what kind of ideas students have or what solutions they are creating to support the person with disabilities.
You might have a large, bulky exoskeleton walking very slowly, but if it helps a paraplegic person to walk and to stand up, that’s a huge thing for that individual.
Finally, what would you say to anyone thinking about competing in the next CYBATHLON but perhaps have not yet signed up?
It's such a good experience, even if the team or the pilot cannot solve all tasks. Research and development doesn't stop in 2024. Your work can inspire others to work with people with disabilities to make a positive impact in the world. It's a step towards new technologies. It's a step on the road to 2028. It's a step to a more inclusive world, so go for it.