Pulling up to the sleek, glass Peres Peace House on the coast of Jaffa, the Carmel 6000 team definitely felt a little glamorous.
The team sat in the almost futuristic lobby, listening to the Eurovision soundtrack, and watching the TLV Hitech scene revolve around them, as Shir Ganot and Shira Rabinovich nervously practiced their presentation in English, waiting for the judges to call them in to present. They were presenting the work of their team: Roni Ashkenazi, Ayelet Ganot, Ori Sadek, Inbal Aviely, Noga Levy, Naama Indik, and Shalva Eisenberg.
Just three weeks earlier, Carmel 6000 joined forces with Ta’al, AMIT, and Synamedia to compete in the pre-Eurovision hackathon, EuroHack. 26 teams entered the competition, each developing and pitching applications that made Eurovision accessible to people with disabilities and enhanced the live viewing experiences of millions of viewers.
Ta’al, a Startup co-founded by Ilana Mushkin and Majdi Ewissat, is a digital platform dedicated to making public spaces accessible for people with cognitive disabilities. They’re dedicated to using their app to build “cognitive ramps” personalized to the user’s specific set of challenges.
Ta’al had the cognitive disability know-how, and Carmel had a newly assembled project team reared up and ready to go. In three short weeks, the team had developed StarGiver, tested it on two focus groups, and crafted their three minute pitch, complete with multiple videos. So by the time the team pulled up to EuroHack, with the ten other teams who had been selected for the final round of the competitions, they already had accomplished a whole lot.
StarGiver has three main components, Shir and Shira explained, all operating under their motto of accessibility and inclusivity: “the right to vote is basic.”
First, viewers can use the app to “like” or “dislike” a song—the app is synchronized with the live broadcast. This allows users to differentiate between the deluge of lights, glamour, and song that is the Eurovision competition. Then, the applications collects all of the songs that users liked, and allows the user to rate them using a scale of 1-5 stars. Lastly, users turn to their top-rated songs, and they get to submit their final vote.
Eurovision, a competition founded on notions of international camaraderie, can be really challenging to watch and engage with for viewers who have cognitive disabilities. Remembering songs, following the show, and tackling voting process can all prove really difficult for these viewers.
The results were clear in both focus groups. Senior citizens and young, Arab students with disabilities from East Jerusalem, alike were able to enjoy, follow, and vote using StarGiver; with StarGiver, Eurovision can better fill the mission upon which it was founded.
Watching the Carmelistiyot present in front of an audience filled with Hi-tech professionals, under the backdrop of the Mediterranean, I was incredible impressed by their innovative thinking, professional presentation, and cohesive teamwork. And I was clearly not alone.
We watched all ten presentations, hearing about applications that created social platforms for viewer’s reactions, or represented songs through vibrations, sight, and touch. Shmueliz, the winning team, created an app that offered verbal notifications about the scoring, all geared towards visually impaired viewers.
After an hour of presentations, a drag queen performance, and much fanfare, the judging groups came up one by one to announce their scores. The scoring process was similar to the Eurovision one—judges gave each team a score on the scale of 1-8, then the remaining winning teams win 10 and 12 points, accordingly. We all cheered excitedly as we heard “12 points to SynaVote!” “10 points to SynaVote!” Carmel 6000 came in second place with 48 points, hugging excitedly while going up on stage to receive a big cardboard prize, and, of course, 5 tickets to the Eurovision semi-final.