Recently, I had the pleasure of attending Perkins School for the Blind’s first-ever Hackathon. I’d read about Hackathons before – people from all age groups and backgrounds coming together to tinker with technology, competing against one another to see who is able to build the best template, application or contraption. These innovations are often created with the goal of solving a problem. But many times, emerging technologies available today are created without taking the blind or disability community into consideration – innovations with this lack of accessibility can for some people just mean more barriers.

Perkins School for the Blind’s first-ever Hackathon was designed with this objective: bring college students from across the country together with software developers and the blind community, and task them to develop tech-based solutions to barriers faced by low-vision people in their careers, education and daily living. While this event was able to produce real solutions, it also spread awareness of the importance of accessibility in designing new technologies. Here are four key takeaways on running a successful Hackathon, which can be applied as you plan out your next event.

  1. Provide access to experts – as well as potential users.

At a Hackathon, it is important to be able to confer with experts from the technology field – they are great for helping to spark a new idea or offer a new angle a younger technologist might not think of. However, it is equally if not more important to collaborate with potential users of that product or technology. At Perkins’ Hackathon, the college students were able to have members of the blind community actually test out their ‘hacks’ and mentor them throughout the event. Potential users are the best people to communicate any challenges or issues with new technology and add a valuable perspective to help designers develop the best possible product.

  1. Organization can make or break an event.

Part of what made the inaugural PerkinsHacks such a success with its participants and attendees was the communication and organization of the event. Communicating internally at an event is just as important as communicating with external audiences. The point person in charge of the event should develop a run-of-show that all staff members and volunteers are aware of in advance. This will ensure that the event runs smoothly and that clear instructions can be given to the guests at the event. As demonstrated by the Hackathon, organization can ensure that any event runs smoothly.

  1. Social media is a powerful tool – use it.

Especially at events with lots of energy and engaging visuals, social media can be an excellent way to elevate awareness that your Hackathon or event is going on. Quotes from notable speakers on Twitter, as well as Instagram stories that follow the progress of the event, are just a couple of ways to use social media to let your followers learn more about the event. It is important to ensure that the event has one hashtag – this will help participants and audiences alike follow the conversation across different platforms.

  1. Know your audience – and feed them well!

Knowing your audience is a critical part of any event. The main audience participating at Perkins’ Hackathon was college students, so between the technology-based design challenges and workshops with corporate sponsors, the organization also planned fun activities – these included games like GoalBall and a watermelon eating contest. Activities like these, especially at a long event, can help keep audiences engaged – as well as give their brains the downtime they need to develop the best possible solutions. Lastly, make sure to feed them well – people will remember the solutions, but they will also remember the food!

Photography courtesy of Perkins School for the Blind