Hackathon experience: empowering creativity for accessibility solutions

Hackathons bring talented minds, from tech enthusiasts and developers to designers and problem solvers, to collaborate intensively to create innovative solutions. By encouraging teamwork, and out-of-the-box thinking, these activities facilitate the development of innovative technologies, software, and applications that address various societal challenges.

That’s why we have partnered with HackCodeX 2023, the biggest hackathon in Riga, for a unique digital accessibility challenge. In this challenge, we invited the participant teams to create innovative apps or solutions that harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) models like ChatGPT to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

Both the hackathon participants and the mentors benefit from participating in these activities. In this article, you’ll hear about the experiences, insights, and advice of Marija Silinska, Senior Product Designer at Emergn and mentor at Emergn’s digital accessibility challenge, and Diana Maksimceva, UI/UX and Graphic Designer at Amazon, and a team member of one of the two winning teams, Eye Get It

What motivated you to participate in Emergn’s digital accessibility challenge at HackCodeX?


My colleagues asked me to join as a mentor, and since I have previous experience mentoring and organizing hackathons, I found the opportunity appealing. I also teach UX/UI design, which equips me with strong communication skills to guide the participants and help them structure their ideas.

The concept of a hackathon, with its immersive nature and intense collaboration over a short period, is something I genuinely enjoy. It’s inspiring to witness how talented individuals can achieve amazing results when working together in a limited space and time.


I applied to join HackCodeX when I found a post promoting it on LinkedIn. I’d never been to a hackathon, and it seemed exciting.

As the event got closer, I started to doubt myself. I had no experience in these activities, and I needed a team. Still, I thought, “Why not give it a shot? It could be a cool experience, win or lose.” In the end, my curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see what it was all about and learn something new, even if I didn’t win.

I came across Emergn’s Digital Accessibility challenge, and the idea intrigued me; it could be genuinely beneficial to develop something that helps others. I’ve always been curious about psychology-related subjects, such as understanding individuals on the autistic spectrum or exploring nonverbal communication and its connection to the brain. It was a perfect opportunity to channel my curiosity and information into creating something meaningful.

What was your role at the hackathon?


My role was to guide and support the teams. I answered their questions, provided insights, and emphasized key winning strategies. I helped the teams to focus on critical points that would enhance their chances of winning. I advised them on prioritizing deliverables effectively to save time and optimize their working process.

As a UX and product designer, I supported the user side of their projects and provided insights on the business aspect, advising how to monetize their ideas. I offered suggestions on presenting their ideas and ensuring they could communicate their concepts effectively without taking too much time. The goal was to help them create understandable and impactful results that would capture the attention of the judges and potential stakeholders.


In the Eye Get It team, I was the UX and UI designer and handled graphic design for the logo. I was focused on creating a seamless user experience and an intuitive user interface. While the graphic design for the logo was a relatively smaller part of my contributions, it was still essential for the overall branding.

Our main goal was crafting an effective UX design to ensure the application worked smoothly and efficiently. We also put significant effort into designing a simple yet visually appealing UI with different color modes for easy navigation and clarity.

Though the design may have seemed basic initially, the underlying goal was to create a user-friendly platform where users could easily understand what to press and access the necessary functions effortlessly. It was a rewarding experience to work on Eye Get It, and I’m proud to have contributed to its success with my design expertise.

What were the challenges you or the teams faced?


One of the most common challenges teams faced was formulating a clear idea for their projects. During the ideation process, they often had different versions of their solutions, leading to confusion and possible conflicts. My role was to guide them in finding an exact path for their work and help them focus on the core aspects while setting aside unnecessary elements.

Another challenge was helping the participants effectively present their ideas verbally and visually. I supported creating a visual representation of their projects. I provided guidelines on accessibility requirements to ensure their presentations were not only formally accessible but also user-friendly.

Through discussions and understanding the core of their ideas, we crafted scenarios for presenting their projects, selecting appropriate formats and visuals. It was gratifying to see the teams embrace my suggestions and evolve them into even more advanced solutions.


The biggest challenge we faced was the lack of time during the hackathon. Despite having a highly experienced team, time constraints were still pressing.

The challenge of making the prototype work seamlessly was met with dedication and collaboration from our talented team. Each member contributed their unique skills, and together, we navigated the time constraints and technical complexities to create a successful project during the hackathon.

What did you find most rewarding about the experience?


I aimed to be a part of something innovative and exciting, even for a short time. Taking part in the hackathon allowed me to break boundaries and step out of my comfort zone.

It was rewarding to help the participants overcome their barriers and create innovative solutions. It was important to quickly grasp all the information presented to me to provide valuable feedback. Time was essential, and my role as a mentor was to successfully process and understand the ideas and projects presented by the teams. Embracing this challenge was an excellent opportunity for my personal growth and to enhance my mentoring skills.


The most rewarding aspect for me was finding the right people for my team. We continue to work together and have already tested the previous version of the application, identifying areas for improvement. With everything ready to make the necessary changes, we are enthusiastically starting a new version. I strongly believe that this application has enormous potential and will succeed.

I can’t help but feel that this application will be unlike anything the world has seen before, setting new standards and becoming a perfect solution for its purpose. The dedication and talent within the team give me great confidence in the success of our project.

How important are events like HackCodeX for fostering innovation and addressing accessibility challenges?


Accessibility has been overlooked since the creation of the Internet, but with the rise of mobile devices and digitalization, companies are now learning to prioritize it. This is an excellent shift! And it’s a big step toward creating a more inclusive digital environment.

While accessibility is commonly associated with disabled individuals, it also extends to temporarily disabled people and those affected by their environment. For instance, individuals with temporary injuries or facing distractions in public places can benefit from accessible design.

Events like HackCodeX encourage participants to explore and develop innovative solutions adapted to diverse users. The impact of the winning projects on the quality of life for people with disabilities is significant and promising. Both projects have the potential for successful implementation and monetization, targeting particular groups and addressing their unique needs.

The solution from the Eye Get It team has the potential to impact individuals with cognitive disabilities significantly. This innovative approach can enhance communication and interaction, potentially empowering people with disabilities to engage more effectively in various aspects of daily life and fostering greater independence and inclusion.


Events like HackCodeX bring together people who believe in ideas and have the time and enthusiasm to make them happen. I’ve had many similar ideas before, but I realized you need a team to make things work.

At the hackathon, I found like-minded individuals eager to work together. The hackathon became a place to connect with people who shared the same passion and were driven to turn ideas into reality. Without Emergn’s digital accessibility challenge, I don’t think our application would even exist. These events allow us to collaborate, network, and develop innovative solutions to accessibility challenges that can make a real difference.

I truly believe our app will benefit both autistic and nonverbal individuals and those learning to spell and read by fostering greater independence, inclusion, and connection. With just a recorded sentence on your phone, the app displays images to convey meaning, making it particularly beneficial for autistic people that might struggle to remember words. Compared to PECS cards, which can be impractical and costly, our app will provide many AI-powered images for a seamless communication experience.

What advice would you give to future mentors or participants in similar hackathons to make the most of the experience?


My advice to future participants in similar hackathons is to focus on the first working iteration of the product. While it’s natural to generate a lot of ideas and engage in brainstorming during the initial phases, you must be able to focus on the most essential aspects of your project.

“Killing your darlings” may be challenging, but it is necessary to ensure that your final product is practical and achievable within the given timeframe. Concentrating on the core elements and functionalities can deliver a more focused and impactful solution.

Collaboration and communication are also essential. Engage in active discussions with your team members, mentors, and other participants. Embrace diverse perspectives and leverage the collective expertise to optimize and add value to your project.


First, I think it’s super important to do some good research to understand what challenges exist and where current solutions fall short. You have got to find those weak points and either improve what’s already out there or come up with something totally new and fresh.

But it’s not just about the idea. Finding the right team is essential. They’re the ones who will bring it all to life, so you need to look for a team that can handle the development and make it happen. With a great idea and a talented team, you can create something awesome and game-changing.