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'Hackathon' Yields Review Site For Autism-Friendly Businesses

hackathon.jpg
Cyrus Stoller (left) and Ryan Stevens, winners of the AT&T and Autism Speaks hackthon. Photo courtesy of AT&T.

People with disabilities and their families have long relied on word-of-mouth to find disability-friendly community businesses, but that recommendation system has been given a new twist after a "hackathon" sponsored by AT&T in partnership with the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

Ryan Stevens, 25, and Cyrus Stoller, 24, both living in San Francisco, won $10,000 for creating RevTilt, a review site that allows users to suggest businesses that accommodate people with autism.

For example, a Chinese food restaurant gets high marks for always having the same order ready to go for a patron. A hair salon was praised for gently easing a five-year-old through a haircut. The hairdresser "showed him the razor and put the trimmer side against her hand. He did not flinch or anything! It went quick! I think it was the owner, he was walking around and offered water. Everyone was just so nice," the reviewer wrote.

Stevens and Stoller compiled their results from real-life reviews, and say the website is ready for more contributions from around the country.

"Some of that information does exist on [the review site] Yelp but to find it is just dumb luck," Stoller said in an interview. "We should be able to find that information all in one place."

This is especially helpful for businesses that are accommodating but may not be marketing themselves specifically to the autism community, said Stevens.

Both developers have ties with the autism and medical communities; Stevens has a cousin with autism, and Stoller's mother is a pediatrician. The final project is open source, so the developers are welcoming other programmers who would like to enhance the product. The website will also be easy to expand to include other disability categories if there's enough interest, he said.

The hackathon event, held in mid-April, invited programmers to bring to life ideas that had been suggested by visitors to the Autism Speaks Facebook page. The category of apps geared towards the autism community is growing, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. RevTilt was selected as the winner from 26 entries; the other prizewinners and descriptions of their apps can be found here. (You'll see RevTilt referred to by an earlier name, "Puzzled.")

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