“The Arc Tank” Competition Attacks Barriers to Improve the Lives of the People with Disabilities

When Steven Rosenthal decided to donate $1 million to Northeast Arc, he wanted the funding to be used in an innovative way to go beyond providing direct care services and to spur creative thinking for people with intellectual disabilities and autism.  So, Rosenthal and Northeast Arc  created “The Arc Tank” competition inviting inventors, engineers, human service providers, parents, college students, and the disabled to participate in  an initiative that is designed to positively disrupt the conventional methods of providing services. Northeast Arc is a human services organization that annually serves 9,000 children and adults from 190 Massachusetts cities and towns who have a broad range of disabilities including intellectual disabilities and autism.

More than 100 proposals were submitted for review from across the globe with seven teams making it to the final round of “The Arc Tank.” The seven finalists will pitch their proposals in front of a panel of judges on November 15, 2017 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

“The Arc Tank project is shaping up to do exactly what we had hoped for, to disrupt the system of services and programs and to improve the lives of persons with disabilities,” said  Jo Ann Simons, CEO of Northeast Arc, recently named as one of the top women-led businesses by The Commonwealth Institute in partnership with the Boston Globe Magazine. “The seven proposals that are advancing to the finals are all tremendously worthy ideas that show creativity and they are the kind of innovative ideas that can help many nonprofit human service providers. It will be exciting to hear their pitches in person at the event on Nov. 15.”

The finalists are vying for first round funding of up to $200,000 provided by the Changing Lives Fund, established through the generous donation of Rosenthal, founder of West Shore LLC.

“The Arc Tank” Seven Finalists:

Autism Training Videos for Health Care Providers – Submitted by Boston Medical Center to develop patient-centric training videos for healthcare professionals on how to interact with patients who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD patients require extra attention at disproportionately higher levels than their typically developing peers and there are significant gaps in information needed to help care for them.

Disrupting the Guardianship Pipeline – Submitted by the Center for Public Representation of Northampton, Mass., to create a “Massachusetts Supported Decision-Making Incubator: to provide an effective alternative to guardianship which is often the only option for people with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities.

Independent Living Suite –Submitted by Arc of Northern Virginia, Falls Church, VA, to develop a technology-based solution to providing ongoing support for people with cognitive challenges in living their daily lives. The concept would provide support from the moment they wake up, navigating them throughout the day at work, in relationships and out in the community, to allow them to live as independently as possible.

Key 2 Freedom – Submitted by RimPower of Watertown, Mass. to develop a device to attach to wheelchairs, allowing wheelchair users easier access to the items that they need to carry with them on a daily basis.  Key 2 Freedom is a plastic cylinder that attaches to any armrest or support, in front of the user, without the need of tools or extraordinary dexterity. It was developed by a wheelchair user for wheelchair users.

Pathways to Inclusive Health Care – Submitted by Carol Langer, Associate Professor at UMass Medical Center and an instructor at the Harvard School of Public Health, to develop a pipeline of healthcare professionals equipped to provide quality healthcare to people with intellectual disabilities and autism.  The project would focus on the precipitous transition from pediatrics to adult medicine care for this population.

The Future of Home and Community Based Services – Submitted by MySupport Inc., Silver Springs, Maryland, to expand its new online platform designed to help empower people with disabilities and their families to control their own services. MySupport connects those seeking support with direct support workers using a unique values-based matching algorithm alongside a suite of tools for managing support relationships in line with state regulatory requirements.

Y’s Water Wise – Submitted by the YMCA of the North Shore, Beverly, Mass., to develop “Water Wise”, a water safety program for children with ASD.  According to a 2017 study, children with autism are 160 times as likely to die from drowning as other children.  Children with ASD often feel anxious, and wandering, especially toward water, is one way they seek relief. The high risk of accidental drowning reaffirms the importance of teaching water safety to children with ASD.

Two proposals that demonstrated innovative initiatives from young entrepreneurs but did not make it to the final round will receive “Outside the Tank” gifts to help them further their concepts.  They are:

Shop, Drop and Roll  – submitted by Andrew Holmes, a junior at Olin College in Needham, Mass., who developed a concept for a wheelchair attachment that simplifies the transport and accessibility of goods on the back of a wheelchair, allowing for increased independence and an easier traveling experience.

The BIONIC Hand – submitted by Nathaniel Lorenz Galdamez, a student at Swampscott High School in Swampscott, Mass., who has a physical disability with his hands.  Nathaniel’s idea is to create a device that could be fastened to his wrist, desk or computer to assist with tasks including the common computer command such as CTRL+ALT+DLT which he is currently unable to perform.

“The Arc Tank” panel of judges

  • Matthew Kennedy – Founder, Kennedy Merchant Partners; Board member, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation
  • Shirley Leung – Columnist and former Business Editor for the Boston Globe, Contributor to WGBH and NECN; Former reporter for the Wall Street Journal; Mother of two sons on the autism spectrum
  • Quincy Miller – President, Eastern Bank; Immediate past Board Chair, of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts; Board member, Greater Boston Food Bank, Bottom Line and Zoo New England’ Board of Overseers, Greater Boston YMCA
  • Matthew Millett – Security Officer II, Department of Youth Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Board member, Special Olympics of Massachusetts
  • Mike Roberts – Recently retired Executive Director of the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, Harvard Business School
  • Marylou Sudders – Secretary of Health & Human Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Prior to becoming Secretary, Sudders was an associate professor and chaired the Health/Mental Health program at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work.

The judges will receive support from David Chang, an entrepreneur and active angel investor with product, marketing and software development experience at venture-backed startups and from Rick Rader, MD, Vice President, American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry ; Editor in Chief, Exceptional Parent Magazine.