One major aspect of practicing self-care and wellness involves advocating for my family’s healthcare needs. When my developmentally delayed daughter has health issues, I am able to figure out quickly that there is a problem requiring medical attention and take her to the doctor for evaluation so that she gets what she needs. Unfortunately, there are many people with developmental disabilities who don’t have a 24-7 health care advocate.

The good news is that the USC Center for Body Computing (CBC) at the Keck School of Medicine of USC is hoping to solve unmet healthcare needs using home-based digital assistants. The CBC is a digital health research and innovation center that is creating technology-driven health care solutions for a modern age. One of the nation’s first university-based centers to focus on digital health solutions, the CBC was founded in 2006 at the Keck School of Medicine of USC by Leslie Saxon, MD, a USC-trained cardiologist and internationally renowned digital health expert.

On July 12-13, teams of innovators will gather for the CBC’s 2018 “Voice Assistants for All” Hackathon. These teams will be meeting the challenge of creating solutions that will enable people with developmental disabilities as well as seniors and veterans to have more control over their healthcare. The overnight event will conclude with team presentations and expert judges in the fields of computer science, creative arts, medicine, science, and engineering. The winning team will receive $10,000 and an opportunity to collaborate with the CBC and industry leaders to bring their idea to life. *

According to Saxon, who is the executive director of the CBC and a professor of medicine at the Keck School, “This is an opportunity to find technology-based solutions that can empower people who are under-served by mainstream healthcare. Emerging artificial intelligence voice assistant like Google Home and Amazon Echo might help us bridge that gap.”

This year’s hackathon, co-hosted with the WITH Foundation, will require participants to use voice assistants to foster deeper connections, encourage informed healthcare decision-making, and identify gaps in care. The intent is to encourage solutions that make sure patients are involved in decision-making regarding their care and that their expectations for their healthcare and healthcare needs are known and met. Established in 2002, the WITH Foundation is a private foundation that promotes comprehensive and accessible healthcare for adults with developmental disabilities. WITH believes that if technology meets the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it results in better technology for all.

According to Ryan Easterly, executive director of the WITH Foundation, “WITH is excited about our partnership with the USC Center for Body Computing. We look forward to seeing the ways that participants engage the use of voice assistants as an effective healthcare tool.”

Voice assistants can serve as an effective healthcare tool by providing medical information, helping with schedules and keeping records of interactions, Saxon explains.

“Digital technology is especially helpful, because much of healthcare still exists outside of a doctor’s visit. It provides an opportunity to share tools and information directly to people within their own homes,” she says. “Research has also shown that virtual humans can increase the willingness of people to disclose information by decreasing fears of evaluation and judgment.”

The hackathon will take place at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies in Playa Vista, CA. For more information about the hackathon, visit

*It was later announced that Amplify, one of the 5 competing teams, won the competition. Amplify aims to improve speech outcomes for children with cerebral palsy (CP) by leveraging voice assistant technology to delivery speech therapy treatment through an interactive storytelling experience.


  • Eraina Ferguson

    Writer, Advocate, and People Lover

    My Good Life

    Eraina Ferguson is a creative nonfiction writer currently penning a memoir about raising a daughter with autism and deafness. Her story was featured in “The New Haven Register” She holds an M.Ed in Education and an MAR in Religion from Yale University. Learn more about her here: