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ZAP Students Headed to Harvard to Present Pitch for Website Supporting Sensory-Impaired People

By Keith Morelli

ZAP Students

TAMPA (December 12, 2019) -- Two Zimmerman Advertising Program students and a biomedical science major are headed to Harvard University in the spring to pitch an idea aimed at paving a path to inclusion for sensory-impaired people. The trio of freshmen won a recent Judy Genshaft Honors College competition to earn the spot. They were the youngest team in the field.

Caleb Krassner and Molly Jones, both ZAP students, and Anna Carter, who is a Judy Genshaft Honors College classmate of Jones, built a sophisticated website that offers support for sensory impaired people, including college students trying to overcome difficulties in hearing and vision. The website, named Paired, is still under construction, but it addresses a wide range of issues including finding support and help and even tips on finding professors who are the most accommodating in a professional way.

Their efforts took the top prize at the November pitch competition and now they are headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they will present their plan to the Global Health Catalyst Summit at Harvard Medical School.

“We're so honored,” said Jones, who is a USF Provost Scholar, “for the opportunity to make Paired a reality.”

The idea came about at the Judy Genshaft Honors College convocation at the beginning of the semester, when the annual grand challenge topic was announced for all honors students to undertake. Near the end of the semester, students made pitches at the Honors College Grand Challenge.

The topic of the challenge was this: "Address the isolating consequences of hearing loss, vision loss or other sensory impairments by identifying new methods of social inclusion not covered by existing services."

The topic was personal. Jones has a hearing impairment, Carter’s sister is deaf in one ear and Krassner has several relatives affected by hearing loss as well.

“As someone who suffers from a hearing impairment,” Jones said, “it was really important for me to take action on this because it was such a personal topic. I knew that I would deeply regret it if I didn't take advantage of this opportunity to create change for those like myself.

“This immediately became a passion project for all of us rather than just a competition to win,” she said. “We were eager to implement change for those we care about.”

The trio began brainstorming and decided to create a social media networking app and website for sensory impaired individuals to connect and form a community. The project was named Paired: Community for the Impaired.

“Paired would allow sensory-impaired individuals to connect through informative blog posts about how to navigate life with an impairment or through a forum where anyone can discuss the topics they like and find others like themselves,” Jones said. Their project also created a separate website under the Paired name – Paired Family – built specifically for families and parents with sensory-impaired children under the age of 18.

“My parents struggled a lot when raising me simply because they had no idea what to do,” Jones said. “They had never been around those with hearing loss let alone tried to raise a child with one.

“I felt that if they had the resources to connect with other parents about the obstacles they face when raising a sensory impaired child,” she said, “they could have felt some stability and peace knowing that they weren't alone.”

The freshmen submitted the proposal and were given a $250 budget when they learned Paired was a finalist. In November, they made a 10-minute presentation of their proof-of-concept to a panel of judges which included Richard Salem, sponsor of the competition and advocate for those with disabilities, and Charles Adams, dean of the Judy Genshaft Honors College.

Paired won.

Now Jones, Krassner and Carter will receive additional funding to help further the development of the project and in May, head to the summit at Harvard Medical School.

“We can't wait,” Jones said, “to see what the future holds for the sensory-impaired community.”