CommunAphasia wins Rep. Jake Auchincloss’ 2022 Congressional App Challenge in Massachusetts’s Fourth District

Rep. Jake Auchincloss has named Alyssa Feinberg of Newton South High School, Julia Hulburd of Newton South High School, Salome Hizanishvili of Newton South High School, and Sophie Strausberg of Newton South High School as the winners of the 2022 Congressional App Challenge in Massachusetts’s Fourth District.

When asked what inspired the creation of CommunAphasia, the students said, ”Our team was inspired to create CommunAphasia because we wanted to improve the quality of life of people with aphasia (PWA). A friend of our team, was diagnosed with aphasia after experiencing a stroke. We observed the difficulty she had communicating with loved ones using the available technology. In an interview with our friend and her mother, she said, “At the beginning she couldn’t find the right words… so she would look at me and say ‘dad’.” We saw how difficult and devastating this was for her and her family. CommunAphasia was created with the hope of assisting others with aphasia to communicate with those they love.
CommunAphasia was designed with two goals in mind: connection and recovery. We strive to help people with aphasia grow and sustain their social networks through an accessible messaging system and to provide helpful speech therapy tools. Regular communication with loved ones and social engagement have always been important to PWA to maintain and improve their skills. The challenge has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, connection with loved ones became more difficult with social distancing and limited face-to-face communication. Without in-person recovery, practicing exercises became difficult without someone to guide the PWA. This further motivated us to create this app. In addition, the ability to do at-home exercises and communicate with friends and family over long distances is essential. Exercises can be used in addition to in-person recovery. An app is an effective alternative and can be used anytime and anywhere, allowing the PWA to practice more frequently.
We researched the existing technology and found that it was not sufficient for the needs of most PWA. It lacked important features such as a simple messaging system for facilitating communication and feedback to encourage engagement with the skill-building exercises and the ability to track progress. In addition, many of the apps available required a paid subscription to access all of the features, or an upfront cost of a few hundred dollars, leaving many PWA unable to access digital resources. We realized the critical need for an inexpensive, easily accessible, aphasia-friendly app while improving grammar and comprehension skills using exercises tailored to their needs. We noticed the importance of communicating with loved ones. We are passionate about providing an alternative therapy, helping PWA recover anytime and anywhere.”

The Congressional App Challenge smashed previous participation records in 2022. All told, 9,011 students registered for this year’s competition – creating 2,707 fully-functioning apps for 335 Members of Congress across 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and the District of Columbia. This year’s competition set the record for most student registrations, most apps submitted, most apps per district submitted, and most districts receiving over 20 apps. The wildly successful competition continues to impress upon House Members the importance of computer science education and the need to develop a pipeline of diverse, domestic STEM talent.

The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival. The program is a public-private partnership made possible through funding from Omidyar Network, AWS, Rise, theCoderSchool, Apple, and others.

The 2023 Congressional App Challenge will launch in June of 2023, and eligible students can pre-register for the competition now.