ViziBox wins Rep. Suzan DelBene’s 2023 Congressional App Challenge in Washington’s First District

Rep. DelBene has named Aryav Taneja, a 12th grader at The Overlake School, as the winner of the 2023 Congressional App Challenge in Washington’s First District.

When asked what inspired the creation of ViziBox, the student said, “My grandpa has always been a beacon for me. I saw him transform from a wickedly smart person to one filled with self-doubt as glaucoma, a degenerative eye disease, ravaged through his eyes and his confidence. One day I saw him standing in front of a public bathroom, desperately trying to read the sign, terrified that he would enter the wrong one. As my family scrambled to find a cure to the disease, I turned to what I knew best: technology.

I created Read It Aloud for Grandpa, an app on his phone that he could point at any text and it would read it aloud for him. It spread to his friends and others in the local community and caught the attention of Yang-su Cho, from Washington State’s Department of Services for the Blind, who invited me to demonstrate it to his team in Nov 2022. After an intense hour of feedback and deliberations, that meeting concluded with an insight: mobile apps are often difficult to navigate for a visually impaired person; what about a small wireless device that could do the same job? I initially resisted: ‘Those devices are available but they cost north of $2,500!’ Yang-su insisted, ‘Then that’s what a young person like you should be inventing!’ The idea for ViziBox was born. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 introduced the nation to a new normal; one where ramps, Braille signs and push buttons to open doors became ubiquitous and enabled millions to access and experience this world that they had been deprived of. But significant innovation in technology that could build on this strong foundation is still limited and not mainstream. I want to change that, by developing solutions for the visually impaired that are affordable and allow them to live a life of dignity and full of confidence.

In partnership with the Department of Services for the Blind, I want Washington to be the torchbearer of such innovation for the differently abled.”

This year’s Challenge saw an unprecedented level of participation, with 374 Members of the House of Representatives hosting competitions, surpassing the previous record of 340. A remarkable 11,334 students from across the United States competed in this year’s Challenge, marking an impressive increase of nearly 1,000 participants compared to the previous record set in 2019. The enthusiasm and creativity these students display is a testament to the growing interest in technology and signal a bright future for American innovation. The surge of ingenuity continued with a whopping 3,645 original applications flooding in, nearly a thousand more than the previous year’s high. This remarkable growth showcases the exceptional talent and innovation within our nation’s youth.

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. This resounding show of bipartisan support emphasizes the critical importance of STEM education in today’s rapidly evolving world. 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 2024 Congressional App Challenge will launch in May of 2024, and eligible students can pre-register for the competition now.