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February 2023

New app provides volunteer ‘matchmaking’ for people with disabilities

At a glance
The team

François Routhier, mechanical engineer and professor in the Department of Rehabilitation at Université Laval, and postdoctoral researcher Nolwenn Lapierre, a Mitacs researcher 


The challenge

Automating the time-consuming, manual process that community organizations undertake to train and match volunteers and people with disabilities 

The solution

Development of a volunteer ‘matchmaking’ app, modelled after online dating platforms such as Tinder

The outcome

A unique matching platform that will include training and information capsules to support a safe and enjoyable practice

Breakthrough platform supports social interaction of people with disabilities by matching them to outdoor enthusiasts who are interested in accompanying them on activities, such as paddle boarding, hiking, or adaptive skiing

People with disabilities in Quebec will soon have a way to get out and enjoy outdoor activities safely, thanks to a first-of-its-kind online platform — currently under development at Université Laval-based Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et intégration sociale (Cirris) — that will match them with support volunteers in their community. 

The innovative work is one of five research projects that have collectively earned François Routhier, a mechanical engineer and professor in the Department of Rehabilitation at Université Laval, the Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership—Professor. The award was presented at a ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on November 22. 

The award recognizes Routhier — who has worked with six Mitacs interns over the past four years — for his exemplary efforts to bring industrial, clinical, and community circles together to better serve people with disabilities. His collaborative approach also aims to give a voice to those with disabilities by actively including them in the research process. 

Development of the volunteer matching app — which started in June and is being modelled after online dating platforms such as Tinder — is being led by Mitacs intern Nolwenn Lapierre, a postdoctoral researcher working under Routhier’s supervision as Co-scientific director of the intersectoral initiative Société inclusive at Cirris. Developed in partnership with a regional association in Québec City — Association régionale pour le loisir des personnes handicapées de la Capitale-Nationale (ARLPH 03) — which promotes leisure activities for those with disabilities, the app aims to make it easier to support those with disabilities by matching them to outdoor enthusiasts in their local area who are interested in accompanying them on activities, such as paddle boarding, hiking, or adaptive skiing. 

“Not only is it challenging for our partner association to find volunteers and connect them with individuals who want to be active outdoors, but they also struggle with ensuring volunteers have the proper training to keep people safe,” said Routhier. The unique platform, expected to launch within two years, will also include resources such as training and information capsules for people with disabilities, as well as for volunteers to facilitate a safe and enjoyable practice for all, he explained. The content and modalities of these resources will be specified based on the needs of users of the platform. 

“This platform is modernizing a time-consuming, manual process that community support associations currently do on paper, that’s difficult to coordinate,” he added. “The long-term vision is to extend this service across the province so even more people will benefit.” 

Other Mitacs-supported research under Routhier’s supervision is aimed at improving assistive devices and technology used by people with disabilities, including the Boisbriand-based Kinova Jaco® robotic arm, and power wheelchairs designed by Vaudreuil-Dorion-based Amylior Inc. At the start of the pandemic, in April 2020, Mitacs undergraduate researchers were instrumental in helping to launch a pan-Quebec survey of people with disabilities, to understand the social impact of government restrictions and regulations on this vulnerable population. 

Routhier credits Mitacs for providing the vital support to operationalize research efforts that would be difficult to fund otherwise. “My research is participatory. On one hand, I work with businesses that have research budgets in place, but on the other, I collaborate with community organizations that often lack the financial means to fund research,” he said. “Mitacs provides the support I need to bring more social projects to the table, to meet the needs and challenges we’re seeing on the ground. I’m very proud of what we’re accomplishing.” 

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country. 

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: