By Christopher Alvarez


A diverse group of 8 stands in front of trees, smiling, with a large $15,000 check from NYSID to the NYIT design group. To their left is a sign about the silk screen cleaner design and to the right is a Spectrum Designs sign.

NYSID, NYIT students, and Spectrum Designs celebrate the winning innovation.


They won and now they celebrate! Last week, Spectrum Designs, a custom apparel shop that employs young people on the autism spectrum, hosted the Cultivating Resources for Employment with Assistive Technology (CREATE) Symposium’s winning New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) students for a small celebration. The team created a Gamified Silk Screen Cleaner invention that makes it easier for Spectrum Designs employees to clean custom apparel tools in a more sanitary and speedy manner.


Patrick Bardsley, Co-Founder & CEO of Spectrum Designs Foundation, started the ceremony with a line from a poem by Rudyard Kipling: “If you can fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,” praising the students’ work ethic in this competition.


“We are delighted and grateful that you put all your effort into this,” said Bardsley. “Making it fun, making it more efficient, it’s just a win-win for us.”


New York State Industries for the Disabled (NYSID) President and CEO Maureen O’Brien shared that the CREATE program started because when placing people into employment, they found that there was still a need for technological support to make employment achievable for certain folks.


Currently, 67% of New Yorkers with disabilities and 85% nationwide are underemployed or unemployed. That’s why NYSID has been on a mission to enhance employability for individuals with disabilities and since 2014, over 100 assistive technology inventions have been created by bright student engineers in New York to remove barriers to employment.


“If individuals with disabilities are still unemployed at 67%, we haven’t done everything that we’re supposed to do, and we’re still treating a class of people unfairly by not making it fully accessible,” said O’Brien.


As an active collaborator since 2019, Spectrum Designs Foundation finally reached victory. O’Brien calls the day “special,” reflecting that “when you come to a location and you showcase a device like that, it helps people better understand all of the other things that they do here.”


Dr. Michael Nizich, the proud teacher and project advisor who oversaw the work of his engineering students at NYIT told the design team: “You’re changing lives in that room. You’re changing lives for these students, and you’re making a better society by yourself.”