Brain Computer Interface: science or science fiction

Brain-computer interface (BCI), a neural device that translates a person’s brain activity into external responses or directives, might sound like science fiction. Yet we are getting closer to the day where we can directly interact with and control machines with our minds. What does this mean for those with a disability?

For our most recent Remarkable Insights panel, we were joined by a patented inventor of a brain control assistive tech, a neuroengineer who enabled the first demonstration of brain-controlled robotic limbs by people with paralysis, and a founder leading a world-class research & development team that has delivered a human-grade implant, to explore the possibilities and applications of BCI.

 

Panel

 

Moderator

 

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JltKe6ycczs[/embedyt]

The views expressed are solely those of the contributors.

 

Definitions of terms mentioned throughout the conversation:

  • BCI – Brain-computer interface (BCI), a neural device that translates a person’s brain activity into external responses or directives.
  • FMRI – Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity.
  • EEG – Electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that detects abnormalities in your brain waves, or in the electrical activity of your brain.
  • RNS – Responsive Neurostimulation (RNS) System is similar to a heart pacemaker. It can monitor brain waves, then respond to activity that is different from usual or that looks like a seizure.
  • FDA – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for protecting public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of U.S food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.
  • Neuroprosthetics – Any biomedically engineered device designed to be linked to the peripheral or central nervous system and enhance the cognitive, motor, or sensory abilities of an organism.
  • Motor cortex – This is the region of the cerebral cortex (which is the outermost layer of the brain, made up primarily of grey matter) involved in the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements.
  • Endothelialization – refers to the process in which endothelial tissue is formed.

Transcript

[00:04 – 03:43] Pete Horsley

Welcome, everyone to Remarkable Insights my name is Pete Horsley I’m the founder of Remarkable we are an early-stage tech accelerator for startups that are creating technology for disability we are part of Cerebral Palsy Alliance and we have our principal partner is icare and we have partnerships with Telstra, Vivcourt and Microsoft. As well Remarkable is where hopefully technology meets human potential and we see a real gap that exists in the place that technology can play in the lives of people with disability we mainly do that through a 14-week accelerator program where we support early-stage startups commercializing their technology and getting them on the path to getting their technology into the hands of the people that need it most. I want to acknowledge that I’m on the land of the Guringai people this is their land it was never ceded and it’s always sacred and I pay my respects to elders past present and emerging and to whoever you are joining us from as well and the traditional lands that you’re meeting on also pay my respects to elders past and present. There also to pay my respects to the disability advocates who have come before us who have fought for the rights of people with disability over many many decades and we stand on their shoulders now in doing the work that we do we have both a privilege and a responsibility because of the work that they’ve done. So today’s conversation about Remarkable insights conversation is about brain-computer interface and we know that there’s a significant opportunity to leverage technological innovation to drive an inclusive future and we want to ask the question about who’s getting left behind as technology accelerates around us and we want to ask as well how can we start to create an inclusive now rather than just an inclusive future. So for anyone wanting to join this conversation on social media please use our social media handles at remarkabletech and also use the hashtag remarkableinsights the event has live captioning by Otter AI you can make use of that using the live transcript we also have a separate AI transcript that you can click on on your screen as well. And today we also have sign interpretation by Taryn Coswello so welcome Taryn as well today we’re joined by Nick Opie from Synchron presently in lockdown in Melbourne Australia, we’ve got Beata Jarosiewicz from Neuralink in San Francisco and Zuby Onwuta from Think and Zoom in Austin Texas. Welcome to each of you today some of the people on this call are very familiar with what brain-computer interface is but for some of us it might be relatively new so I’m going to ask Beata, you’ve been at the forefront of BCI for quite some time working with a number of different organizations including someone who’s a good friend of Cerebral Palsy Alliance and Remarkable Lee Hochberg and the team at Braingate so do you mind just giving us an explanation of what BCI is, please?

 

[03:43 – 08:28] Beata Jarosiewicz

I would be happy to can you guys see my slides okay hear me okay so let’s see I’m sorry it’s got this live captioning thing at the top… There we go okay so just a brief overview of motor brain-computer interfaces which are meant to help people with paralysis to be able to control their environment and communicate. So like every cell in your body brain cells also called neurons have a voltage across their membrane and when they communicate with one another they rapidly change their voltage over the course of just a millisecond or so and we can spy on these so-called action potentials or the firing of these neurons to try to interpret what the brain is trying or what the brain indicates that the person’s movement intention is at any given moment in time for example so this is a picture of a human brain on the top left here where the left side is the front and the right side is the back and the red strip there the strip labeled in red is called the motor cortex this is the part of the brain that controls voluntary movement different parts of the motor cortex if you look at this blown-up cross-section represent different parts of the body so if you record from the neuron in the hand or arm area of motor cortex you might find activity that represents the person wanting to make particular movements of the hand or arm and here’s an example of a neuron that we recorded when I was at brain gate from participant kathy hutchinson the technician is going to be asking her to imagine that she’s opening and closing her hand and see if you can hear a difference in the activity of this neuron it’s going to sound like little popping sounds relaxed imagine you’re opening your hand relax close your hand relax open your hand so you can tell whenever the person is imagining opening our hand the neuron kind of goes crazy and when she imagines closing it the neuron gets very quiet and then with relax it’s somewhere in between so you can take a neuron like this and just look at its firing rate in small windows of time and use that information to open and close a prosthetic hand for example just by asking the person to imagine that they’re opening and closing their own hand so here’s a video of us doing that with another brain gate participant matt naval so that’s a very basic example of a brain computer interface but other neurons in motor cortex have encoding for particular imagined movements in different directions in space so for example one neuron might encode movements imagined leftward movements another neuron might increase its firing rate when the person imagines moving their hand up and if you record from a lot of neurons at the same time which a lot of brain computer interfaces do and you know the preferred directions of all of the different neurons that you’re recording from you can look at their firing rates at each moment in time and figure out from the pattern across the neurons which direction the person intends to move and then use that movement information that you’ve decoded to for example move a computer cursor on a computer screen this is the the basic explanation or the intuition for how a brain computer interface works and of course you can use that to allow a person with paralysis to point and basically use a point-and-click mouse with her brain as though she were controlling an actual computer mouse and this is another brain gate participant t6 who is typing an email to my colleague Paul Nuyujukian and using a brain computer interface and then just for context at braingate or sorry at neurolink where I currently am we’re trying to make a fully implantable and cosmetically invisible brain computer interface with lots and lots of channels that will allow a person to be able to control devices in a very similar way just by thinking about how they want to move that’s the end of my little intro I will stop sharing thank you thank you so much.

 

[08:28 – 09:44] Pete Horsley

You should be a teacher Beata I feel like thank you I feel like we have a really good base understanding of the kind of technology we’re talking about here and just to give some warning to our participants today that we probably might also be mentioning other things like EEG, intracortical neuroprosthetics and other kinds of terminologies hopefully we’ll try and explain those if we do mention those on the way through. So we know that BCI isn’t necessarily kind of reading our thoughts but it’s reading the brain’s activity when there’s intentional thought typically towards a physical activity I want us first to explore the use of some of these cases picking up the signals and then using them to control something outside the body so nick firstly congratulations on the 40 million series b capital raise earlier this year and already you’ve been doing human trials in Australia but I know that you’ve just started or just got approvals for human trials in the US as well so huge steps towards your own commercialization so congratulations for that what excites you about the potential of this technology particularly for those people who might be living with a disability?

 

[09:44 – 10:38] Nicholas Opie, CTO and Founder, Synchron

Yeah, I think it’s just fascinating how the field’s grown certainly you know from some of the work Beata mentioned in Braingate back in the day the ability to access information from within the brain extract it and then convert it into signals that can be used by people with paralysis to control computers or robotic hands or vehicles being robots and wheelchairs and so forth it is just incredible and it’s really fantastic to see the field progress to a stage where it’s starting to you know to turn from early-stage research showing that it’s feasible and possible to things like what we’re doing where it’s being implanted into people and being used by them to enhance their quality of life. I think it’s it’s amazing to watch the progression and you know there are early stages a long way to go but it’s fascinating to watch.

 

[10:38 -10:53] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant and Zuby you didn’t start your career kind of in this space you kind of came to this technology through a slightly different track can you tell us the story of how you started working with BCI?

 

[10:53 – 13:41] Zuby Onwuta

Sure thanks so much Pete and thanks to everybody for being here. So yeah I’m currently in Austin Texas USA and yeah I kind of fell into this and now I’m on a journey of creating a better world for people with disabilities. So I started out just wanting to be a physician just want to be a doctor and I did that pre-med and I was in the U.S military but within two short years I went from seeing the eye chart from roughly 10 feet away or more to now down to just one foot away it was dramatic I became legally blind from a form of Juvenile macular degeneration called Stargardt and at that time once you hit your 2200 it’s supposed to plateau one-stop but mine never stopped and so by the age of 21 I had to scramble for plan c as I had to exit the military and exit my medical studies so I chose to engineer and I struggled all the way through. I had the opportunity of working for some fortune 500 companies and so I immersed deeply into software engineering but then within that journey I ended up at the school for the blind learning non-visual skills so you can imagine it was a very very tough and challenging time and then several years after that I spent some more times at no vision all kinds of ophthalmologists 300 of them and we discovered that i actually have three genetic mutations affecting my retina so that explained why i was having all the fluctuations and unstable vision but all throughout this time I kept thinking of how can i create something that could not only help myself but also millions of people like myself and so that’s what threw me into neuroscience that’s how i discovered brain control and now i’m on this journey of critiquing better worlds for people with disabilities and tell us a little bit about the technology that you’ve created so far so think and zoom leverages the power of brain waves but it does that knowing invasively for so from a wearable pci which is a sensor that touches you know outside of your head and just like a Beata explained we harness you know the electrical impulses coming from the brain and we’ve been able to develop a prototype to show that it is possible to look think and zoom in to see better so essentially in layman’s terms you can now use your brain to influence magnification so you don’t no longer have to use your hands or manually control you cannot think and zoom in to see better.

 

[13:41 – 14:56] Pete Horsley

It’s brilliant fantastic Beata earlier this year your boss i don’t know if we’re able to call him this but Elon musk announced that a monkey could play with video games using its mind this is kind of using the signals to control something external like what you explained before and while some parts of this technology are new some of the applications of this this kind of technology have been used for decades through devices like cochlear implants that were also starting to put signals that were also used to put signals back into the brain as well so Elon’s also been known to say that BCI was integral for humans not to be outpaced by artificial intelligence so it seems to me that it’s one thing to get signals out of the brain to control an external device but then another thing to i guess use those signals or to put signals back into the brain so i guess my question to you is what’s the potential of this of this technology to put signals back into the brain and what could that mean for people with disability? and also I’d love you to mention some of the work that you’ve already done with another company through epilepsy as well.

 

[14:56 – 17:01] Beata Jarosiewicz

Sure so that’s a very big question but as you mentioned you know cochlear implants provide a really good example of a very promising way to put information into the brain that the brain can then learn over not too long a period of time to make sense of and make use of for people with hearing disorders of course that the resolution of the input that you get from a cochlear implant is nowhere near the actual cochlea but with the brain’s plasticity you know the brain has this amazing ability that if a source of input into it contains information about the external world that it’s useful to the person or to the animal it’s going to learn how to make use of that information and there’s of course there’s also visual prosthetics under development for you know stimulating the visual cortex with the device like ours and there’s also of course retinal prosthetics other things like that under development that are also very promising as for oh and you also mentioned with epilepsy you know recording from i used to work at a company called Neuropace also that that makes the the RNS systems responsive neurostimulation so it listens for brain activity indicating that the person is about to have a seizure coming from the seizure focus and sends some brief electrical stimulation to try to normalize that activity and prevent the seizure from progressing and that also works tremendously well for people with medically refractory epilepsy as for writing in the kind of information elon is talking about where you want to basically be able to do a google search in your brain or be able to you know communicate with one another without having to speak that’s going to take i think it’s going to take a lot of either like better understanding of the brain that then we currently have or a big leap in technology that i currently can’t envision but it is definitely a goal of neurolink a long-term goal.

 

[17:01 – 17:16] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant and Nick, just in terms of the work of Synchron give us an update on kind of where things are up to now and what the next steps in terms of some of those human trials are going to look like?

 

[17:16 – 20:10] Nicholas Opie

Sure so Synchron at the moment is as you mentioned continuing human clinical trial in australia and and branching out to the U.S our technology is a little bit different to to a lot of the other existing brain machine interfaces in that we came up with a way where you didn’t have to perform any invasive remove craniotomy’s removal of the skull you don’t need to do that to to implant our device to the brain using blood vessels as the you know the naturally occurring pathway to get to the different regions so through a small incision like an injection in the neck we can put our device up and to the motor cortex as we are mentioned before and once it’s there the the patients can you know use their brain to think about activities that they would like to perform and and the device can obviously pick that up and wirelessly transfer those out of the body to be interpreted and used to control external equipment i think certainly you know for us continuing the clinical trial we when we started the company about 10 years ago our vision really was to go beyond amazing research that everyone on the panel here is doing and get it into a product that can be used by people to help them with their with their lives and to help them and their carers perform different activities so we’re still on that pathway to you know start of a a long journey you know a lot of regulatory approvals and fda testing and needs to be needs to be achieved and and certainly we’re well on the way to getting a product out to those that can use it with the idea being that for people who have a through damage or disease a functioning brain but a body that isn’t isn’t connected so they can’t move their arms or limbs spinal cord injury for example motor neurone disease or ALS in the U.S and other different conditions that prevent the signals from going from the brain to to their body and you know we’re planning on helping those people and certainly trying to help them in in a way that you know is surgically non-invasive very minimally invasive and and can be used sort of out of the box to perform communication as well as other activities of daily living so it’s it’s exciting and you know there’s a lot of people coming into the into this into this field at the moment which is which is fantastic and certainly i think there’s a bright future for for this technology and the people that will be using it whether they be the the users themselves or their carers or their families or whoever it might be.

 

[20:10 – 20:55] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant and I want to stay with you just you mentioned there kind of some of the regulatory pathways and obviously this is all a journey towards commercialization and being able to have this available out in the market and that you know the 40 million dollars of investment you just got is people banking on you to be able to get something in the commercial market eventually I want you to kind of just talk us through a couple of the kind of critical points on that regulatory journey so far what did that look like and yeah I guess we’ve got other founders on the call today that are perhaps on a similar kind of regulatory journey so give us a bit of a picture of what that’s been looking like for you?

 

[20:55 – 22:54] Nicholas Opie

Sure well certainly you know one of the main things you need to to prove is that it’s that it’s safe and that you know that’s for for all technology whether it’s invasive minimally invasive non-invasive you need to prove that it that it’s safe and that the patients that it’s intended for you know won’t be put at additional risk by by having this technology and so that’s one of them and the fda is obviously very big on on making sure that there are a huge amount of tests that need to be conducted and shown to demonstrate that it’s safe for implantation and once it has been implanted obviously the the next step is to show that it works that it’s reliable and that it can perform how it’s intended to perform and allow the the user to communicate with it for example if that if that’s the goal or to control a prosthetic limb or whatever that might be so so there’s a lot of a lot of work you know in the background once you’ve once you’ve made the technology and even once you’ve got the surgical procedure right and implanted it there’s a lot of work that needs to go on in in continuing to to demonstrate and prove that it’s safe and functional and and will continue to be reliable over the the lifespan of the patient and i think one of the things that’s amazing is with all the technologies that the brain machine faces seem to be achieving is getting commands out of the brain and what happens at the other end there’s a lot of work also going on you know how you can make a better technology that allows people to to use these devices properly so making robotic limbs and making exoskeletons in wheelchairs there’s a whole range of other applications that people can use that are they’re only saying to be built as well which is you know which is fantastic so it means you know the people that are making the implantables now have a lot more things to connect to so so the users can control a lot more of their environment

 

[22:54 – 23:26] Pete Horsley

That’s super interesting yeah thinking about the kind of marketplace of available technologies that might need to be there in the future so for you that the regulatory in environments kind of a little bit different for those kinds of inter intracortical devices so ones that go inside the body versus those using neuro neural decoding like EEG so you might want to give a little explanation of EEG but what have been some of the significant milestones in your own commercialization journey?

 

[23:26 – 25:07] Zuby Onwuta

Yeah like Nick has you know given details the intracortical is are very heavy with regulation right because it’s going into the human body but for the eeg which we’re leveraging a head wearable device so it doesn’t go into the human body so we’re not looking at that length of time and all those lengthy clinical trials so we envisage is going to be shorter and in terms of some of the milestones we’ve achieved well we’ve gone from just concept an idea to various prototypes we have a prototype that runs on a smart glass which is what we envision in the future something very lightweight and portable that you can just wear we also have a version that works on a smartphone and in the future we hope to add one that works on your laptop and we also in order to lower the barrier of entry because people as you can imagine ask a lot of questions about you know is this real or something else we created a game out of it that fortunately won an award at apple worldwide developer conference so it’s a brain controlled game and we also earned a patent so these are some of the milestones that we’ve achieved but we also do face some barriers and and challenges as most investors still do not understand the disability landscape very well and so these are still some of the things we’re trying to tackle to move forward.

 

[25:07 – 23:26] Pete Horsley

Yeah that’s brilliant now we’ve had a question come through on the chat asking are these devices suitable for people with cerebral palsy so other than nick or beater do you want to take that one?

 

[25:21 – 26:28] Nicholas Opie

Yeah, I can start, I think in general, yes but it really depends on on the type you know certainly for the centroid and the technology we’re developing in the first case provided they have a functional brain and that meaning that they can think and cause the cells that you was talking about before to function it doesn’t have to be everywhere but just some of their brain can respond normally and that they can have intentional thoughts then yes you can acquire these and they can be used to assist but I suppose that there are going to be some conditions where parts of the brain responsible for arms or limbs may not work that might be okay you might not need that specific region to be working but certainly you know I think it’s it’s a case-by-case sort of scenario where their physicians will be able to assess whether this is something that would be suitable for them.

 

[26:28 – 27:48] Beata Jarosiewicz

Yeah i think Nick stated it perfectly just if you know the part of motor cortex that controls movement is still responsive in a way that communicates the person’s movement intent then these kinds of devices could be used or or some part of the motor motor system doesn’t necessarily have to be cortical but as long as yeah movement is still represented in neural activity then something like this could work awesome and we encourage you to put some that’s for brain machine faces and brain control and if there are other issues with other parts of the body there’s there are technologies you know many people around here as well that can directly be involved with the you know the damaged limb or the part of the the nerve in in the limb or something like that so it doesn’t necessarily need to to come from the brain and there’s a lot of other groups and and a lot of other research and work that’s going on to look at you know how you can how you can really replace anything that’s that’s lost or damaged and so the field of biomedical engineering is certainly taking off and you know i think there’s unlimited possibilities in that regard.

 

[27:48 – 28:52] Pete Horsley

Yeah we’ve seen some incredible research happening at brown university where they’re essentially kind of taking signals from the spinal cord and looking at reinserting those essentially back into a damaged spinal cord below where a break might have happened so just there’s an incredible kind of forefronts I guess for so much of this technology control bionics is another organization here in Australia that’s done some work around taking any kind of signal from a muscle and being able to turn that into a control button as well I guess I wanted to and this one we might yes I encourage people to put questions that they’ve got into the q&a panel down below and we’ll try and get to as many of those as we can one of the questions I do want to ask each of you is if you could just briefly touch on what are some of the ethical questions that you think that we should be asking ourselves in this work? Do you want to start with that one Zuby?

 

[28:52 – 30:21] Zuby Onwuta

Sure in terms of ethics right I think we always have to remember that the piece of technology is to serve the human right and we always have to do our very best to put the human first and then in trying to do that we have to look at the cross-section of humanity one and it pinches me to even touch on this is the event that happened at the Paralympics right where the blind athlete was hit by a self-driving train because that wasn’t considered and so if you think about the paralympic that should be the haven for people with disabilities right everything this real issue has been covered but then the self-driving train which is great but then this one angle wasn’t covered and you know it was disastrous so I think in terms of ethics rather than even trying to think too hard just remember no matter how great the technology is hey we’re trying to serve humanity first and then b let’s look at all humanity and be inclusive so that’s my take on that

 

[30:21 – 30:25] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant, thanks Zuby. Beata?

 

[30:25 – 31:01] Beata Jarosiewicz

Yeah just to add on to that I guess I would say another thing that needs to be thought about carefully is the fact that a lot of these technologies right now are meant to be assistive for people with disabilities restoring function but now and then also going forward if these ever become kind of enhancement technologies making sure that they’re available to everyone, not just people that are wealthy you know to make sure that your insurance model includes you know medicare or Medicaid or whatever just to make sure whoever needs them is able to get them.

 

[31:01 – 31:07] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant, thank you. Nick?

 

[31:07 – 31:52] Nicholas Opie

Yeah look I think what Zuby and Beata say is spot on we gotta really make sure as everyone who’s working in this field does that we put the patients first and we really have their best interest in mind I think there are a lot of ethical issues like you mentioned that haven’t been thought of as Zuby and yes and certainly time needs to be spent making sure that all covers all bases are covered where you know where possible but there are new things that arise as new technologies arise and I think as long as the researchers are aware and continue to be motivated towards helping the human condition then I think we’re in a good place with people like this on the panel who are in charge of this sort of tech.

 

[31:52 – 32:21] Pete Horsley

So one of the questions has come through a little bit more of a technical question or a couple of these are so how does your technology deal with signal noise and particularly for the intracortical devices so those inside the body and the signal loss over time due to local inflammatory response so you might just want to give a little bit of context about what happens when we put foreign objects inside the human body and I know Nick and Beata you’ll have different responses to this.

 

[32:21 – 33:57] Beata Jarosiewicz

I can start that one off so at greengate we’ve had participants that were implanted for over five years in whom the device was still working well enough that the neural signals weren’t quite as beautiful as they were in that example neuron that i showed you guys earlier but we can still get information out of the residual signals even though you know there’s a little bit of a gliosis response where the glial cells that sort of the blue that holds the neurons together in your brain tend to kind of wrap around and protect the rest of the brain from these devices that we’ve been planted in in them it makes it it makes the signal a little bit smaller over time but it’s still possible to get useful information out of them what else was i going to say oh and at neurolink work we’re working on ways to make the response this immune response kind of as minimal as possible and one way we’re doing that is by having very very flexible electrodes that they get put in with a very tiny needle that’s a quarter the size of a human hair the needle is taken back out and then these tiny little flimsy things that you can’t even really see with the naked eye end up staying in the brain they move with the brain they’re a little bit more invisible to the brain they can be coded with molecules that the brain recognizes as good things and have the brain kind of accept them more easily that way so these are some of the ways in which we’re dealing with that and yeah i’ll pass it on to Nick.

 

[33:57 – 35:25] Nicholas Opie

Yeah so our stories are a little bit different when you put things inside a blood vessel in ours so our device it goes in through a blood vessel through a very small sort of sub-millimeter catheter and when it’s in the desired location the motor cortex then we remove the catheter and it expands to put the electrodes or the sensors against the vessel wall to allow blood flow to to go through the middle what we found is a process of endothelialization or the gliosis the the body’s response to devices in a blood vessel it will push it away from the inside of the blood vessel so the device gets incorporated into the vessel wall what we found both in the the preclinical trials and the humans is that that’s actually beneficial for us we the device gets incorporated into the vessel wall where it sort of anchors and so our signal noise improves because there’s no movement through through the middle and and the device is more stable so so the fortuitously we’ve found that the body’s reaction is actually helping our signal quality over time and and once it reaches a point obviously where it’s incorporated in the vessel you know within a couple of weeks then the signals you know remain and we haven’t got to five years yet we our first patient was in august 2019 so we’re so only only two years down but certainly we’ve seen that the signals remain as they did at the two week point from from then on.

 

[35:25 – 36:18] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant and certainly, go have a look at some of the videos both of Neuralink and also Synchron for kind of seeing some of the things that both Beata and nick have just mentioned another technical question well they’ve called it a slightly technical question from Dimitri from Thoughtwide how high or low do you think that the ceiling for EEG based BCI is functionally especially with devices that are wireless and easy to wear versus those that are a lab grade capped with amps they’ve talked about so again maybe just give us a little bit of context for those that can’t imagine the technology that’s just been mentioned there who wants to take that one so if you do you want to take that one? Nick, you go first.

 

[36:18 – 37:54] Nicholas Opie

Yeah i’ve got a comment i think that there’s there’s a lot of different technologies that will have different benefits to different patient groups obviously if if you’re placing something outside the skull the skull will act like a a filter and will suppress some of the activity that you get m but need to have a binary switch to control some applications then you know that’s you know that’s that’s one application certain people might have that and indeed some of our patients haven’t wanted to use all of the electrodes or sensors we’ve got in there they’re happy with just getting really good at one or two sensors or clicks if you will and they’ve found that with even with those they can do a huge amount of communication and web-based activities like shopping and and banking and financial management and and they’ve said you know that’s enough i don’t need all these other switches for me to you know if it will for them that person to have benefit and then you go to Beata where they’ve you know got got many more electrodes and sensors and and certainly again there’ll be different applications for that there are going to be people that want to control a huge amount of of information whether it’s receiving or sending and so i think a lot of this technology will have you know a base level of everyone will be able to do this but there’ll be certain subsets of individuals as well as different conditions that might benefit from from each way of addressing the same problem

 

[37:54 – 38:31] Zuby Onwuta

yeah I might just add to that I think that nick is right in terms of you know the different areas of applications but that question also made me remember one I think it’s out of MIT media a lot it’s called AlterEgo where they actually take the signals from the throat area they tap electrical signals before your voice box actually issues the sound so you’re silently whispering to yourself so again that’s another way of grabbing the electrical signals out of your head.

 

[38:31 – 38:47] Pete Horsley

We’re kind of running short of time now but one other question that we’ve got there in q a is do you feel it will be disability assist or performance enhancement that will be the primary driver of BCI progress in five to ten years time? Beata do you want to take that one?

 

[38:47 – 40:18] Beata Jarosiewicz

I think definitely starting with disability assist that’s been the big driver all this time and the fact that it kind of remained in academia for so long that sort of the intracortical brain computer interface at least kind of speaks to the fact that there hasn’t been as big of maybe a push from from the disability community or i don’t know why it’s just kind of stayed in academia for so long but then it’s been nice that there’s been much more kind of commercial interest in bringing it to market and i think definitely the fact that it’s going to take that stop along the way is is a great thing for for the disability community and then whether or not it actually ends up in the enhancement stage i’m a little bit skeptical there are certain things that i think we we definitely can do in the near future like you know add sensory modalities for example that for things that already exist like which way is magnetic north or like seeing into the ultraviolet range or something like that but yeah as for like writing in really complex information that’s going to be a little bit harder but definitely like one of the one of the drivers of both the the enhancement and the disability technology is trying to get to that final enhancement stage.

 

[40:18 – 40:22] Pete Horsley

Zuby, what about you?

 

[40:22 – 41:19] Zuby Onwuta

My hope is that we can start out focusing on the disabled there are 1 billion of us around the world and largely overlooked right and you can start looking at the statistics and you know all kinds of data so that’s just my hope that we can finally focus on this group of people and get them to climb out of the very ultra-high unemployment rate public rates and get them to learn and earn so they can become you know economically independent and contributing members of society and you can never really say never right we don’t have a crystal ball of what will happen 5 ten-fifteen years from now maybe the performance enhancement market will kick-off but the hope of my prayer is that for now let’s leverage what we have and help those who are in need.

 

[41:19 – 41:27] Pete Horsley

That’s awesome, Nick. What about you?

 

[41:27 – 42:43] Nicholas Opie

Yeah look I agree I think certainly if you look at what’s happened in history with leicester plastic surgery which started as a medical procedure for burns and other reasons you know once you’ve got traction with the medical community then you know obviously the larger community have taken that up and spun it in their own way and I think you see the the Paralympic games that were just on and certainly a few years ago you may recall the blade runner Oscar Pistorius was wearing sort of bionic limbs and wow that guy was fast like certainly much faster than I was probably equally as fast as some of the the athletes that didn’t require prosthetics and I think they had to slow the legs down so we didn’t go too quick but I think you’ll see a time where some of these bionic replacements are better than our own limbs some of the arms that have been made by in the U.S are arguably better than the one i’ve got now so you know I think there is going to be a time where where the technology excuse me improves people to it to a level that they’re not at yet but I can’t see that yeah I certainly want to see that happening for the people that need it in the first case.

 

[42:43 – 43:01] Pete Horsley

That’s brilliant well the last question that I have for each of you and we’ll have to keep this brief because we’re just about out of time but what’s one remarkable insight that you have for BCI generally and where it’s headed I’m so biased we’ll start with you.

 

[43:01 – 43:42] Beata Jarosiewicz

I’m not sure I would qualify this as a remarkable insight but my own personal insight is it’s just kind of my story of like how I got started in neuroscience was because I was very interested in consciousness and how you know brain activity gives rise to consciousness and it’s an inherently subjective thing so it’s very difficult to study but now that we’re making these brain-computer interfaces and you know implanting them in human study participants maybe we have a way to actually start accessing some of these questions as well because ow we can actually introspect and see what kind of neural chords their correlates there are of these subjective phenomena.

 

[43:42 – 43:47] Pete Horsley

That’s fantastic. Nick?

 

[43:50 – 42:43] Nicholas Opie

I think the insight that I’d like to share was from our first participant when he was using the system firstly you know it was absolutely magic to see a man sitting there paralyzed controlling something on the screen but the thing that I didn’t appreciate at the time was the people that benefit from this aren’t necessarily the users only so he was obviously benefiting he was able to control his you know his environment but on the side his wife and Cara she was able to get more independence knowing that she could now leave his side to go out in the garden go down to the shops. We connected him up with you know so communication tools Whatsapp and texting so that they could always be in contact but she didn’t have to be there and I didn’t appreciate it at the time and when building this the impact that would have on on the carers and the family and the people that aren’t necessarily the recipients of these sort of technologies so I think that was a big insight for me and certainly, you know lovely to see that what we’re doing is is more we’re further reaching than the users or the people that that actually receive the tech

 

[45:03 – 45:19] Pete Horsley

Absolutely yeah there’s the also under-recognized support community and carer community that that happens alongside some parts of the disability community as well so. That’s brilliant Zuby we’ll finish with you.

 

[45:20 – 46:44] Zuby Onwuta

Well, I think my inside will be the moment so what I mean by that is I mean look at the team you’ve assembled here right these are folks at the bleeding edge pushing technology forward to help humanity I think this is the right team to do the job right and create positive impact but then also the forum this is probably one of the first times remarkable insight has put together a busier right and so that’s great it’s an exciting moment but then look at the humanity the disability space from Caroline’s amazing job of development 500 and I just happened to be in Geneva Switzerland to echo her message same year at the UN and now two years later we do have those 500 companies and you move over to WeThe15 and then we move over to plus N inclusive innovation network and then there’s think and zoom feature of disability with a list of global innovators so that’s what I mean by this is the moment right. So we are pushing for the technology and we’re also bringing the humans together and so this is the moment to bring it all together that’s really exciting.

 

[46:44 – 48:35] Pete Horsley

Really well said Zuby thank you so please join me in thanking our panelists today we’ve had Beata and Nick and Zuby also to Taryn our Auslan interpreter it’s been fantastic having a conversation with you. Remarkable is about harnessing technology to build social economic and inclusion for people with disabilities so we want to welcome anyone to express interest in our accelerator program that is open right now for our program running in 2022. Today is also RUOK day in Australia and are you ok day while we’re waiting on technologies like BCI that might actually be able to assist people who those of us who do have mental health challenges one of the things that we can do right today is to check in with people that we know and love and to check in and ask if they’re doing okay it’s important that we look after ourselves in this time of need as well we’ll be seeking some of your impact on today’s remarkable insight session as well so if you could leave us some comments straight after this webinar that would be fantastic recording will be made available as well on remarkable tech’s youtube channel make sure you subscribe to that this kind of conversation we think is vital like Zuby said we we hope that this moment in time of the bringing together of of people technology and where the future of technology and innovation is headed is going to be more inclusive and so we thank you for joining us for this remarkable insights we look forward to you joining us for the next remarkable insights during spark festival next month enjoy the rest of your day and wherever you are calling from good evening good morning and good night.

 

Mentions made:

[09:44 – 10:38] Synchron secures $40 million in Series B round funding

[14:56 – 17:01] Brain-responsive neurostimulation for epilepsy (RNS ® System)

[27:48 – 28:52] Scientists with the BrainGate research collaborative have, for the first time, used an implanted sensor to record the brain signals associated with handwriting and used those signals to create text on a computer in real time.

[37:54 – 38:31] MITMedia Lab ‘AlterEgo’ is a non-invasive, wearable, peripheral neural interface that allows humans to converse in natural language with machines, artificial intelligence assistants, services, and other people without any voice—without opening their mouth, and without externally observable movements—simply by articulating words internally.

 

+N inclusive innovation network launch!

We are thrilled to announce that Inclusive Innovation Network (+N) has officially launched!

On the 1st of September, 2021 we were joined by Jenny Lay-Flurrie and over 250 guests to celebrate the launch of +N, which is the world’s first global community of disability tech startups, innovators, ecosystem enablers and investors who shape future technologies that change the world of disability inclusion.

+N is made possible by Cerebral Palsy Alliance and we are honoured to be part of the +N founding team alongside Global Centre of Possibility, Disability Impact Fund, AssisTech Foundation (ATF), Access to Success Organization, Innovate Now.

You can now rewatch and share this launch event on our YouTube now, and we would like to note this video has been edited to reflect the brilliant feedback we received from our guests on how to make the audio more accessible and a transcript of this event is also available to download.

 

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I-sUrK1H8Y[/embedyt]

 

[00:29 – 03:49] Minnie Baragwanath, Chief Possibility Officer, Global Centre of Possibility

Welcome to the global launch of the Inclusive Innovation Network or +N I’m Minnie Baragwanath and it’s my absolute privilege to be a founding member of this incredible new network driving and catalyzing social change around the world. +N aims to grow a global community and marketplace of entrepreneurs and innovators who have the skills and the passion to create a future that is truly accessible to everyone. We know that globally disabled people, or people with access needs, are the most excluded of any group in our society today +N is seeking to mobilize the incredible talent in this community globally, to reimagine, invent, design and lead new technology products and services to transform this disabling society into a future of possibility for all. Did you know that many of the products and technologies that we just take for granted in our day-to-day lives were created or designed for, by, or with people living with disability, or access needs. Whether it’s the smartphone, the keyboard, or optical character recognition – these are all innovations that occurred within the access community. Can you imagine what types of world-changing innovations await all of us if we now start to invest intentionally into this community; actively unlocking the skills, the talent and the lives of the billions of people worldwide living with disability or access needs. +N is a network of leading access accelerators growing the next generation of access entrepreneurs, innovators and designers. We are a network of forward-thinking investors, making strategic investments into this possibility laden sector. As the Chief Possibility Officer here at the Global Centre of Possibility in New Zealand Aotearoa and as a blind entrepreneur myself, I know first hand the incredible power of this work. We are currently hot-housing a group of entrepreneurs and their incredible ideas that seek to transform our society and economy. Imagine hundreds of these accelerators all around the world and hundreds and thousands of startups tapping into and growing the 13 trillion dollar market opportunity and that is what +N can be if you choose to join us to create a truly accessible future with the 2 billion people worldwide with access needs. So join us now! We at +N, are seeking progressive investors, designers, technologists, entrepreneurs and social change agents who are all deeply committed to creating a different and more equitable future for us all. It is now my great pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague the Chief Accessibility Officer for Microsoft global Jenny Lay-Flurrie.

 

[03:54 – 14:52] Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer, Microsoft

Hi there folks and thank you to Minnie. I’m excited to be with you today. My name is Jenny Lay-Flurrie. I am the Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft and thrilled to be with you for the official launch of the Inclusive Innovation Network. I’m excited about the potential of what this network can achieve in what is an incredibly important time I think in the history of inclusion. As we look at the diversity of just being human my lens, my focus, is on the area of disability and how accessibility can empower people with disabilities, which means building an ecosystem that is supportive of disability in all its forms. Disability is a big gig. It’s if you look at the statistics, it’s over a billion people and those statistics are 10 years old and that was before a pandemic. Pandemic has undoubtedly added to the demographic of disability. In fact just in the last few weeks long COVID has been recognized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That means that we are in a growing demographic. We were before the pandemic because disability is so closely correlated with age. But it’s going to grow even more in the next five years. If I look at the indicators from the last two. That said, there’s a lot that we can and should be doing right now to make sure that we are more inclusive of talent with disabilities, and I look at where we are today and the demographics today and it’s clear that we have a lot of opportunity ahead. The unemployment and the labor participation rate for people with disabilities is woefully low. In fact, around double that for people with disabilities versus not. I look at education rates, and graduation rates for people with disabilities, and they are significantly lower than their non-disabled peers. When you look at the core and the reasons why, well, it’s not one factor – it is a multitude of layers of inaccessibility and societal stereotypes and stigmas that have rendered people with disabilities, well, many, many brick walls and hurdles. I myself am one. I have deafness, and in fact got deafness through measles as a very small child. I am severely profoundly deaf. I do rely on sign language interpreters and captioning. But my deafness is deceptive because my speech is pretty dang good. I’m from a place in the middle of England and I still withhold my British accent, which is the gift of my deafness, you could say, having been here in the States for 15 years. But like the rest of humanity I don’t just have one disability anymore. As I age – gloriously and elegantly age – I acquire new ones. I have a physical disability in my leg and I have a mental health condition. All of those are covered. All of those are disabilities. But there’s plenty more vision, mobility, speech, neurodiversity, mental health and more. In fact, the majority of disability you cannot see is non-apparent or invisible to the eye. Over 70 percent of disability you would not know by seeing someone. And these blockers, these issues, can be anything very simple. A building may not be accessible to get into for an interview. The interview process may be prohibited for individuals. You may ask someone who’s blind to use equipment never used before, or to write something on a whiteboard. In fact, that scenario could be prohibitive for someone who’s deaf, or has a mobility disability as well. We’re closing doors to talent all the way through. And so it’s incumbent on us all to really think about what we can do in a new and innovative way to drive a new bar of inclusion for people with disabilities. Microsoft, well we laid down a gauntlet earlier this year. We have set a new charter; a new goal, to tackle the disability divide that exists not just here in the States, but around the world, and we want to make an incremental impact on that divide in the next five years. We believe that technology has a significant part to play in solving that divide and not by making stuff compliant, but for driving for a bar higher than compliance driving for technology that is usable, productive, effective, delightful – that opens doors to people. We also think that it’s really important to unblock the talent pipeline by focusing on partnerships with universities and with governments, public and private, to help make sure that the processes for people with disabilities are inclusive. One great example of that is we’re working with the department of work and pensions in the UK to train 26,000 of their Job coaches that work in job centres around the United Kingdom and we’re training them on digital accessibility. So when a person with a disability walks in the door, they know where to go and how to educate them, because they’re already educated themselves. And the last pillar is to really focus on our own workforce. We’re very proud to have a very strong community of people with disabilities at Microsoft, in fact, that’s how I came to be doing what I’m doing today is that I joined the company coming up 16, 17 years ago now and joined in London to work on Hotmail and very quickly found that I needed to be more upfront about my deafness and find others like me so I could get some best practices under my belt. Microsofties like to talk, quite a lot, and it was a little bit different than I thought when I joined the deaf community. I then joined every other that I could. I found there were six at the time, and created the disability employee resource group, which is now 22 different slices of disability around the world. Employees talking about how to work effectively, how to bring their magic and their talents and their expertise into the workplace to help us create better products and services. We did publicly share our representation in the US last year at 6.1 percent, but bluntly, we’ve got a long way to go and we’re really excited to continue to dig into hiring talent, specifically talent with disabilities, but bringing talent in that really understands the world of disability and accessibility and can help us. Whether they’re technical or non-technical, we have a lot of jobs outside of engineering. Ultimately though, one of the biggest things that I get excited about is the opportunity to create technology, processes, products, work environments, that are accessible by design. Where technology is affordable, easy to find, easy to access and it again is going after some of the newest areas of technology, to render new scenarios, open to talent. I’ll give you a couple of quick examples, hopefully, to light a fire. In gaming, Xbox worked a couple of years ago with an amazing group of individuals to figure out how they could make gaming more accessible; particularly for people with mobility, and for those veterans coming back wanting some respite. That resulted in the Xbox Adaptive Controller – a piece of technology that was affordable, designed with, and for, people with disabilities and looks cool. Is awesome, easy to find in the store on the shelf. We also have been working on the core of Windows and Office, making sure that simple technologies like well, colour blindness filters you can see, that there is captioning in Microsoft Teams, that is if you want to check a document to see how accessible, there is an accessibility checker – yes, very similar to spell check – right there to make sure that your document is accessible and by the way it’s using artificial intelligence to tell you what’s missing and make suggestions so make it easier for you to make it more inclusive and accessible. We’re also going to be prompting people and nudging people to say, “Hey, you’re about to send a large email but it’s not accessible. We suggest you make some changes.” And that prompt will be happening for all people using outlook. And lastly, teams that just create completely new visionary pieces of technology. The immersive reader is a great example of this, where a gang got together in a hackathon and created technology for dyslexia specifically to power kids. 5 percent of the population has dyslexia, but most go undiagnosed. But simple features can simply empower a kid sitting next to a kid without dyslexia using the same laptop, the same Microsoft Office, the same environment, but just hitting a single button and making it render 10 percent easier to read. These are simple things built with, and through, and for people with disabilities that will hopefully help to bridge the disability divide. But I’ll tell you now, it’s the tip of the iceberg. So I look forward to hearing and seeing what you do. I look forward to hearing how you’re partnering with the experts – people with disabilities – and helping us collectively, as a global society to change the lens on disability, because this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest talent pools, untapped Talent pools out there today and that’s got to change. Thank you so much and I look forward to you having just an incredible event, an incredible time, and be the change. Take care, bye.

 

[15:05 – 15:34] Jani Jalavisto, Partner, Disability Impact Fund

Good morning, afternoon and evening to everyone, and welcome to the first-ever +N investor fireside chat. My name is Yani, I’m a partner at Disability Impact Fund and I’m here today with three friends to have a, discussion on investing in accessibility and inclusion. So first of all here we have Lucas who is the Founder of Amparo a really exciting prosthetic startup. Hi Lucas.

 

[15:34 – 15:39] Lucas Paes de Melo, CEO & Co-Founder, Amparo

Hi Yani, thank you so much for the invitation I’m happy to be here.

 

[15:39 – 15:41] Jani Jalavisto, Partner, Disability Impact Fund

And then we have Gina, she’s the Founder of SmartJob, a groundbreaking new investment fund changing the future of work. Welcome, Gina!

 

[15:48 – 15:50] Regina “Gina” Kline, Founder and CEO, SmartJob, LLC

Thank you Yani so much.

 

[15:50 – 15:58] Jani Jalavisto, Partner, Disability Impact Fund

And last but not least Shashaank. Shashaank is with Gray Ghost Ventures, one of the early success stories in impact investing. So welcome Shashaank.

 

[15:58 – 16:05] Shashaank Awasthi, India Advisor, Gray Ghost Ventures

Thanks for having me Yani, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Lucas and Gina.

 

[16:05 – 16:37] Jani Jalavisto, Partner, Disability Impact Fund

And so Lucas, as a founder I know you’ve done your fair share of fundraising and I’m pretty sure during that process every now and then you’ve wondered, “What on earth are the guys on the other side of the table thinking?” and so today you have this really special opportunity to sit down with two actually friendly faces from the other side of the table and have an honest conversation on everything that is bothering you. And so, so what do you want to ask Gina and Shashaank?

 

[16:37 – 17:48] Lucas Paes de Melo, CEO & Co-Founder, Amparo

Yeah so it’s really an unusual situation, and it’s actually quite interesting to be able to chat with people whom I talk to and negotiate with on an ongoing basis. As a matter of fact, since I’m fundraising right now, this has been happening quite a lot and one of the questions that I always ask to impact investors is, “How do they see and measure impact?” And the reason why I ask this because it’s very important for me to be aligned with the people that are going to be sitting on the same table as me after the investment is done, so there are no frustrations, for none of the sides actually, on people being able to see the impact measurement and the impact alignment. Because you can do it by focus, by area, by depth, in so many different ways. And as a follow-up question, it would be very interesting to see how they as investors account for the impact when they’re making the investment decision-making process in comparison to the financial projections of the company.

 

[17:48 – 20:06] Regina “Gina” Kline, Founder and CEO, SmartJob, LLC

Yeah, so I think Lucas that this is maybe a rather untraditional view, but SmartJob was created and founded with the intention of using a disability lens investing with the singular idea of closing the disability wealth gap and materially changing the employment experience around the globe, for the nearly two-thirds of working-age people with disabilities who are experiencing an unemployment crisis. The impact is in everything that we do. We are essentially a global company looking for the best ideas around the world that will materially change the employment experience. That that predicates what comes into our deal flow into our sources sourcing into our pipeline I should say that also has to do with how we view the material long-term revenue potential of early-stage companies. We see the impact potential of any prospective company as being causally linked with its ability to earn revenue and produce a substantial financial return in the future. That these two things are not disparate ideas, they are, in fact, working together and here’s why we know that universally designed solutions – solutions that are designed with everybody in mind – have more revenue potential than other solutions. We know that products and services that have been tested ideated, brought to minimum viable products, by people with lived experiences of disabilities, have more universal application in the market. And so our investment lens is focused on four main areas: we focus on upskilling and reskilling work, underrepresented founders with disabilities, we’re focused on work-related tech, supporting accelerators in incubators around the world that are all very much focused on closing the disability wealth gap. We know that a good investment, the right investment thesis has to include who is creating the ideas based on what experiences and how will it materially drive changes in the market as it relates to the employment of people with disabilities.

 

[20:06 – 23:53] Shashaank Awasthi, India Advisor, Gray Ghost Ventures

So I want to start off by first placing on record the unfairness of Yani letting Gina in first – she said everything there is to be said in the first place. Right and then Lucas, before I try to answer the two questions, I must say thank you for having that background. It’s always nice to see the work that entrepreneurs are doing. So thank you for having the posters behind you. I’ll try and answer the two questions that you asked from our experience. We’ve been fortunate to be around for a little while. The first question was about ongoing alignment, right the frustrations of you know what should I say drift, or people thinking differently, I would encourage you to not worry too much about that because your own pathway is still not defined. Right your pathway is going to be…so an equity investor is going to be your partner for a minimum about, you know, at the barest minimum for five, seven years all right, probably longer. So I think you know you should worry about the ability to have alignment with whoever you’re speaking with. Right, because there’s going to be lots of changes that we’ve seen. You know things start one way, they go a different way when we hit the market and things like that right. And I think that’s true for all business and personal relationships that we engage in. So that’s sort of one part. The second part is about how do we measure. so for us, we put a dollar value to the impact that any businesses it creates. That’s one of the first conversations that we have with any entrepreneur. Right so we say, “Okay here is the aspiration of the impact that you want to make, here’s the dollar value” and we report that dollar value to the people whose money we are managing. I can tell you that in many conversations I observe a certain gesture which I think really tells me where the problem will impact an investor which is when people ask us this question, they almost always use this they say, “How do you think about impact and investment?” and this indicates that one of them has to operate at the expense of the other right. I can tell you for us and for most impact investors what’s very important to remember is that impact is the asset class that we are a part of. The second thing is I’ve had lots of conversations around what kind of returns do you want in equity. The fundamental difference, and Yani please allow me a little bit of latitude here, but the fundamental difference between fixed income and equity is that you cannot gun for a certain return on equity. It doesn’t work like that. Equity as a product doesn’t work like that. You have to negotiate a point of entry and you can negotiate a point of exit and that gives you the kind of return that you look at. So you cannot start off by saying that I’m going to look for sub-market returns, market meeting returns, or whatever right. So when people talk about being able to control returns for equity it’s very fascinating because I don’t know how to do that right and I can’t imagine how that gets done. And we all report in hindsight. Fixed income if you held to maturity will be able to tell you what returns you can get. So I would say that you have to recognize that investors. For you are basically asset managers like Gina and me, and we have responsibilities to people that we have raised money from, and that is to be able to invest in the category that delivers impact. And in that, we have to aspire to deliver good returns. What I can assure you, having learned from some very, very smart entrepreneurs is that you, or anybody else is not playing for sub-market returns. Markets behave in ways we don’t understand, right?

 

[23:53 – 26:18] Lucas Paes de Melo, CEO & Co-Founder, Amparo

No, thank you, thank you so much for bringing your piece of knowledge and your piece of information to this question in particular. And the point is also that we see and I find it very interesting to mention that’s the impact as a category because sometimes that’s not necessarily how it’s spoken right because I do believe that you can create both impact and gains and profits at the same place and that’s kind of like how for-profit organizations that create impact go for. But sometimes the profits can take a little bit longer, or sometimes you give bigger discounts for countries or for areas and geographical areas where they could not afford high paying prices and that will reflect on the revenues – that will reflect on the profits. Because if you’re only selling to developed countries, or if you sell to developing countries, you definitely have a different balance sheet right? And that is the question that comes to my mind because then impact becomes a keyword that is used as branding for some people that would like to create good in the world. But in the…as a matter of fact, in the end, the only thing that really matters are the financial returns of the game in the end. And I’m not saying the investors should not worry about it, of course, investors, they put money because they’re expecting to have a return. Nevertheless some of this return the returns are not necessarily accounted for in forms of impact but in forms of how the return comes in terms of money. And that’s kind of a question that comes to I think many early-stage companies of how, why are they even measuring impacts because sometimes investors just say oh this is a nice product and it creates impact. We create prosthetic legs for example. And for some people, that is enough. This means that oh you give a leg to someone – someone can walk – great! But actually, impact is measuring so many different ways, like how was the situation before the person had a leg? What is the situation with a different product? And hours, for how long can we help someone to actually walk again? And what is the depth of, what is the length and what is the timeline of the impact? And a lot of investors, they are not accounting that for on their financial decisions and that is something that could be frustrating for real impact startups or companies.

 

[26:18 – 26:53] Jani Jalavisto, Partner, Disability Impact Fund

That’s all the time we have today folks, it was a really interesting conversation and a lot was left unsaid, so I’m sure we will pick up from here on another occasion. And I hope everyone watching enjoyed and stay tuned for our next chat where we’ll pick up where we left here. Goodbye. Goodbye everyone.

 

[26:53 – 27:53] Bernard Chiira, Director of Innovate Now

Hello there, my name is Bernard Chiira, the Director of Innovate Now, Africa’s first assistive technology accelerator program out of Nairobi, Kenya. Now I believe that technology and entrepreneurship have important roles to play in ending the exclusion of those of us with disabilities. That is why I’m very excited to share with you about the Inclusive Innovation Network, +N. Over the last one year, or so, together with like-minded peers from Australia, India, New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong, we have envisioned and founded +N, a global community of innovators, accelerators and investors, dedicated to growing the impact of technology and entrepreneurship on disability inclusion.

 

[27:53 – 28:32] Varun Chandak Founder of Access to Success Labs

Hi everyone, my name is Varun Chandak, and I’m the Founder of ATS Labs, Canada’s first accelerator for accessibility, mental health and ageing tech startups. Disability and accessibility are not limited by borders. The topics that need to be addressed at a global scale. And that’s why I’m absolutely stoked to have ATS labs become a founding member of the Inclusive Innovation Network, where I hope innovators, investors and accelerators will come together from across the world. There has never been a better time to be in the world of accessibility. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

 

[28:32 – 29:08] Jani Jalavisto, Partner, Disability Impact Fund

Hello from China! At Disability Impact Fund our vision is a world where everyone has equal possibility to participate, a world where no barriers, physical, or social, stop anyone from pursuing their passion. We believe technology and entrepreneurship have a crucial role to play and realizing this vision and since exclusion and inaccessibility are both global problems, we’re going to need global solutions. That’s why we’re so excited to be a part of +N. Our dream for +N is to see hundreds of local innovations scaled to become global solutions.

 

[29:08 – 30:40] Prateek Madhav, Founder and CEO, AssisTech Foundation

Hello, my name is Prateek Madhav. I’m the Founder and CEO of AssisTech Foundation – ATF. ATF is India’s first assistive technology-focused ecosystem that supports and promotes innovative disability technology startups. ATF’s goal has been to create more awareness about the world of disability and bring about a positive impact to the startups we nurture. It’s truly magical that we are in an age where many paths that are closed due to disability can be opened with innovative technology. It gives me immense pleasure that ATF is now a founding team of Inclusive Innovation Network, +N. Through +N we hope to unite innovators, startups and investors globally and partner with disability-focused organizations and the community of people with disabilities. +N is a phenomenal platform for startups to access global markets, connect with investors beyond borders and be a part of a worldwide community of assistive technology innovators. +N is committed to help them build a sustainable enterprise with their products being used across the globe. My dream for +N is to help build one global mission to make this world inclusive for people with disabilities, thank you.

 

[30:40 – 31:22] Pete Horsley, Founder, Remarkable

Welcome to the Founder Fireside. My name is Pete Horsley, I’m the Founder of Remarkable – where technology meets human potential. It gives me great pleasure to introduce three incredible founders to you today. +N hopes to bring together founders so that they can learn from each other, their experience, their knowledge. And today, we’ve got founders from India, Canada and Australia, to bring to you some of their story. So give us the elevator pitch for your businesses.

 

[31:22 – 31:51] Melissa Fuller, Co-Founder and Director, AbilityMade

AbilityMade exists so that people with disability can access the equipment they need to live their best life. We help orthotists…so we help them meet the demands of their local communities, which, unfortunately, are alarmingly underserved. And we do that by providing a digital solution for manufacturing custom made ankle-foot orthoses. In other words, AFO’s.

 

[31:51 – 32:27] Narayanan “Nadu” Ramakrishnan, CEO, Avaz Inc

So AVAZ is a communication app for people with disabilities. Since 2009 we’ve changed the life of over 100,000 people and their families in over 50 different countries. It is used by people with autism, cerebral palsy and other neurological conditions. AVAZ enables these people to communicate their thoughts, their ideas, by which they are able to gain access to education, become independent and get included in mainstream society.

 

[32:27 – 32:45] Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO, Braze Mobility

At Braze Mobility we’ve developed the world’s first blind spot sensor system that can be added to any wheelchair transforming it into a smart wheelchair that automatically detects obstacles and provides alerts to the user through intuitive lights, sounds, and vibrations.

 

[32:45 – 32:55] Pete Horsley, Founder, Remarkable

So we can understand your context, let us know a little bit about your business right now. What’s the number of staff and the number of customers that you’re currently serving?

 

[32:55 – 32:57] Narayanan “Nadu” Ramakrishnan, CEO, Avaz Inc

So we have about 15 people on the team

 

[32:57 – 33:08] Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO, Braze Mobility

Today we have over 150 customers and in terms of our core team, we have really four people on our core management team.

 

[33:08 – 33:26] Melissa Fuller, Co-Founder and Director, AbilityMade

So our team is at 14 at the moment. Last year was a pretty good one for us, we produced and delivered 350 custom-made 3d printed AFOs and empowered approximately 180 children, who now have increased independence.

 

[33:26 – 33:34] Pete Horsley, Founder, Remarkable

I want you to take us back to where it all started and tell us what the world was like when you first began your business.

 

[33:34 – 34:55] Narayanan “Nadu” Ramakrishnan, CEO, Avaz Inc

So back in 2009 there’s a school here in Chennai called, Vidya Sagar and they had organized a conference called the Silent Revolution, which brought in product designers from a lot of the top universities in the city and showcases to them what the different kind of challenges that people with speech disabilities face. So back in 2009, if you had a speech disability, you were dependent on like low-tech pictures that you would show those picture exchange systems, or you were dependent on extremely expensive, like five to ten thousand dollar bulky devices that were imported from the west. That was the problem that we wanted to kind of solve and Vidya Sagar was one of the schools that kind of really encouraged us to go ahead and solve this problem. At that point in time, these bulky imported devices that you used to get, didn’t have any kind of maintenance or support in India. One, but more importantly, none of them be contextualized for the Indian environment itself. So at the heart of it, ours is a communication app right. So if we are going to have a discussion about say the food in India, it’s going to be very different for the conversation if you were talking about food in Australia or Canada. So that’s why that contextualization is very important.

 

[34:55 – 36:24] Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO, Braze Mobility

That’s a really interesting question, I think origin stories are already always interesting. Mine I would say started in 2006. I had just graduated from the computer science program at Waterloo and I visited a long-term care facility for the first time, where I noticed a lot of the residents were slumped over in manual wheelchairs that they didn’t have the strength to self-propel. And they weren’t allowed to use power wheelchairs because of safety concerns. So a lot of them had dementia or other cognitive impairments that unfortunately excluded them from the use of power mobility devices. I saw this as a violation of a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, there was no company that was working on this problem at the time, and the technology was also not really there. You know, it was very early stages of sensor technologies even in the automotive industry. And so the most sensible place that you know it seemed like I should go to was academia, and so I ended up doing my PhD and my postdoctoral research on smart wheelchairs and, and you know, fast forward to 2016, I was now a postdoctoral fellow and there was still no industry player solving this problem. And so really more than anything else, just out of frustration I ended up taking the leap out of the academic world into this scary, yet super exciting world of startups. So that’s when I founded the company in 2016.

 

[36:24 – 37:10] Melissa Fuller, Co-Founder and Director, AbilityMade

AbilityMade started out as a grassroots maker community. Back then, I mean me personally, I was sort of not in the loop. I think I missed the memo about entrepreneurship and startups being a thing. It was pretty early on in our journey where we met you, Pete and the team at the time from Remarkable, and that was really, really special and really important for us because there weren’t that many disability tech focused startups that were out there. And there weren’t that Many case studies or success stories that were public and well-known and so I think that’s a really important thing for the ecosystem.

 

[37:10 – 37:14] Pete Horsley, Founder, Remarkable

What are some of the pivotal moments that you’ve had in developing your business?

 

[37:14 – 38:59] Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO, Braze Mobility

And so we went on this road trip to Washington DC and we went to this conference that was one of the largest rehab conferences in North America. We set up our booth there and really had no idea what to expect. And when we went there we were a huge hit! We had a ton of therapists that were sort of flocking around the booth and telling us how awesome the product was, and how it really solved the need, and how they already had clients they could think of. I think what was the most exciting thing was one of the therapists at that conference actually ended up going back and was a therapist in the US Department of Veterans Affairs and so that particular veterans affairs site wanted to purchase our system. Of course, this was exciting and scary at the same time because this was going to be our first sale, but we actually weren’t quite ready to sell. All we had was this prototype, but wasn’t quite commercial quality and we didn’t plan on launching until October of the year and this was in June or July and so we weren’t quite ready. But the customer couldn’t looked at our supply chain and we looked at where the bottlenecks were and how we could expedite it. And it turns out, the only way we could get a product in the customer’s hand within the next month was if we flew to China and lined up some manufacturers beforehand and brought the parts back with us. And so that’s what we did. And so we had everything organized when we got in there a couple of days before, we were about to head back, all the parts into our hotel room and we flew all the parts in and assembled all the units and got the system out to our customers. So that was crazy and you know rewarding and everything at the same time. But it was really exciting because that was our first sale.

 

[38:59 – 40:18] Melissa Fuller, Co-Founder and Director, AbilityMade

You know, starting AbilityMade and being a part of it and growing it has changed my life. But I would say that some of the most memorable times, I won’t list them all, would probably be so day one to day three of our crowdfunding campaign. The story or the solution that we were presenting seemed conceivable in many people’s minds. So the crowdfunding campaign we set out to raise, I think it was $25,000 and we’d get you know cash injection through ING Bank who was one of the sponsors at the time. And we ended up raising after day three, ending up equating to $100,000! And then really soon after, the next pivotal moment for me personally but also AbilityMade was for sure the Remarkable Demo Day. The pitch was like one of the most nerve-wracking evenings I think I’ve ever experienced. But like so very rewarding to push myself outside of my comfort zone and yeah and sell our vision you know that was a really cool experience.

 

[40:18 – 41:34] Narayanan “Nadu” Ramakrishnan, CEO, Avaz Inc

So back in 2013 or when we had just released the product we got a chance to go to Denmark, Copenhagen for an assistive technology conference and that’s when we showcased AVAZ. And there was, there was this lady who was heading the Autism Society of Denmark who looked at our product and was just kind of flawed by the fact that they don’t have anything like this in Denmark. And that kind of was a moment where we realized that we had built something which was obviously applicable in India and kind of contextualized to India, but we could scale it to like different geographies and different locations, by figuring out how we want to position the entire language and the communication system itself. So that was one critical and pivotal point because first, we did a lot of collaborations with different countries. So we released the Danish version, we released the French version. Obviously, there was an English/US version for North America. We then released an Italian version. So the languages then started coming up because a lot of people, a lot of parents and organizations from those countries approached us asking us to collaborate and create a product.

 

[41:34 – 41:42] Pete Horsley, Founder, Remarkable

What advice would you give to other founders in different parts of the world trying to grow businesses for impact?

 

[41:42 – 42:28] Narayanan “Nadu” Ramakrishnan, CEO, Avaz Inc

So I think one kind of important piece of advice would be to get product-market fit. I know it’s a bit of a cliche term, but I think it’s important to also understand what product-market fit actually means. Which is one, is that the product is of has to be right for the customer. But also it means that there is a market that you can reach out to, or you have channels that you have figured out to monetize that right. So how do you take it to the customer, as well. So product market fit is not only about like your product working for x number of people, but also how do you get that distribution also right, or what are the channels to get right. I think that is an important aspect that one should think as you’re starting and if you’re new.

 

[42:28 – 43:29] Melissa Fuller, Co-Founder and Director, AbilityMade

I was given this advice early on and it has really been a savior for me. It’s a quote by an African American lesbian activist and that caring for yourself is not self-indulgent it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare. And her name was Audrey Lorde and that stuck with me because the work that you do when you’re doing it with a purpose and you have a community of people who are left out and marginalized, like the pressure is up. You have a lot on your shoulders, a lot, and you have more on your shoulders than you know a just you know just a commercial corporate company. That can be crushing sometimes and I guess if you’re not caring for yourself and doing things that preserve yourself then you know there’s risk factors there.

 

[43:29 – 44:10] Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO, Braze Mobility

I think one of the biggest pieces of advice I can really give to any assistant technology company is I see so many assistive tech products for people with disability that are really not usable And I think part of the part of that is because oftentimes the end-users are not involved in the design process. So I would highly recommend making the end-user really part of, not just the design and development process, but also the go-to-market strategy. Because when it comes to sales and marketing, it’s also really important to build a brand and a message that actually resonates with your end-users.

 

[44:10 – 44:14] Pete Horsley, Founder, Remarkable

What does a network like +N mean to you?

 

[44:14 – 45:11] Narayanan “Nadu” Ramakrishnan, CEO, Avaz Inc

A network like +N really helps in two crucial aspects. One is just learning – learning from other startups. This community will play a big role in us creating better solutions for the market as well. I think the other aspect in which this network will be really helpful, is that of partnerships and distribution. So for example, we partner with organizations in different countries to create a custom version of ours in their language, specific to their geographies but it would really be helpful to have another company, or a partner there who can take it to market. Because they know they would know the market better. They would understand the customer and their language better than us sitting in India and trying to do some of that. So I think that’s where this network is really it’s going to be powerful where in better AT solutions will come up, and better distribution channels will come up.

 

[45:11 – 45:37] Melissa Fuller, Co-Founder and Director, AbilityMade

And yeah so I guess the network means that we’ll have a hyper-scalable platform to engage and learn from each other, which is really exciting. And the last thing I would say is that it means that we’ll be able to form interpersonal ties you know with people who work hard assert themselves, and then use their imaginations to shape the world and there should be more of that’s a really cool thing.

 

[45:37 – 46:32] Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO, Braze Mobility

You know I think in this day and age it’s so important to think about becoming a global company from day one. You know I think a lot of companies maybe start off saying well I’m gonna you know start small, and then maybe a few years think about you know going international and for us +N means access to you know global community. And now as we’re looking to go overseas as well, we’re looking at European markets, you know we’re just rolling out in Australia, New Zealand right now, I think it’s really exciting because I think accessibility is a global issue and so being able to understand what some of the geographic barriers are, you know, how funding is different in different places, I think having a network that we can now start using to share market intel and these resources that we have is going to be phenomenal. So I’m super excited about +N and I really just can’t wait to get involved!

 

[46:43 – 47:11] Varun Chandak Founder of Access to Success Labs

Hey again everyone, I hope you enjoyed learning about the Inclusive Innovation Network today. But, what now? Well, now you should have a button available on your screen. If you click on it, it will take you to a short form where you can let us know what you’d like to see from the network. You can also tell us there if you’d like to become a member. I hope you do. Wherever you might be watching from I hope you have a wonderful rest of the day or evening. Thank you.

 

Learn more about +N by subscribing to their newsletter and following them on LinkedIn!

Q&A with a Design-athon winner!

Man with yellow shirt is seated at a table in a boardroom with a window looking onto trees behind him.
Matt Leete, Co-Founder of Spix App

In 2014 Matt Leete participated in our Enabled by Design-athon and six years later he went on to win our 2020 Design-athon followed by graduating from our 2021 Accelerator program!

Matt is the Co-Founder of Spix App, a tool for gamers living with impaired speech to support social connection and rich interaction in-game. This startup was one of the winning ideas that came out of our 2020 Design-athon and the team has since gone on to further develop an incredible prototype that is getting ready to launch in the market!

In the lead-up to our 2021 Design-athon we asked Matt to share some of his experiences and tips for our new cohort of applicants who are gearing up for our online challenge.

 

What motivated you to apply for the 2020 Design-athon?

The opportunity to tackle high-impact problems in the disability sector while being supported by a diverse range of leading industry professionals.

What was your highlight of the 2020 Design-athon?

The first user testing session – After a couple of big days and late nights building out our prototype we got a chance to test it with a group of enthusiastic young gamers. Seeing their enthusiasm for what we had built was just a lot of fun and was the moment I really felt like we could take our concept to the next stage.

What was one lesson you gained from your experience?

The value of a beginners mindset. The experience that Remarkable and their mentors and coaches offer is invaluable, especially considering how quickly the disability tech space is evolving. There are so many complex and nuanced factors at play that it’s best to just embrace the learning experience and immerse yourself in the process.

Since winning Design-athon how has your disability-tech concept evolved?

In the Design-athon, we focused on the desirability of what we were building, without considering feasibility or viability. I wouldn’t change this approach, as it allowed us to throw our passion into the funnest part of the design process without imposing too many restrictions on our ideation and concept development. Following the Design-athon we’ve had to take a step back to focus on those other important factors while continuing to make sure that our product maintains the essence of what excited our early testers.

What is one piece of advice you would give to our upcoming Design-athon teams?

Get in and talk with your target customers asap! Understanding their experience and developing a high level of empathy for their needs is critical in the early stages of your project.

 

 

Applications for our 2021 Design-athon close this Sunday the 29th of August so if you too want a truly Remarkable experience then don’t miss the chance to apply!

 

Apply now at, https://remarkable.org.au/events/designathon/

Thinking Beyond Future of Work

Did you know that in Australia 48% of working age (aged 15-64) people with disability are employed compared with 80% of people without disability? The inequality of these statistics is even more shocking when compared to studies that prove the strong benefits of hiring people with disability, from more loyal employees and customers to a richer pool of talent, to greater product designs, the list goes on. So when thinking beyond the future of work improving employment participation rates for people with disabilities in today’s labor force is a critical global issue. Another particularly critical part of this issue is that while the world redefines a “new normal” we’re presented with an opportunity to collaborate with disability-led innovators to help transform the workforce and in turn, pave the way for a more inclusive society.

This is part of Remarkable Insights Series. There is significant opportunity to leverage technological innovation to drive an inclusive future. But who is left behind as technology transforms the society around us. How might we use Remarkable Insights to create an inclusive now?

Panel

Moderator

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhJ05_E_ZLg[/embedyt]

The views expressed are solely those of the contributors.

Definitions of some of the terms that are mentioned throughout the conversation:

  • AIArtificial intelligence (AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions. The term may also be applied to any machine that exhibits traits associated with a human mind such as learning and problem-solving.
  • NDISThe National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a scheme of the Australian Government that funds costs associated with disability. The scheme was legislated in 2013 and went into full operation in 2020

Pete [00:04]: Welcome to our next remarkable insights beyond the future of work. My name is Pete Horsley. I’m the founder of remarkable we’re the startup venture arm of Cerebral Palsy Alliance it’s so good to have you with us today. Remarkable as I said is a division of Cerebral Palsy Alliance and we have the backing of a number of partners icare, Telstra, Vivcourt and Microsoft. Remarkable is really the place where technology meets human potential and we do this mainly through our 14-week accelerator program for early-stage startups equipping them with seed funding the knowledge the skills the networks to be able to grow and commercialise their technology I want to begin also by acknowledging the traditional owners owners of the land i’m on Gadigal land and this is their land it was never seeded and it’s always sacred I pay my respects to elders past present and emerging and I acknowledged that we have people joining from many other places both here in Australia and around the world and i’ve paid my respect to the traditional owners in those places too i’ll also acknowledge the disability advocates who have come before us in advancing the rights of people with disability they’ve paved the way for us and we carry both a privilege and a responsibility because of the work that they have done and the only way to really think and create the inclusive now is to do so collectively together with them

 

Pete [01:43]: So today’s event beyond the future of work is part of remarkable insights it’s a series of webinars exploring the question of who’s left behind as technology transforms the society around us we know there’s a significant opportunity to leverage technological innovation to drive an inclusive future and so remarkable ask the questions how might we create an inclusive now so for anyone who wants to join the conversation on socials please use on twitter facebook and Linkedin our handle is @remarkabletech and on instagram at remarkable underscore tech and if you could also please use the the hashtag remarkable insights as well this event has live captioning by otter AI and also we have hopefully an auslan interpreter joining us very very soon we’ll be recording this event and it will be made available to post events on our remarkable tech youtube channel and be sure to subscribe to subscribe to that today we are joined by Gina Kline founder and ceo of smart job, Sue Boyce CEO of abilityworks Australia and Dwayne Fernandes co-founder of minds at play and disability inclusion part now it’s so good to have you all here welcome and it’s so good to have all the people who are joining us on this webinar as well and for those who will watch it afterwards so we’ve all seen statistics around labor force participation rates for people with disabilities they’re low or possibly they’re very light here comes jerry our auslan interpreter so Gerry Shearim thank you for joining us it’s so good to have you here if you’d like to pin jerry’s video on there for those who do require auslan that would be great welcome jerry we’ve all seen the the statistics around low labor force participation rates for people with disability and depending on what part of your world that you’re living in that is either low or incredibly low and it doesn’t just impact income and economic security but it also impacts other areas of of life like well-being housing and people’s place in the community so Gina I might start with you talking about closing the disability wealth gap. Why have you focused on this kind of core area of focus for your impact investment fund?

 

Gina [04:36]: Thank you Pete and any opportunity to speak with you Pete I’m always there this is so much so exciting with such lovely panelists so thanks for my inclusion so answering your question live from Washington DC area here in America why do I want to focus on the closing the disability wealth gap as we all do because people with disabilities globally are the most conspicuously unemployed group of people on earth that’s why we’re dealing with statistics that are dramatic and have remained so for quite some time there are nearly two-thirds of working-age people with disabilities around the globe that are not in the labor market. let’s just think about that for a moment we’re talking when we’re speaking about disability we’re speaking about an innate characteristic of the human experience if you don’t have a disability today you might age into a disability tomorrow and statistically, we’re talking about 20 you know 20 of people on earth with some relationship disability at this point in time so if the question should be rephrased Pete Horsley why are we not focusing more on closing the disability wealth gap because the ramifications are global they have to do with a multi-trillion-dollar hole in the global GDP and in the economy, civil societies around the globe are spending billions of dollars of public expenditure on medical models of disability and supervision caregiving and support but the whole that is in the economy is about talent and there are people that are out that should be in and that’s our investment thesis at Smartjob.

 

Pete [6:32] I always say who are the people that we’re not hearing from that can help help solve some of the big challenges that we’ve got we’re obviously all living through a global pandemic right now where we’re kind of subject to climate change and some of the impacts around that there are so many challenges that if we’re not collectively hearing all the voices around us then we’re actually losing out on on seeing innovative solutions come there’s talk of a growing number of organisations starting to wake up to that opportunity around this kind of neglected talent pool and also as a way of being just surely more representative of their own customer base because people with disability make up 20% of the population and also as this kind of source of innovative thinking as well Dwayne are you seeing a greater openness around diversity and inclusion in policy and practice and then at a high level you’ve been involved in kind of policy and practice change so what’s actually changing to shift workplaces to be more inclusive for people with disability?

 

Dwayne [07:46] So generally speaking I think as a society we’re still at a foundational level and there are people over here that have been actively doing this since 1963. you’ll meet her later she’s in this panel and and in this space what we’re noticing is that how can we still be at a foundational level after all those years now some organisations are far ahead of others but overall I don’t think we’ve gone anywhere that with being super super inclusive what I did experience quite recently that really changed the way the the way it worked through is that where I am right now in department of planning and industry environment DPIE they are working on accessible policies for national parks they have created a workplace adjustments passport so you come in and you tell them you need a few things and you literally fill out a form and I got my entire my minor adjustment and my major adjustment in a span of three hours for like that’s unheard of like there’s a there’ll be an article about that somewhere that’ll pop up but but that’s unheard of but the fact that that is unheard of is a problem why isn’t that not a standard why is it the personalisation I need to do my day job not something that everybody gets and if you think about it it’s not about inclusion it’s personalisation and I use an iPhone or whatever technology but i’m quite sure the apps on my phone are different to where your apps are that’s personalisation in the same way you do work you don’t need to all do it the same way we’re still moving away from that role description model of how we do things to actually how focusing on the outcomes back to you Pete.

 

Pete [09:46] That’s amazing and and I love that kind of thought around yeah what we’re talking about here is is personalisation it’s what do we need to do to do our best work and we want all of our staff all of our leaders to to be in that same position as well globally there’s there’s big shifts in workforce needs as well as we embrace kind of more technology and as labor shifts away from kind of manual repetitive tasks to perhaps higher order thinking creativity and they’ve even talked about resilience is kind of one of these the newly needed skills in in work and while this might be good for some people within our disability community they innately come with some of those skills alarm bells could be ringing for those that work closely with people with intellectual disability and so you’ve looked at this shift in technology differently you’ve you’ve been able to show how technical technological transformation can actually if it’s done in an inclusive way actually offer people with disabilities better access to the job market i’d love to for you to explain some of those the the situations that you’re working in right now?

 

Sue [11:02] so i’ll give you a specific example we have a light engineering facility where we do wire metal fabrication and we manufacture products for building and construction and we trialled Microsoft HoloLens headsets using augmented reality to for one of our manufacturing machines and so what we did was we the headsets will take someone who has to work the machine from start to finish and take them through the whole process but in addition to that we we used programmers who were experts in gaming technology so it was also a bit of fun because the work is quite repetitive and so the combination of you know showing them so anybody who had who has problems with sequencing you know remembering what comes next or just remembering the entirety of the task the HoloLens will just you know help them through that and you know smiley faces pop up and trees are growing when you get something right and so it’s just very motivating as well and that’s how we’ve been able to get people who wouldn’t normally be able to do a particular task to do something that’s more challenging for them.

 

Pete [12:26] I love that and I think you know they talk about that AI isn’t actually replacing jobs it’s a person plus AI is actually going to be the thing that wins and I love what you’re doing in that space Dwayne you’re a multiple record holder as a double amputee stair climber and much like climbing towers most of the time all the effort seems to be put in by the applicant with disability to ask for those adjustments that they need what should we be doing differently?

 

Dwayne [13:02] all right so and i’ll get to that probably a little bit later on but I suspect what we need to do is take it away from from the individual saying I can do the following things and go at it usually the job that is not built for them if you look at your strengths and apply to those strengths you should apply for things that work for you right now because if society overall is at this foundational standing lean into your strengths and apply for things that are your strengths in that distributed space I know that’s not great but from an organisational perspective you need to do a cosplay of analysis going which types of disability can you hire into your job that actually adds a low financial cost to maintain now when I talk about that now I know that’s a touchy area over here effectively if you’re thinking about something like this bus driver person who’s blind doesn’t make sense right but amputee in a bus driver yeah sure it’s a simple adjustments and it’s about taking it away from rather than us going at it from an individual perspective we need to come at it like a large societal perspective find a spot that works for everybody being that we’re at the foundational level still and it’s not the greatest news but I think that’s the step we need to take now so that the next level afterwards is going well why did we stop people from this community applying to this job what was the stupid investment decision I made that prevented this much population from applying for this job or able to service this percentage let’s take it that way society because we’re in that societal model of disability not the medical model thank you

 

Pete [14:54] That’s great Dwayne as I said it’s okay if our panelists do disagree we don’t mind that it can sometimes make for more interesting viewing so if anyone does want to disagree with Dwayne that’s okay as well? There was a report released by ILO in 2019 that outlined five key objectives for inclusion of people with disability in the future of work and they they included number one new forms of employer employment and employment relations to integrate disability inclusion number two skills development for lifelong learning made inclusive of persons with disability number three universal design embedded in development of all new infrastructure products services number four assistive technologies existing and newly developed to make affordable to be made affordable and available and number five measures to include persons with disabilities in growing and developing areas of the economy gina I’ve spoken to you a number of times and I can hear lots of parallels between that report and what you’re doing and I know you travel to kind of almost every state in the us when you’re you’re an American civil rights lawyer particularly looking at at what’s working in disability service I’m interested in in hearing your opinion on what’s what’s both the burning platform and also the opportunity we’ve got right now starting to emerge hopefully from a global pandemic

 

Gina [16:32] well you’re still on youtube excuse me thank you Pete for such a lovely question so and a loaded a loaded question I see you’re wanting me to you want me to disagree with Dwayne maybe i’ll start to disagree with myself as I get the answer you know I did travel through a number of states in the united states as a civil rights lawyer and I think that it it informed me about where where workers with disabilities are in the American economy but also in the global marketplace there’s a long history of discrimination against people with disabilities not only in the united states but in the world and part of that principally amounted to exclusion from discriminatory exclusion from the workplace there’s been a long and storied civil rights movement that precedes our conversations tonight with so many people that have advanced and vindicated the rights of people with disabilities to be treated equally to be included in workplaces and they’ve done so with the suggestion that people should not be given different opportunities disparity in pay disparity and advancement and opportunity on the basis of disability alone but now you you mentioned a loaded term the the burning platform which suggests that we’re caught between a rock and a hard place so to speak that the platform is on fire do we stay or do we dive in and do something differently because there we have to change up what we’re doing and what does that mean why did you ask me that question well we’ve had a long history of civil rights but we haven’t had a corresponding or concomitant increase in labor market participation as a result of the civil rights advancements we’re in the middle of the civil rights movement globally for people with disabilities to be treated equally and work but let’s pause for just a moment and ask ourselves whether we should be focused exclusively on the attributes of the worker or whether we should change our lens and be looking about set about to look at how we work the ways that we work and whether we should invest in new and different ways of approaching work and we spent the last century of both philanthropy and governmental enterprises focusing on increasing the attributes of the worker changing the attributes of the worker and modifying existing workplaces there’s a whole new generation of innovators that are calling for work to be fundamentally changed and they’re not they’re not alone in that movement we’ve just said about in the middle of a pandemic which taught us all that people can work excessively adaptively sustainably remotely and in a distributed workforce from wherever you are place has been severed from work and it’s been in a very adaptive way people with disabilities have been fighting forever to work remotely they were the first there asking for remote and flexible and adaptive work the burning platform question is whether work will whether new work opportunities will be generated from the experiences of the pandemic from the from the acknowledgement that flexible work is now the wave of the future and and now available and we have said about the look at workers with disabilities as a natural the most untapped talent pipeline in the universe in the global workforce and yet we can’t assume that people with disabilities will come into the technology infrastructure and support in order to avail themselves of this new flexible remote work this new way of working without corresponding investment in a new workplace in new workplace technologies and so with that acknowledgement we’ve divided our investment thesis into up-skilling and reskilling workers future proofing work not the worker thinking about supporting innovation hubs around the world that support early stage ideas and early stage entrepreneurs looking at the next generation of workplace and work related technologies sue just gave a tremendous example of work-related technologies and how it can innovate access and opportunity for workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities and looking around the globe at underrepresented founders with disabilities i think that the next phase of unfinished business and civil rights is not merely a question about equality it’s now a question about equity and it’s about who is accessing it corresponding investment in new ways of working as opposed to merely advancing only the argument of equality so equality is definitely important and sufficient maybe not maybe necessary but definitely not sufficient for for competitiveness in the new global marketplace. so that’s a long-winded answer. Is it a burning platform probably not because probably the reason why you know diving into the water is a lot easier when you realise that there’s both profit and purpose in this there are truly tremendous investable ideas all over the world that are being advanced today by disability entrepreneurs.

 

Pete [22:23] I love that that’s fantastic and I kind of was ingest kind of baiting the two of you you actually think that you both agree.

 

Dwayne [22:34] No you can’t disagree with that because there is money behind it and there’s profit behind it which is, unfortunately, that’s the way our society works right it’s all about is there is a bottom line that makes our society go ahead and the answer is yes there is there are actually 40 billion dollars in the Australian market about people with disabilities and that’s just being left on the table because they don’t cater for us and if you don’t cater for us well that’s a whole bunch of money you’re missing out on and that’s the message that’s missing from the leaders’ conversation because there aren’t leaders with disabilities and then, therefore, you don’t expect them to focus on that community back to you people

 

Pete [22:16] well Dwayne I might kind of continue with you then that so that that kind of that piece around I know you touched on it earlier and then gina just touched on it then about kind of hacking the job and not trying to fit people to the job that don’t suit them what do you like about this approach and what would you like to see?

 

Dwayne [23;50] so social model of disability is disabilities equal impairments plus barriers I modified that formula a little bit here’s what I did I took that UN formula and took it to an application of a job which is you get rid of the dis you keep the impairment and you just find the adjustment level so the job equals impairment plus adjustment level that’s exactly what regina is talking about right here and if you think about it from a disability discrimination act it’s effectively impairments barriers and how you adjust it if you want to say adjustment or personalisation same thing same thing right so if you’re thinking about it from a large organisation perspective if you have and disability is not as complex as you need to think about it from a corporate perspective there’s only a handful of things you need to focus on site hearing mobility touch think and there is the invisible discipline which is about basically from a work perspective it’s about capacity right how much stamina you have you add that into a standard standard kind of formula you can take your job solve for the amount of adjustment that each type of disability sub-community needs to have and get rid of the excuses because the issue that we have right now is that we have a tokenistic approach to job to hiring we say we can we can probably do a targeted role here or there i’m saying run every one of your jobs through this criteria and I will guarantee you that you will able to say something like 70 to 80 of my jobs can be done by a person with a disability just not the same type of disability and then you can question why not all the jobs can be done by all the disabilities and that becomes a targeted blunt question that executives can ask themselves of how are they actually doing this thing and if they if you do this you’re actually taking a really good first step if you manage to successfully I did this for like two organisations I looked at going I can actually put a person with a disability in a 30 000 one I can hire a person with a disability in every job in this 30 000 person organisation the easiest one to do believe it or not is all the leaders because they have like 20 or so people reporting to them giving them everything that they need all the leadership roles are disability friendly not so much support systems in there but if you put a whole bunch of disability leaders you’ll find all those frontline jobs becoming display friendly too that’s my controversial topic for the moment

 

Pete [26:24] thanks Dwayne and I encourage you if anyone else from the audience has got questions we’ve got a couple of questions that have been rolling in already encourage you to click on the tab down below and enter your question there so if we kind of think then about you know this opportunity for disruption through innovation how can innovators look to further disrupt the coming changes to labor market needs?

 

Sue [26:53] I‘m going to answer that with an example again and this is something that we’ve done at Abilityworks so we we have for the last 10 years been working with trans urban era road toll provider your e-tape so as a customer you know you have an e-tag in your car and when there’s something wrong with it you’d send it back to trans urban well it doesn’t go back to Transurban it comes to us and because we’ve been running this for 10 years we’ve been able to do a lot of innovation around it to get more and more people particularly with intellectual disability or complex support needs into work so something we’ve done recently is we purchased a robot called Matilda who is driven by artificial intelligence and machine learning and when you as a customer return your e-tape you normally send some correspondence and you write on it you know what the issue is with your e-taker that you want fixed so Matilda is what we’ve done with Matilda is we’ve fed into Matilda some key words so Matilda can read the correspondence and the reason we’ve done that is because many of our people don’t have literacy challenges so what it’s allowed us to do is enable people who wouldn’t normally be able to work on the trans urban account and edible ability works it’s considered to be a very prestigious account to work on so people who couldn’t normally work on that account to work with Matilda and Matilda talks to them and gives them feedback and helps them to sort the tags you know according and and do what they’re supposed to do so I love this example because it’s it’s what it’s done for a lot of our guys who have literacy challenges it’s it’s helped them their self-esteem their self-confidence to work on something as important as this and it’s really meaningful work so my answer to your question is you really need to look at the need and also to Dwayne’s point around personalisation we really do that at Abilityworks we we look to break jobs down into their component parts and to match somebody’s abilities with that particular part and on the transverse account again using that we’ve actually created jobs so we initially only we did that work with seven people who were quite highly you know they didn’t have complex support needs but we’ve now been able to double from seven to fourteen and put many people with complex support needs on the trans urban account just by breaking jobs down working with technology training as well so there’s a number of things it’s not just technology that you use to get people into work

 

Pete [30:09] that’s brilliant and we’ve had a couple of questions come through I might ask this one’s from Mike big company for his company right now exceptional one company that we know quite well I came through remarkable a couple of years ago he said it’s hard to get support and adjustments if you don’t disclose and a lot of neurodivergent people as many years up to 60 are fearful of disclosing because of being discriminated against what would the panelists recommend for addressing this at scale who wants to take that

 

Sue [30:35] I might have a go at that I used to work at beyondblue prior to working at Abilityworks so beyondblue is an organisation that does mental health advocacy and raising awareness reducing the stigma around mental health and they had a formula that they used and the more awareness you raise the more stigma and discrimination you can reduce and the more stigma and discrimination you reduce the more times you’ve got of people disclosing that they’ve got you know getting help and disclosing that they’ve got a mental health condition and therefore reducing the prevalence of mental health conditions and i think in the disability sector or particularly disability employment we are lacking a similar type of organisation that can do that awareness raising and advocacy work because corporations and governments are full of unconscious biases around people with disabilities and you know it’s too it’s too hard to employ them if they cost more they’ll take more leads particularly like there’s a whole lot of unconscious biases that are operating in leaders and i think what beyond blue did for mental health we need somebody in disability employment to do the same

 

Dwayne [32:00] yes as a society we need to keep advocating going for that thing specifically for the person my in my when i do an application my opening paragraph says i’m a double amputee and everything i disclose it straight away now is that is there value in that in disclosing do i know if my resume will be thrown straight in the bin the question is you’ve got to stop carrying as a as an application it’s a numbers game for you applying for a job so put it in there disclose it’s better for you to disclose and get it over with because then you know your organisation knows that you’re you’re going to be someone that’s upfront and honest there’s value add in that now it’s not great right it’s not the society that we want that we don’t we can keep ourselves private the society that we currently have is tell people i i walk around in three-quarter shorts everywhere i mean it’s a zoom world so you don’t get to see it now but i went from wearing long pants at work to wearing three quarter shots at work just to you know drum up the awareness and that helped people not even in meetings with me to start thinking about the disability issue in the workplace you can’t change the workplace if you’re not in it so put the information in there and get yourself out there that’s all i can say to that person

 

Pete [33:21] Yeah I guess I like Dwayne when we’re still in this situation where they know that a number of them are going to be discriminated against. How do we kind of started changing some of that? I don’t know if there are any easy answers to any of this? to do its care

 

Dwayne Absolutely not so it’s for us right now for the community it’s all about resilience and then again we’ve had ten thousand nodes thrown at us already we’ve had that happening for almost everything we have the resilience at hand right and it’s once we’re in we then make it easier for the next person and that’s the objective that we have to play as people with disabilities as leaders with disabilities now it’s not for everybody to do that it’s exhausting I can tell you that it’s exhausting and then you tap someone on the shoulder to take the thing further get it to as far as you can and then take a break, go relax, reset your mind and try again but if you’re someone that can you should advocate for your community but do that subtly and personally as part of your regular life not don’t overstretch because you’re an individual you’re not a corporation that’s advocating so we’re there and there are corporations out here that here to do that

 

Pete [34:41] and Dwayne, we might stick with you. There’s a question from Mujahid who asked how do I go about getting a job and this is obviously someone who is keen to find a job so how do I go to find a job in Australia when they do have a disability? What are some of the top one or two tips that you give to that person?

 

Dwayne In a government organisation in new south wales there’s something called GSE rule 26 as a government organisation we can break the rules of recruiting to higher diversity types it works for people with aboriginal aboriginal background people with disabilities refugees is a criteria that fits on that thing as well as whoever the governor decides i think he randomly selects some people based on what the stats are in that space i think i’m missing one more thing might be youth as well now as a government job skating that you are a person from these communities there are background criteria that people check if you’re ticking boxes that meet their criteria yes you might get selected by that it might progress you up the line to get actually reviewed but you still need to have the merits for the job can you still do the job and the answer is yes you can well then you have an equal way to do it now each state legislation has similar things the disability discrimination act and there’s the anti-discrimination board that each organisation to ask for exemptions so that they can focus on diversity i personally found that in my organisation mindset play when we put it out there for people to come and work with us the disability community came working with us why because we’re we’re completely online and they all self-identify we had in our first three people we had more diversity we had the LGBTQI community we had the autism community we had people with disabilities and all just it it made up our stats and they just came out of there so maybe the role itself needs to be innovative it’s and interesting to get that that space

 

Pete [36:51] That’s awesome. We’ve had a question from Tara asking what tech solutions are needed to help people with intellectual disability find a role in the workforce. Sue, would you be able to take that one?

 

Sue I find that tara a little bit difficult to answer because =you know we have we employ a lot of people with intellectual disability but they have very very different needs so you know you can’t look at intellectual disability like it’s just one thing so you know we’ve used a range of technologies as I’ve just described already from a combination of robotics artificial intelligence machine learning but I think it’s quite individual and it and that also as I’ve described previously and there’s a range of apps as well that you can use but I don’t believe it’s just technology there’s you know we use a number of different techniques which I’ve already described breaking jobs down a lot you know looking at aligning a particular job to somebody’s skill set we also use a lot of training and support so I’m sorry if that doesn’t answer your question directly but that’s yeah I don’t believe you can look at just intellectual disability as a whole

 

Pete [00:38] As one thing I think that’s a good response Dwayne we’ve had a question here from Filipa asking how can we change reform or reshape the k-12 curriculum and teaching methods to improve employment participation rates for people with disabilities how do we kind of go right back and start influencing change back there what are your thoughts on that?

 

Dwayne [00:38] Stop segregating schools as simple as that I grew up I grew up in New Zealand my education was in New Zealand during that that time that really shapes your identity the physical disability unit and that was the unit that needed the people it’s now called a disability unit in Mount Roskill in New Zealand was in the heart of the school perfect centre of the school and i would check in there in the morning and then go to all my regular classes what that did for students was that they knew that society had more than their perfectly able people every class had people with disability if person needed an additional adjustment they would use the universe resources and go to the class and do so reshape our schools to be absolutely inclusive of everybody in society yes some of us may be disrupting and then we can have specialised things within the school itself not a separate place 200 Kilometres away none of that if you have inclusion at the start you do not you you you’ll have inclusion in the work it’s simple as that build our schools to be inclusive of everybody and have them all together now if you want specific classes let’s teach inclusive infrastructure let’s teach inclusive service delivery let’s teach inclusive employment those are broad categories that you can teach to year 11 and year 12 that they take and they play alternatively just let’s play d and together the great equaliser around the table and if you’re playing with people with disability well you remember them from their youth and then you’re thinking about them when you’re hiring them because they were so creative around the digital table and that’s something that you can do too.

 

Pete [40:19] that’s awesome that’s great and thanks Ann Massey as well for your hat tip to a program that I used to manage just like you programmed that was run in primary schools all over the state of new south wales and now has been taken over by a variety is being run all over Australia and actually in Canada now as well we’ve got one more question here from Ricky and Gina I might direct this to you what are some of the things that leaders with and without disabilities can do to ensure that companies start taking action on employing people with disabilities and not so not doing so for tokenistic or KPI reasons?

 

Gina [40:59] yes well i think that there is a on an optimistic note i think that there are companies many of which have a huge market share of consumer products that are committed to inclusive design principles and to accessibility and we’re seeing great efforts around the world around diversity equity and inclusion but here’s the reality i mean the reality is that 80 to 90 of labor market participation in the world is made up of small and medium-sized businesses and not the largest companies of the economy so what are we to do about that i mean the real question is not whether well-meaning actors at the top of the fortune 500 see disability diverse talent pipelines is of use and onboarding is utterly necessary to their company’s operations but the worldwide economy is missing trillions of dollars of talent and what is it going to take to bring people back into the labor market and so the question has to be seeing diversity and inclusion and building an inclusive workforce from the bottom up as equally as mutually a beneficial strategy is building it from the top down and how do we build it from the bottom up let’s look at the workers that we’re talking about we’re talking about a group of people who’ve experienced a lack of access to not only social capital around the world as a consequence of historic discrimination but lack of access to financial services into banking when we’re talking about the collateral to access a small business loan to start an early stage company we’re talking about people that utterly need risk capital here’s what they don’t need is great ideas what we’re seeing is that there’s an equanimity there’s an equal opportunity distribution of fabulous ideas all over this world and we’re finding so many disability entrepreneurs everywhere and this conversation of how do we stick people into companies that are well meaning and ready to do dei onboarding maybe we should broaden the conversation a little bit in the in the places that we chat we should be talking about how do we build a robust bottom-up strategy to bring great people into ownership over their own ideas into mediation minimum viable product of their ideas owning an equity stake in their own future how do we get people with disabilities around the world to not only own their ideas but fully develop them and bring them to market and we know that this is possible we know that people with disabilities that we’ve met that you support pete that we all are friends with and friends and family that our natural design thinkers that have spent their lives solving problems have been spent their lives excluded from traditional ways of working have dreamt up new ways of working and being employed and so part of my answer about how do you take action to build utterly diverse talent pipelines is you think differently about a bottom-up strategy you believe in supporting people not to give away their ideas to the large companies but to own them

 

Pete [44:26] That’s brilliant. That’s so good now we’ve really run out of time now we’ve only got about a minute to go so I’m just briefly across the panel. What’s your last, what’s your kind of final remarkable insight that you could give around the future of work so sue might start with you?

 

Sue [44:45] I think we need to approach the future of work with optimism and an attitude of harnessing technology rather than stereotypical thinking that it will reduce jobs however at the same time I think we need to combine that with rethinking about how we define ourselves you know many of us define ourselves through work and a job title and purpose can be acquired not just through work but volunteering supporting others no close connections with family and friends and we may need to think more in terms of contributing likes for some of us because not all of us may necessarily find an opportunity in the new economy

 

Pete [45:31] Thanks see that’s great Dwayne what about you?

 

Dwayne [45:35] jobs equal impairments plus adjustment levels take that formula apply it to your workplace as a corporate as a small business and hire people that you can financially handle and get that space but for the rest of us keep keep keep yourself visible even if you are an invisible disability person put that down let people know because that will reduce the stigma foundations will go higher

 

Pete thanks Dwayne and gina finally over to you

 

Gina [46:10] In the near future disability will be synonymous worldwide with innovation

 

Pete [46:17] I love that that’s fantastic that is all we’ve got time for we’ve gone a little a minute over so far thank you so much to our panelists Gina Sue and Dwayne also to our auslan interpreter Gerry thank you for for signing for us today remarkable is about harnessing technology and innovation for building social and economic inclusion of people with disability next month we’ll be running our annual Design-athon where participants can gain first-hand experience at how good design enables human potential by tackling one of three challenges and future of work is one of those challenges so we’d love to see teams apply for that teams have a chance to win from the twenty thousand dollar prize pool including prizes and potential cash funding to invest back into your solution at the end of the four week challenge you can see more details for that on remarkable.org/events also we’ll be seeking your feedback on today’s event so if you do have any feedback we’d love to hear that this recording will be made available on our youtube channel subscribe if you don’t want to miss the recordings we need some more subscribers we’ve got lots of people watching things but not subscribing so please subscribe this kind of conversation is vital we hope it brings about actionable insights for each of you and we encourage you to continue and share those remarkable insights on social media please tag remarkable tech and remarkable insights our next event is on Thursday the 9th of September on science or science fiction of brain computer interface so we hope to see you then thank you so much for joining us and enjoy the rest of your day thank you.

 

Mentions made:

[14:54] ILO Report: Persons with disabilities need new roadmap to join future world of work

[34:24] GSE rule 26: Public Service agencies employing people with disability using rule 26

Tech Talks with Kelly Cartwright

This year we were lucky enough to have the incredible mother, Paralympian and speaker kelly Cartwright OAM join us as the host of our #RA21 Demo Day! ?

As part of the celebrations, we hosted a segment called ‘Tech Talks with Kelly’ where she shared her experiences with assistive technology and accessibility throughout her life, you can check it out below!

 

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dc-56IolU5g[/embedyt]

 

A time-coded transcript of this video is available for download and the script is also available below.

 

1. What role does assistive technology play in your life?

Assistive technology is literally my life. I get out of bed, put my leg on, don’t take my leg off until I get back into bed later on. So without it, I wouldn’t be able to walk. I wouldn’t be able to look after my children. I wouldn’t be able to keep fit, and I would definitely have not have been at the Paralympic Games.

 

2. As a mother how do you like to teach young children about inclusion?

When kids ask questions, I like to just be honest with them. I tell them what happened. I tell them that my leg was sick and that the doctors had to take my real leg off but fitted me with a cool robot leg and that people are born differently. Some don’t have arms, some don’t have legs. But we all find ways and manage ways to do the things that you can do.

 

3. Can you describe a common accessibility barrier that you experience?

Yeah, as a disabled person, I think weekly I’m faced with different accessibility barriers but I manage to get around them somehow. As a young girl who loves shopping, who likes going to the shops and trying on clothes, I’ve found that there is a massive problem with change rooms. Some aren’t big enough for wheelchairs, a lot don’t have seats for me to sit on to try on shoes or pants. So it really discourages me to go to those shops.

So I think we need to think about disabled people as a whole who want to contribute to society just as much as everybody else are struggling to because of these accessible barriers.

 

4. If there was one wish you could have about inclusion, what would it be?

My biggest wish for inclusion would be starting conversations with kids in primary school or even before, because to have those conversations about people being different in this world, about disability, I feel like we won’t have to have those conversations later on in life and my children will grow up in a more inclusive and acceptable world.

 

5. What advice would you give to our Remarkable entrepreneurs?

My advice for entrepreneurs building technology for people with disability would be to include people with disabilities in the process, to have them there every step of the way. And to tell you what they really need.

Seven Remarkable Coaches

If you were to ask us to write a list of the reasons we love what we do, you would need to provide us with a verryyyyyy long piece of paper and several packets of sharpies. You would also not be surprised to see at the top of the list would be our community of founders, mentors, partners and friends, who really bring our accelerator to life!

 

To help embed this sense of community into our new virtual accelerator experience we welcomed seven incredible startup coaches onboard our #RA21 journey. These coaches were allocated to one startup each and provided the founders with the guidance, expert advice, and friendship they needed to navigate our program.

 

We asked our coaches to share their experiences, check out what they had to say below!

 

What was your highlight of the RA21 program?

Headshot of Addy who is a woman wearing black leather jacket is smiling at the camera.

“The program itself is a highlight in my calendar! I love seeing founders learn and grow over the 14 weeks. I was very fortunate this year to be paired with Mohamed. He presents with such energy and passion, but when you realize he was ill with COVID, navigating the Tunisian startup ecosystem, and working in the opposite time zone – it demonstrates his dedication to learning, building a great product and changing lives. I have so much respect for Mohamed,” said Adeline Chu, Startup Coach for Cure Bionics

 

Headshot of Agi, who is a woman standing in an office setting wearing corporate clothing and smiling at the camera.

“The highlight of the program was seeing the confidence of the startup founder I was working with grow throughout the program and getting to connect with the other coaches on a weekly basis,” said Agi Reefman, Startup Coach for Spix App.

 

Headshot of Alan, who is a man holding his hands together in front of his chest looking directly at the camera in a dark studio setting. “The moment I persuaded Jatin (the Founder of Humane) that Humane Care was good enough to start charging customers to use it,” said Alan Jones, Startup Coach for Humane.

 

What was one lesson you gained from being a startup coach?

Headshot of Poppy, who is a woman standing in a social setting smiling at the camera.

“How do I pick one? I learned sooo much being part of this program and from my amazing startup founder, Maddy. The program brought in some incredible experts who shared so much wisdom I wouldn’t even know where to start! Maddy taught me how important a learning mindset is, how asking for help can be your biggest superpower and how important grit is (but how equally important it is to take a break and focus on being healthy and happy),” said Poppy Rouse, Startup Coach for Speckles.

 

Headshot of Ben, who is a man smiling while outdoors in front of greenery.

I learnt that even the smallest observations and recollections of my time as a startup value could save founders huge amounts of stress, time and money, so always share them!” said Ben Grozier, Startup Coach for Theraplay.TV.

 

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Remarkable community?

“EVERYTHING! I think I’ve been parHeadshot of Kate, who is a woman wearing a white shirt standing leaning against a wooden door. t of Remarkable for the past five years and I can honestly say it has changed my life! I challenge anyone to find a better community of inspiring, purpose-driven people who are also so much fun! I feel immensely proud to be part of this community. The startups, the Remarkable team, the mentors and coaches – everyone is awesome! I regularly pinch myself that I am part of this and contributing in a tiny way to support Remarkable with making the world more inclusive. Thank you to Remarkable for the opportunity,” said Kate Jenkins, Startup Coach for Wearable & Co.

 

Headshot of Ben, who is a man wearing a blue collared shirt in a white studio setting.

“The underlying community ethos of Remarkable is to be courageous, to be inclusive, to pay it forward, to be generous, to do business with heart and soul – a beautiful combo hard to find!” said Ben Reid, Startup Coach for MediStays.

 

We are so grateful for the incredible dedication and passion each of these coaches displayed throughout the year. The #RA21 program would not have been possible without their incredible work and energy and we can’t wait to work with them all again in the future!

Three Remarkable Announcements

So typically we would treat ourselves to a little downtime after the busyness of Demo Day but given the exciting pace of the disability-tech space, this year we’re trading in the holiday for another season of Remarkable fun! On that note, we are super excited to announce not one but three exciting items for our 2021 calendar!

 

1 | Design-athon 2021 applications now open

Logo which read Remarkable Design-athonYep, that’s right! Although it only feels like yesterday, somehow a year has gone by since our 2020 Design-athon and our 2021 applications are now open!

This year we are inviting people from all over the world to take on one of three challenges and gain first-hand experience of how good design can change the lives of people with disability.

To learn more and apply head to, https://remarkable.org.au/events/designathon/

 

2 | Global launch of Inclusive Innovation Network

For more than 2 years Pete has been working behind the scenes to connect like-minded organisations across the globe who want to use technology for good and build a more inclusive world. It includes ecosystem enablers in Nairobi Kenya, London England, Bangalore India, Shenzhen China, Auckland New Zealand and Toronto Canada. This project has turned into something truly amazing and we are now preparing to globally launch the world’s first Inclusive Innovation Network!

Inclusive Innovation Network (more lovingly known as ‘+N’) is the global community of disability tech startups, innovators, ecosystem enablers and investors who shape future technologies that change the world of disability inclusion.

On the 18th of August 2021 (17th in North America) you are invited to attend the global launch of +N where you can learn more about the mission of this initiative and how to get involved. More information will be shared soon but you can stay up to date by subscribing to our newsletter.

 

3 | Remarkable Insights returns

We don’t need to convince you that there is a significant opportunity to leverage technological innovation to drive an inclusive future. But who is left behind as technology transforms the society around us? Remarkable Insights is about creating an inclusive society now.

Our monthly webinars called ‘Remarkable Insights’ will be returning in August. Until then you can watch our previous Insights conversations on our YouTube!

 

For more updates be sure to follow us on socials and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter!

#RA21 Q&A | What are your hopes for the future?

This year we’ve had the honour of working with an amazing cohort of startups who are solving a diverse range of problems for people living with disability.

Throughout our 14-week accelerator, the ten founders in our #RA21 cohort have shown a phenomenal amount of growth, especially in the final weeks leading up to our online Demo Day (which is happening next Tuesday’s ?)! This event will be a celebration of their hard work and will also mark the formal conclusion of our accelerator program for 2021.

Although our founders will forever be part of the Remarkable family, before we celebrate this formal “end” of the #RA21 program, we asked our founders about their hopes for the future. Check out what a few of them had to say below…

 

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hJJ3oihbgg[/embedyt]

 

A time-coded transcript of this video is available for download and the script is also available below.

 

Mohamed Dhaouafi, CEO and Founder of Cure Bionics [00:07]

I hope to achieve a better understanding of the startup and business fundamentals. I also want to structure my startup in a better way and I want to go to market.

 

Maddy Scavone, Founder of Speckles [00:18]

I really hope to see the Speckles brand grow globally, so we can provide our products and services to more kids around the world and give them access to both parents and kids in need.

 

Matt Leet, Founder of Spix App [00:29]

I hope that Spix App succeeds and that that encourages other people to approach problem-solving within an inclusive lens.

 

Sarah Everitt, Co-Founder and Director of MediStays [00:37]

I hope in the future we can help as many people as we possibly can through our platform and through the support we provide with our teams as well.

 

Jatin Wadhwa, Founder of Humane [00:45]

I always wanted to start a business. It’s because it’s the best way to learn about yourself. And I know it’s going to be hard, but I know the journey is very fulfilling.

 

Shannon Lovell, Content Director, Theraplay.TV [00:54]

My hope is to continue to build our community and create intangible impacts that make a difference for young people with disabilities around the world.

 

Don’t miss the chance to learn more about our #RA21 founders including their achievements and plans for the future at our virtual Demo Day next week!

The celebrations will kick off at 6pm AEST and registrations are free and essential. You can register for our #RA21 Demo Day now on our Humanitix event page!

Founder Stories Series | Cure Bionics

We are thrilled to introduce our final Founder Story of this year’s series that features the amazing Mohamed Dhaouafi, CEO and Founder of Cure Bionics!

 

Cure Bionics is a Tunisian-based startup creating 3D-printed and customizable bionics prosthetic arms that enhance the human body with multi-grip functionality and empowering aesthetics for below-elbow amputee adults and children aged 8 and above with the aim to make them more accessible and cool-to-wear.

 

Learn more below…

 

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9aKwzL8g78[/embedyt]

 

A time-coded transcript of this video is available for download and the script is also available below.

 

Mohamed Dhaouafi, CEO and Founder of Cure Bionics [00:00:00]

Technology is life changing, and I guess when technology is dedicated for change, it’s limitless.

 

I am Mohamed Dhaouafi, I’m from Tunisia, I’m 29 years old and I’m the CEO and founder of Cure Bionics. We empower people with limb differences through 3D printed and customizable bionic arms.

 

Since my childhood, I found that engineers are everywhere and are essential in every field. And I decided to do engineering because I was really passionate about creating things and fixing things. I never thought I would be creating prosthetics one day.

 

Everything started doing this to the challenge, however, the moment that changed everything with me was meeting an eight year old boy who was in hospital in Tunisia who lost a hand and a leg in an electric shock. I decided to change his life one day.

 

I decided to take it as my graduation project instead of going abroad. Then I graduated and I didn’t have enough money to continue the journey. I started working on a private incubator and I started applying for grants. And, yeah, it was the real beginning in late 2018.

 

When I started digging deep into statistics. I was shocked. We are talking about more than 30 million people globally who are having limb differences and only five percent can afford one. So that was something that made me think that that can be a purpose and that can be something worth fighting for. And that’s what I’m doing today and I’m proud of it.

 

So we did quite good things in the last three years. I made it to the list 30 under 30 Forbes for 2020, MIT Technology Review, 35 under 35 innovators and the Global one and Obama Foundation. Africa Leader, we made it as a finalist at the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge And I’m on the Time Magazine next generation leader list.

 

Everyone was trying to make something to change the world. And that excited me a lot and gave me a lot of energy to contribute to that and to have a legacy.

 

So the Remarkable program is doing both individual and collective mentoring and support programs. And the most important thing that made me feel happy and proud of being part of it is that they’re like a supportive family, so they care about us as individuals and their support of their understanding, and they keep pushing us forward.

 

No one should be excluded from this world because of any sort of disabilities. We want to make the life of others better and to unleash their full potential to give them equal opportunities to others.

 

Meet Mohamed at our online Demo Day on Tuesday the 13th of July! Registrations are essential.

Founder Stories Series | Theraplay.TV

Excited to introduce our sixth Founder Story that features the team behind Theraplay.TV including Zachary Fook, Shannon Lovell and Emma Lofting!

 

Theraplay.TV is a virtual program that builds the capacity of young people of all abilities as they play and interact with Yogacise, Ballet Fusion, Play Warrior, Pop n Lock’n, Cheer Club & TheraChill.

 

Learn more below…

 

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoYPY0jspeI[/embedyt]

 

A time-coded transcript of this video is available for download and the script is also available below.

 

Zachary Fook, Executive Producer Theraplay.TV [00:00:05]

Opportunity for a child, in its simplest form is being able to attend a local dance, football or sports club and build lifelong friendships alongside their teammates.

 

I’m Zach, the Executive Producer of TheraplayTV.

 

Nearly 10 years ago, I met a six year old girl with cerebral palsy who’d been turned away by three dance schools. At the time, I had no idea of the systemic barriers she was up against. At some point in time, when the sporting and recreation bodies designed grassroots programs, they reverse engineered the process from the professional athlete backwards.

 

In order to change the game, we had to change the rules by starting with the six year old girl with cerebral palsy and designing forwards.

 

We’ve created entry level programs that have leveled the playing field for young people of all abilities everywhere.

 

When covid hit, we used it as an opportunity to start filming our classes, so we redesigned our classes in five minutes, easy to follow videos.

 

We then added animation and interactive features and coined the term ‘Theratainment.’

 

Shannon Lovell, Content Director, Theraplay.TV [00:01:01]

Participation in meaningful physical activity helps to increase positive mental health whilst reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases.

 

My name is Shannon and I’m the Content Director at Theraplay TV.

 

Theraplay TV has been designed to address the systemic challenges by removing physical requirements of the tasks, social and cognitive demands, reduced availability and adequacy of local community programs.

 

Emma Lofting, Artistic Director, Theraplay.TV [00:01:43]

Sometimes the dance and sporting world can be very competitive and our young people with disabilities might feel out of place or not welcome.

 

I’m Emma the Artistic Director at Theraplay TV.

 

When I started working with children and young people with disabilities, it not only made me happy, but it positively impacted their lives and made them happy too.

 

And then Miss Emma became an important part of mine and their daily lives. And right now I couldn’t imagine doing or being anything else.

 

And so being able to create a platform through Theraplay TV that really promotes the idea that anyone can access and participate is really what motivates me to continue to create content.

 

Zachary Fook, Executive Producer Theraplay.TV [00:02:03]

Remarkable’s network is like no other, and the community aspect is something you can’t get anywhere else. We can grow and learn from each other, but most importantly, support each other.

 

Emma Lofting, Artistic Director, Theraplay.TV [00:02:13]

I think it’s made me appreciate the small things the day to day and really believing in the concept that anything is possible.

 

Meet Theraplay.TV at our online Demo Day on Tuesday the 13th of July! Registrations are essential.