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23
Thu, Nov

Euston Station
Photo Credit: Sophie Mutevelian Photography

Blind and vision impaired people face significant challenges to independent navigation, one of the main factors making them more likely to face poverty, unemployment, and social isolation. Wayfindr, a joint venture between the Royal Society for Blind Children and UsTwo has created the world’s first internationally-recognized standard for accessible audio navigation aiming to help the world’s 285 million vision impaired people navigate the world independently. Wayfindr shows how nonprofits can promote the use of emerging technologies for social innovations and deliver for end users at scale without having to engage in expensive and resource-consuming development of proprietary technology.

Around the world today there are 285 million blind or vision impaired (VI) people. This number is likely to increase as the world’s population ages, with some studies suggesting that the number of blind people could triple between now and 2050. Vision impaired people are more likely to live in poverty, suffer from social isolation, and be unemployed. One of the key reasons behind this is that it is very difficult for them to travel independently due to the difficulty of navigating in unfamiliar or complex environments. Additionally, inconsistent accessibility offerings from public transportation providers make spontaneous or even planned travel difficult. These factors lead to blind and vision impaired people choosing to leave their house less frequently, and only traveling to places they are familiar with. In the UK, 54 percent of blind people would like to leave their house more than they currently do. Globally, there are millions of VI people whose life choices and opportunities are limited by not being able to travel independently. Wayfindr, a joint venture between the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) and UsTwo, was set up in 2015 to address this challenge. Members of RSBC’s Youth Forum flagged difficulties accessing public transportation as a major obstacle in their lives and asked if smartphone-based technology could provide a solution.

From the assorted options considered, one solution stood out as the most promising. Audio wayfinding technology has the potential to open up so much more of the world to VI people by enabling independent and spontaneous travel. It can be provided to users using smartphones and headphones, items already owned and used by most people, meaning there are few or no additional costs to users to take advantage of the solution. Using a smartphone app, VI people can receive turn-by-turn audio instructions to guide them around indoor environments and give them information on points of interest, such as helpdesks. In these indoor environments, a standard GPS system is often not accurate enough, or cannot provide enough information, such as the location of escalators, ticket barriers, or the specific platform from which a train is departing for a VI user to travel independently. 

Following a successful trial of a prototype solution involving Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) beacons, smartphones, and a corresponding app at a London Underground station, Wayfindr concluded that the greatest possible impact lay in the creation of a standardized set of instructions for venue owners and app developers to set up an inclusive and accessible audio-based navigation system. In order to build confidence in the technology, VI people need a level of consistency across every navigation app that they use. Standardized instructions deliver this reliable, consistent, and seamless experience, as well as maximizing the potential reach of audio wayfinding and giving VI users a choice of apps to use. Audio wayfinding is designed as a complementary mobility aid and not to replace a primary mobility aid, such as a long cane or guide dog.

This led to the creation of the Wayfindr Open Standard. The Open Standard gives venue owners and digital navigation services the tools to implement high quality, consistent, audio wayfinding solutions. It has been developed through user research with VI people during trials in London with Transport for London on the Underground and in University College London, and in Sydney with Sydney Trains, as well as in Oslo. The Wayfindr Community, a group of indoor mapping companies, academics, vision impairment charities, software developers, and adopters has also fed into the Open Standard’s development. The standard has been adopted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), meaning it is recognized in 193 countries across the world. This represents a significant endorsement of the quality of Wayfindr’s work in creating the Open Standard. The standard is technology-neutral and free to use.

From a social impact perspective, the development of a standard as opposed to attempting to develop a solution based on proprietary technology has several advantages. Its user-centered design, as well as trials and academic research, ensure that end users will take advantage of it when possible. It also gives adopters confidence when implementing an audio wayfinding system. The standard can be added to existing navigation apps or venue-specific apps, such as for a shopping center or airport, avoiding unnecessary duplication. Additionally, as more and more venues provide audio wayfinding, more data and feedback is provided for future iterations of the standard, ensuring that VI users benefit from an ever-improving experience, and adopters receive more and more guidance.

By virtue of being technology neutral and free to use, the standard is highly scalable, particularly in comparison to developing and promoting a proprietary navigation app. It is hoped that this approach will lead to the widest possible adoption of audio navigation, thus maximising its transformative potential for blind and VI people. 

While Wayfindr has focused on vision impairment, audio wayfinding could equally be used by people suffering from dementia-type impairments or print disabilities, as well as those who are unable to read signage in a local language, increasing its potential from a social impact and commercial perspective.

Wayfindr’s award-winning work to date has been made possible through philanthropic fundraising, including a one-million-dollar grant from Google.org to develop the Open Standard. In the medium-to-long term, the organization plans to achieve sustainability through revenue from a compliance checking system and training courses for access consultants, amongst other sources.

Following the successful development and approval of the standard, Wayfindr is now working to encourage the implementation of audio wayfinding solutions and moving towards the organization’s end goal of helping the global community of 285 million blind people to navigate indoor environments independently.

Author Bio 

Tiernan is the Head of Public Affairs and Standard at Wayfindr. Before joining Wayfindr, Tiernan spent several years in Brussels working in communications and public affairs in the field of technology policy, including standards in the areas of cloud computing and cybersecurity. He has also worked on policy development for a large UK business advocacy organization.

Members of Poetry Slam Madrid and Poetry Slam España with author Daniel Gallant
Photo Credit: Dopamine Studio

I visited Japan and Spain last year to study the impact of economic and political shifts on cultural activity in both countries. In the face of precipitous funding declines, seismic demographic transformations, and changing political priorities, both Spanish and Japanese cultural organizations have developed impressive strategies to increase arts participation and foster cultural activity across many genres and locations. These progressive strides in cultural development can serve as an inspiration to arts leaders throughout the world.

The challenges faced by cultural entities in Spain and Japan are daunting. Recent political and economic pressures have sharply reduced government arts funding, the revenue stream on which most Japanese and Spanish cultural organizations depend. At the same time, many arts entities in both countries are expected to provide services for free, and are forbidden from raising funds independently or using surplus funds to hire additional staff (due to anti-corruption laws).

Charitable giving by private citizens is not rewarded with tax incentives in either country (unlike in the United States, where tax breaks boost individual philanthropy). Additionally, cultural leaders in both Spain and Japan are heavily influenced by political forces. A state-sponsored project in either country can lose its government mandate when a new national or regional administration takes office, as has happened several times with Madrid’s popular Matadero arts complex.

Spain is also wrestling with a lack of youth employment opportunities. Japan, on the other hand, is challenged by a lack of youth: low birth rates and an aging population have slowed the country’s economic growth. Bustling crowds of young professionals fill Tokyo’s sidewalks, trains and bars -- but few of those young professionals are coupled, and even fewer are accompanied by children.

Yet in the face of many obstacles, cultural organizations in Spain and Japan have found innovative ways to leverage arts activities for community benefit. While many new cultural initiatives struggle, highly-resourced arts centers that were built by Spanish government entities during flush times provide co-working space, educational workshops, exhibits, performances, lessons in urban agriculture, and other progressive programs. Multifaceted facilities like Tabakalera in San Sebastian, La Termica in Málaga, Hangar and Fabra i Coats in Barcelona, and Azkuna Zentroa in Bilbao, embody a cultural imperative: to project regional identity through arts activity. State-sponsored arts factories, community centers, libraries, and other institutions in these Spanish cities offer unparalleled resources for the growth of local creative activity.

In the more traditional city of Kyoto -- Japan’s ancient capital, where Kabuki, tea ceremonies, and other cherished traditions evolved -- artistic innovation tends to happen in smaller venues. These include the experimental, multi-arts UrbanGuild Café and Trace Art & Coffee, where painter Kazuya Yamaguchi ‘played’ an amplified wooden canvas, innovatively pairing visual artwork with musical improvisation.

At a regional level, arts bureaus like Arts Yokohama and Kyoto Arts Council employ cultural activity to draw arts enthusiasts from oversaturated Tokyo to areas where buildings sit empty and the growth rate is slow. These organizations help artists to occupy and repurpose vacant homes, thereby recasting aging cities as burgeoning arts hubs. Privately-operated arts entities, like Teruo Kurosaki’s creative collective COMMUNE 2nd (previously COMMUNE 246) and Nozomu Ogawa’s Art Center Ongoing, also help keep Tokyo’s cultural ecosystem accessible to emerging artists.

Ambassador Caroline Kennedy (2013-2017) with author Daniel Gallant at a U.S. Embassy event in Tokyo
Photo Credit: The Embassy of the United States in Tokyo

The forward-thinking, Madrid-based cultural centers CA2M and Casa Encendida were established in arts-starved neighborhoods. Despite fiscal challenges, these venues have made noble strides toward meeting the needs of youth from under-resourced communities while avoiding gentrification. CA2M is also one of the few state-funded entities I visited that has found ways to tap private sources -- its staff has raised modest funds through a campaign that aligns arts philanthropy with support for environmental organizations and refugee aid, causes which many millennial Spaniards embrace.

Meanwhile, reports from cultural organizations SGAE and Fundación Contemporánea show that theater activity in Spain has rebounded from the recession more quickly than have other art forms. That resilience may in part be due to the popularity of Micro Theater, a community-friendly genre that has also taken root in Miami, a scouting hotbed for South American telenovela production companies. Micro Theater programs have low overhead, take place in small venues, allow artists to work on a reliable schedule, and appeal to customers who can’t afford pricey tickets.

Visual arts venues in homes, bars, and other nontraditional spaces are also catching on with Spain’s arts audiences: a refreshing example is Málaga’s Casa Sostoa. This dynamic micro-gallery for new work exists in the apartment of its curator. The idea of hosting professional arts activities in small, informal, and sometimes even domestic settings is new for a country that boasts giant theaters and ancient performance spaces. But the trend is gaining momentum, thanks to the modest financing and appealing social dynamics involved.

Despite such notable highlights from the cultural landscapes of Spain and Japan, arts leaders in both countries express a need for increased arts entrepreneurship. In Spain, the dearth of entrepreneurial arts activity seems tied to both financial challenges and the lingering effects of cultural repression. Art and creative expression were suppressed during Franco’s autocratic regime, and a spirit of cultural entrepreneurship has been slow to emerge from the aftermath of that era. A younger generation of Spanish arts enthusiasts is creating some cultural traditions from scratch, and drawing inspiration from other countries, as demonstrated by Bilbao’s Bulegoa, Sevilla’s Zemos98, and Madrid’s Poetry Slam and Festival Poetas organizations. But economic stagnation, coupled with the stifling residue of autocracy, has limited the momentum of macroscopic arts policy.

Japan has never endured the sort of cultural repression that Franco visited on Spain, but some Japanese arts entities struggle to reconcile creativity with a culture of conformity, and to overcome a perceived lack of incentive to innovate. As playwright and professor Oriza Hirata explained to me, Japan has a shortage of locally-trained arts leaders, and lacks a widespread tradition of cultural management by individual artistic directors. Many Japanese arts entities are run by committees of stakeholders, rather than by visionary individual leaders (as is more common in Western countries). Nonetheless, some forward-thinking entities like Arts Council Tokyo have begun to train more arts managers, with an eye toward expanding cultural activities that draw younger citizens to smaller cities. Despite funding cuts to many cultural programs, there is renewed government interest in the diplomatic and public relations benefits of promoting Japanese arts activity abroad. The approach of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has also increased government investment in some Tokyo-focused cultural programming.

The United States and other countries would do well to embrace a concept that seems widespread in both Spain and Japan: art is a public good. The public interest is best served when government enables cultural participation, artistic innovation, and the development of creative skills.

Author Bio

Daniel Gallant is the Executive Director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the author of the short story collection Determined to Prove, and a 2016 Eisenhower Fellowship recipient. He is also a poet, playwright, theatrical producer, actor, and teacher. His writing has appeared in eight anthologies from Vintage Books, Applause / Hal Leonard and Theater Communications Group. Daniel previously served as the Director of Theater and Talk Programming at the 92nd Street Y’s Makor and Tribeca centers. As an Eisenhower Fellow, he has explored how cultural organizations in Spain and Japan use innovative program and funding models to expand arts engagement. Daniel also advises cultural organizations in the United States about how to use game theory and social media to broaden their impact, and he oversees Arts Japan 2020, an online initiative that celebrates Japan-related cultural programs in the United States. Daniel has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Crain’s New York, the Daily News, New York Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and Voice of America; and on MTV, NBC, CNN, NY1, CBS, NPR, Univision, the BBC, and other networks. According to the Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Gallant has exploited expanding social-media tools to grow the cafe from a small, volunteer-led venue best known for weekly poetry events to a thriving arts center with partnerships across the city."

Hackability's codesign table
Photo credit: Hackability CC BY-SA

Hackability is an application of mass customization ideas, that produce solutions in a co-design approach. The motivation behind our efforts is to provide social inclusion through a new manufacturing process for people with disabilities. 

Very often people with disabilities need too specific solutions that are not addressable by a mass production approach and this requires high degrees of customization in order to fully satisfy their needs. Evidence of this problem is that they often try to build (hack) autonomously customized solutions for themselves, because existing industrial devices are too expensive, are required in fewer quantities, and often paid for by directly by the few who use them. Moreover, the digital fabrication process could be a learning and professional opportunity for makers and designers, creating an active ecosystem through international FabLabs and maker spaces network. For this reason we staredt in 2015 in Turin (Italy), Hackability. Hackability is anaims to identify, invite, inform, interest, and involve makers, designers, technicians, FabLabs, and people with disabilities, in an on-line and off-line community, to realize products for everyday life using new (or improved) digital fabrication processes. 

To achieve this goal we use different engaging formats depending on the context. The first is a hackathon (that is a non-competing race), organized in places where the local making community has a sufficient degree of skills for the purpose; the second are workshops, if we need to stimulate the creation of specific skills. Workshops and hackathons go on for at least three weeks to allow people with disabilities to participate actively, together with makers, designers, etc., maintaining, when possible, a more effective co-design gender balance.

For all people involved, working together in a project fosters the development of new skills; not only technical but also social skills towards the management of an entire project.Many participants, after this experience, take part in the community, and sometimes they set up a local group, to continue working together. In this way we intend to scale the project into different sub-communities. Although the concept of community may seem quite abstract, in our experience it is very concrete. For any organized workshop, we had a significant increase of people enrolled from the community. In general, our definition of community is the group of people that make possible co-designing and social inclusion. Hackathons and workshops are usually organized by sending invitations to disability organizations, schools, universities, or local communities, etc. But they can also be organized using our guidelines by third parties creating sub-communities. Third parties are people not officially enrolled in the Hackability staff but work for the same goal, in respect of the same mission and vision. In fact, Hackability's format is open source to those who belong to the community or want to take part: each sub-community that observes its principles and rules can adopt its brand and autonomously bring this project forward and, if needed, we provide support. Formats are accessed through a public open call to people with disabilities, and their caregivers who express ideas/needs/projects and to people and organizations who are active in the world of making and design, who express technical skills/solutions /realization capacity. Since the call has a social impact, and since participation in the workshop contributes to the cultivation of an active community, it is important to advance mapping and stimulate all subjects in every single area or context (associations, local authorities, stakeholders, etc.). We need to be close and motivate those players, with presentations, meetings, and possible partnerships, presenting the advantages of respecting Hackability’s goals. All products made by Hackability are available for  non-commercial use, to everyone in Creative Common (CC-by sa nc) at http://hackability.it. Prototypes are the tangible output of our workshops and hackathons. Prototypes are the raw solution built after the co-design process within the workshop: accessible customized and low-cost tools for people with disabilities. An intangible product, but the most important outcome of this process, is the social inclusion for people with disabilities. Hackability's events reduce the stigma of having a disability, changing the way people with disabilities are seen: transforming them from those in need of help, playing a passive role in society, into expert makers and active participants in a shared knowledge process.

Du Spaghi-La forchetta di Ivan: A fork holder device developed based on the handshape of Ivan, a man with a grasping problem who is not able to correctly hold a fork to eat spaghetti pasta. 

Photo credit: Hackability CC BY-SA

The ambition behind our efforts is to provide social inclusion through a new manufacturing process for people with disabilities. It enables the transformation from projects and prototypes to final products creating small businesses, encourages the community to create and share projects through the platform based on the open source paradigm. To do so Hackability organizes events/workshop and supports digital artisans in order to inspire the creation of new projects and add value to the process, or produces internally the solutions to go to market. In the end of 2016, Hackability became a non-profit organization. The community is growing nationwide through the organization, in different areas of Italy, thanks to events such as workshops or hackathons that involve local groups. The non-profit organization is intended to finance local events, cure the engagement methodology, train Hackability mentors, help the creation of local groups, and disseminate the results using the Hackability digital platform www.hackability.it. The non-profit organization is funded by companies looking for open innovation, it earns money through the licenses for the commercial exploitation of tools, and redistributes part of the profits to the local groups. Local groups need to provide finances for themselves for examples by offering services to the area. Nowadays, the main local groups are two groups in Torino: Hackability Torino and HackabilityPolito; the local communities in Milan and Brescia have been recently founded and they are growing. Hackability networks will contribute to the improvement in the quality of life for people with disabilities, and it will lead to more independence and greater social integration thanks to increased access to shared, customizable tools and devices for disabilities. It will contribute to cost reductions in Public Health, as well as strengthen the acknowledgement of the difficulties linked to physical disabilities, while reinforcing problem solving capacities. Hackability is also an opportunity of learning open source design skills that is increasing professional opportunities for young makers and designers. 

Define the problem

For the last 29 years, our mission has been to facilitate social inclusion of disabled, disadvantaged, and elderly people on a global basis. All Dialogue exhibitions and products are based on experiential learning and encounter, leading to a transformative learning experience. In short, nothing is more powerful than experiencing something yourself, rather than hearing about it. No matter what the discrimination is based on, marginalized groups exist in all countries, regions, and cultures. It would be challenging to put the impact of marginalization in numbers, but the costs -- let them be social, political, or economic --are likely to be impressive. Besides the consequences for the affected individuals themselves, it does result in productivity losses to an entire economy, as the situation of people with a disability (PWD) is often characterized by poverty and social exclusion. They face discrimination and isolation, lack access to education, employment, housing, transportation, digital technology, health care, financial services, and full participation in the political process, to name only a selection of issues. Elderly citizens, on the other hand, are often degraded to stereotypes of either being a burden to society, causing increasing social costs, or as “silver surfers,” enjoying their lives while the younger generation is struggling to find proper jobs or housing. Given that the demographic change will affect all European societies on a large scale over the next 30 years, with people getting older and staying healthier every year (every second girl born in Germany today has the chance to reach 100 years of age), the image of aging has to be disrupted and improved in order to allow societies to look for new ways to adapt to this growing number of elderly citizens and embrace their capabilities rather than their challenges. 

Many organizations are working in the field of inclusion and diversity and the acceptance of disability and aging in the European societies, trying to raise awareness and improve the self-confidence of the affected individuals. However, most organizations either work directly with the affected or lobby with governments and other social influencers to change the societal behavior via policies. While this work is crucial, when it comes to the general public, we believe that the only way to change behavior is a direct encounter. Thus, our approach is a little different. We want to create a permanent Museum for Diversity and Inclusion (MODI). MODI is the first museum not to focus on history, art, or science, but on social issues such as diversity and inclusion. In our exhibitions, the tools and educational approach of a Science Center are combined with social topics and issues. The dialogue between the group and the guide creates an open and safe space to reflect upon one’s own ideas and stereotypes and inspires a change of mind-set and behavior after the exhibition or workshop experience. Besides the educational dimension with transformative results, we will create completely new job opportunities for marginalized people. They are moving from the periphery to the center, and gaining more self-esteem and recognition and becoming active contributors of their own cause. Last but not least, newly developed digital tools will create a bridge between self-reflection, learning, inspiration, and civil engagement, as it will provide the visitors with information and calls to action, tailored specifically for their needs and wishes. Thanks to partnerships with NGOs in the respective areas, the digital tools will lead from online to offline engagement and create ambassadors for social change far beyond the museum visit. Via this link, MODI will also contribute to the promotion of the work of other social actors in the field, rather than being seen is a competitor. 

In the last decade, we had studies conducted by independent research institutes, while continuously conducting our own visitor surveys and qualitative analyses of guest books and stories of change. These findings gave us good insights into the impact of Dialogue exhibitions on the changed mind-set of our visitors after their visit. Unfortunately, long-term behavioural changes are much harder to track. So far, we have not been able to properly trace the actions of our visitors once they have left our premises. Once our new tools are developed in 2018, we will be able to follow which information the visitor looks at and which opportunities of action they pick up. This will also influence in what way we will be able to work best with other NGOs and organizations., as we will involve non-profit organizations who are working in the fields of social engagement, education, and empowerment, both for joined activities and services for visitors pre- and post-visit, as well as for an even more profound analysis of the gained data. With their help, we will also be able to track the intensity of the action taken by the visitors and the average length of their engagement span to give better and more interesting offers.

All Dialogue ventures in the past have been either run by us or by certified partners in a social franchise structure, so the cost structure and the needed financial resources are known to us. However, MODI will be a much bigger and more challenging project than the single exhibitions we have run before. While we are very aware of the regular income streams our exhibitions provide, we are working on the identification of additional income streams that will provide financial stability beyond ticket sales. Apart from events like leadership and communication workshops and the renting out of rooms for external purposes, we are canvassing the possibility to offer our exhibitions at MODI for very low or no ticket prices to attract a bigger and more diverse audience, combined with a donation opportunity or membership at the end, based on the experience the visitors had. Trial runs by other institutions have shown encouraging results in this regard. As a result, we are currently running a feasibility study with the help of several partners (like the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin) to see how we can adapt the current business model to ensure a sustainable and ongoing museum business after the initial funding for the production and installation has been given. Mainly, we are looking into a hybrid funding model, combining donations by visitors and other entities with the entrance fees paid by the visitors after seeing the exhibitions. Key factors for the final business plan will be the actual HR costs and the location, status, and rent of the chosen venue (ideally, it will be for free or subsidized). 

We are already in the stage of testing several options in Germany, Russia, and Switzerland. Once we have established the first venture, we will use our network and experience to scale it on an international level. But the decision is not solely based on funding questions. No matter which country we start with, we see MODI as a vibrant part of the city, in a prime location and open to the public, giving an example of inclusive employment. We seek to involve the city planning departments, as well as culture and education units. Hence, political will is crucial. Next to the political environment, we see ourselves as a part of the civil society, so we seek to establish strong bonds with agents of the third sector. These are the organizations that can welcome people who got inspired to act.

MODI will be more than the sum of its parts. It will be a lighthouse of inclusion, enabling and inviting anyone to meet new people and open their hearts and minds, for a more inclusive society for everyone.

Summary

The digital revolution is here but unfortunately not for everyone. The world is becoming mobile; however, we have left behind millions of people who cannot use a touch screen, namely: people with severe physical disabilities resulting from cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or neuromuscular diseases. Mouse4all is an assistive technology which enables everyone to access an Android tablet or smartphone with alternative input interfaces: switches, adapted mouse, trackball, or joystick. This solution makes accessible the entire Android device and all its installed apps, improving the autonomy of persons with severe physical disabilities. We are already experiencing the impact in the users: it improves their privacy, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Mouse4all enables them to make their own decisions and participate in digital society. We have already launched in Spain and our plan is to expand our distribution network internationally to solve a global problem experienced by persons with disabilities worldwide.

Not Everybody Can Touch a Touch Screen

In the last decade, access to information has changed radically. We have replaced keyboards and mice with touch screens. Although desktop computers still coexist with smartphones and tablets, they are used mainly in an office environment. On the other hand, mobile devices are used everywhere anytime, for messaging, accessing information, and consuming multimedia content. Unfortunately, the millions of people with severe physical disabilities that cannot touch a screen are not participating in this revolution. We realized this issue back in April 2015 when we started conducting interviews with the Administration, therapists, associations, and families of persons with disabilities (PWDs).

Accessibility solutions for desktop computers were available for people with motor disabilities. Unfortunately, the mobile world with its omnipresent touch screen interface was lagging. Apple with iOS was an option, but its low market share and high cost made it affordable only for a limited part of our target group. Android offered only a small number of standalone communicator apps. This left out access to the most popular apps like social networks, messaging, and games.

Given this scenario, we took a holistic approach to the issue, instead of making one specific app accessible we decided to make the entire Android device accessible: a person who could not touch the screen should still be able to use every app installed in their device. We started to design a solution that would work in any off-the-shelf Android device.

To sum up our findings at the time:

  1. Using a mobile device is not a luxury. It is a means to participate in society. It empowers PWDs to be connected with their friends and family, access on their own multimedia content and Internet services, for learning, working, and leisure.
  2. There were many solutions to access a desktop computer.
  3. There were some solutions for accessing iOS devices (iPhone and iPad).
  4. There was virtually no proper working solution for accessing an Android smartphone or tablet.
  5. Families, therapists, and associations were eager to find an affordable development so that persons with severe physical disabilities could use a smartphone or tablet completely on their own. End users were mostly unaware of the mobile revolution due to their own “disconnection.”
  6. The worldwide market share of Android devices was about 80 percent in Q1 2015. As of Q1 2017, the market share of Android devices has increased to 85 percent.

Mouse4all Innovation

Mouse4all consists of a smart combination of hardware (connectivity box) and software (Android app). The hardware box allows the connection of the standard alternative input devices that our users require (switches, adapted mouse, trackball, or joystick). The app displays a mouse cursor on the screen. The solution is plug and play: the virtual mouse starts automatically when the box is connected to the Android device and provides a common interface for all the apps.

Two years ago, there was no proper working solution for Android devices. Today, the situation has somewhat improved with accessibility features included in newest versions of the Android OS. Also, some companies are providing alternative interfaces based on head tracking and accelerometers. Mouse4all keeps a strong competitive advantage in terms of functionality and ease of use. Understanding everyone has specific needs we have designed an easy-to-use User Interface (UI) that can be configured according to a user’s capabilities and preferences.

The solution brings autonomy and privacy to its users. They only need assistance from someone to switch on the Android device and physically connect the alternative input device, from that moment, the users can and do work on their own.

We have already verified the benefits that Mouse4all brings to PWDs and their families. We have observed a renewed motivation in end users and a deeper integration with their extended family and social groups, thanks to the access to social networks and communication apps. The fact that Mouse4all users are connected anywhere, anytime is a game changer for them. Now they can certainly decide when, where, and what they use their mobile devices for. It is also important to highlight that many of the users have severe speech impairments so Mouse4all becomes their voice in society.

The impact that Mouse4all makes in the lives of our early adopters can be illustrated with two real examples:

a. We were introduced to a woman with speech impairment who had never used a tablet or smartphone. She could only push an adapted switch with the back of her head. Anyway, during the first training session, within less than one hour, she took a selfie without any external help. All therapists in the room and the user herself burst into tears of emotion.

b. Another of our early adopters was in hospital due to internal surgery. During the recovery period, his Mouse4all prototype physically broke. He promptly called and urged us to go to the hospital to repair the unit. For more than a year, he has been using his Android smartphone mounted on his wheelchair daily. He is always connected through WhatsApp.

Some of the activities that our current users do empowered by Mouse4all include using WhatsApp throughout the day, watching YouTube videos, accessing Facebook, browsing the Internet, reading online news, taking photos, or playing games.

Our business model is based on the sale of the Mouse4all products and services and we have already achieved relevant milestones since the project started in mid-2015. We launched commercially last July and have already closed our first distribution agreement in Spain. Before that, we developed and tested our first product in collaboration with multiple associations and centers of PWDs. Mouse4all has also been included in the Catalogue of Assistive Technologies managed by CEAPAT (Spanish National Center for Personal Autonomy and Assistive Technologies). In 2016, we won the Innovation Award of Vodafone Foundation, a turning point in our journey. Mouse4all SL was funded with the work and savings of its two founders. Until we achieve financial sustainability through product sales, we also rely on the sale of professional services and money received from prizes. 

Our plan is to expand the distribution network internationally. We are solving a global problem experienced by persons with disabilities worldwide. Our moral duty is to reach any person who can benefit from Mouse4all and the mobile revolution no matter where they live.

More information is available at mouse4all.com.

Author Bios 

Javier Montaner and José Ángel Jiménez are both engineers and cofounders of Mouse4all.SL, working as a team since 2015.

Javier Montaner is Industrial Engineer with an MSc in Computer Science. After more than 15 years of working in technical areas of multinational companies (Alcatel, Gemplus, Vodafone) he has lately collaborated with startups in the areas of IoT and eHealth (Carriots, Bioserenity). He is an active contributor to social entrepreneurship projects such as nlazados (in collaboration with Imserso CEADAC) and EasyCall (Congreso Iberdiscap 2013, Prize Hack for Good 2013).

José Ángel Jiménez is Telecommunication Engineer with concentration in Electronics and Bioengineering. He has an extensive professional experience in management, design, architecture, and development of Information Systems and SW applications. After 12 years of working in Telecom (Airtel, Vodafone, France Telecom), founded in 2011 Anneo Technologies, microenterprise dedicated to development of hardware and software solutions.

Displaced communities have a rich and varied collection of skills, perspectives, and ideas that are being wasted by their host countries across Europe. Solomon was founded as a non-profit media initiative based in Athens, Greece to promote social inclusion, create stable employment and, above all, to unlock this huge, dormant potential. By promoting social inclusion, we aim to integrate the continent’s newest arrivals as full participants in European democracy.

Since January 2016, Solomon has been collaborating with migrants, refugees, and locals who have an interest in the field of media. It has provided structured training, skills development, and practice that culminates in paid employment, producing journalism, advertising, and communications content within Cue, Solomon’s content production branch, launched in May 2017.

Cue provides paid services in storytelling, photography, video, design and digital communications to NGOs, media organizations and international companies. Cue’s aim is to give all of its members equal opportunities for economic advancement and career development in the creative industries, along with facilitating their social inclusion through Solomon’s multicultural network.

This is how it works: Solomon is a multi-branched media project and all Cue personnel are drawn from Solomon’s first and introductory branch, Lab. Lab is an educational program which connects a diverse group of refugees and migrants interested in Media and Communications, with local Greek students studying these subjects at university. A four-month collaborative project serves to provide them with foundational media training. The first two months focus on the theoretical aspects and the second two months involve the production of content, along with workshops hosted by Solomon’s media partners and mentors within the field.

There are multiple courses covering Photography & Videography and Journalism and Digital Communication which give applicants the choice to select the category that interests them. Through the Lab course, all team members meet weekly, along with attending the monthly Solomon Social Gatherings, facilitating the development of new relationships in a supportive and creative environment. 

Lab graduates then have the opportunity to put their newly-gained skills into practice, through Solomon Magazine -- which is Solomon’s online platform, where a diverse group of contributors express their thoughts and experiences on a variety of topics, igniting conversation around alternative perspectives from within displaced communities.

Here, Journalism, Photography, and Communications students can share their work with an international audience. For the Video graduates, Solomon’s web video channel Solomon Screen gives them a platform to develop their filming techniques and production further -- to ultimately have their work displayed on our respected channels. Magazine, Screen, and Lab placements will be non-paid, but the graduates will receive mentorship, rich experiences, a deep understanding of the media industry, and become part of a buzzing creative and cooperative network. 

Finally, after the placements within Magazine and Screen, the graduates who have the richest skillsets, original ways of thinking, and have shown commitment to their new career paths, are invited to join Cue. Here they are able to start creating content across the whole media spectrum, gain an income, develop their careers, and, most importantly, become a part of a diverse professional team originating from more than 10 countries, all connected by their common passion for media.

Cue will ultimately give talented migrants, refugees, and locals the opportunity to build a sustainable career and be rewarded economically for fulfilling their creative ambitions, while becoming part of a socially conscious ‘family’ at the same time.

Although there are thousands of NGOs based in Athens, currently giving all different types of assistance to the refugees and migrants entering Greece, there haven’t been any projects similar to Cue, which allows for jobs in the Media and Communication Industry. The career opportunities for migrants and refugees are usually limited to translation and interpretation -- regardless of their diverse skillsets. Cue exists to discover talent, unleash the potential for career development, and provide stable employment opportunities within the field of Media, while working alongside locals in an organic social inclusion process across all cultures, backgrounds, and countries that the program will be present in. 

At this stage, all employees are working on a voluntary basis, yet the experience offered is rich for everyone, due to the relationships and connections that have grown out of the Cue and Solomon family. However, we are currently working on two paid projects with our Cue team, producing promotional video material, and social media content for various NGOs in Greece and Switzerland. Once these projects are completed, the income will be fed back into strengthening Cue and Solomon. As we gain more jobs, build our portfolio, gain exposure, expand our team, and have access to better equipment, Cue will gain more projects, allowing the network to grow, and finally expand into other European countries.

Unfortunately, the reality of setting up a company or let alone an NGO in Greece, is that the country is still suffering the effects of its deep and protracted financial crisis. It’s a risky time for any new project to be founded, as there are constant changes and unknowns on the horizon in the business environment and accounting, legal, and commercial law. Bureaucratic fluctuations are inevitable at this point in time, but by having an informed team we strive to get through this economic crisis and get Cue to where it deserves to be.

Our ultimate goal is to expand the Cue network internationally, giving a platform to migrants, refugees, and local people around the world who have the passion and skillsets to produce high quality and thought-provoking content. There are talented people within the migrant community across the world, who simply need the opportunity to showcase their work and become part of a community in their new country of residence. We will judge our success against the number of people we manage to bring along on this journey with us, but also in the growth of our audience and the attention and prestige won by our channels. We aim to become an agenda-setting and essential source of news, information and culture for anyone with an interest in this field of interest.

Germany and Holland would be the first locations for us to expand in, as they have some of the largest immigrant populations, who would benefit from joining the Cue network. They are also far more financially stable countries, which would ensure that Cue DE and Cue NL would have projects available to work on. Once expansion in these regions has proved successful, Sweden and France would be the next countries we aim to branch into, with the long-term goal of creating a pan-European community for debate and skill development.

Solomon exists to empower the refugee and migrant community with the skills and interpersonal networks crucial to their social inclusion. But our ambitions extend beyond the personal impact for each individual involved. We believe in a future where the power of media allows displaced communities to play an active role in European democracy, ensure their voices are heard and that nobody speaks on their behalf in debates that concern their lives and futures.

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