Remarkable Insights: Varun Chandak


[0:00] Viv
We would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we record this podcast, the Gadigal people. This is their land never ceded always sacred and pay our respects to the elders past present and emerging of this place.

[0:17] Viv
Coming up on Remarkable Insights…

[0:19] Varun
So when you talk to the people for whom you’re designing there’s no substitute for that. You’ve got to figure out if you are actually solving for the right problem. The problem that you want to solve is that problem that needs to be solved.

[0:36] Viv
Viv Mullan here for the Remarkable Insights podcast which is all about disability driving innovation. On my screen in front of me is Varun Chandak, a disability entrepreneur who almost as excitedly might have a special guest join us on the podcast but I’ll let you give a visual description of who and where you are and who might be joining us.

[00:55] Varun
I am a South Asian male, I am wearing glasses, a hat, a sweatshirt and behind me there’s a couch. At some point during this podcast, my dog might make a guest appearance, so I’ll just be sure to call that out if he does.

[01:12] Viv
We welcome all dogs on this podcast. Big thank you for joining us. I had the absolute pleasure of being able to meet you in person last year. But for everyone who maybe doesn’t know of you yet, would you mind just giving a bit of an introduction into how you got to where you are at this point in your life?

[01:28] Varun
For sure. So just to set some context, I’m the founder of ‘Access to Success’, which is a not-for-profit in Canada that is. How I got here is that I have a couple of disabilities myself. I’m hard of hearing and I have what’s called ‘Erb’s Palsy’, which is a form of partial parallelism of my left arm, and a lot of the work that I do, pretty much all of the work that I do with Access to Success stems with my own lived experiences with disability, and I guess that’s what got me to where I am today.

I’m originally from India, but I came to Canada in 2016. I was in an extremely privileged position, to have access to those accommodations and offer a fact that not everybody’s experience is like that. And I’m about to answer how my experience was very much not like that when I was in India. And there, this is a unique situation, I used to attend a class, a daily class when I was studying to become a chartered accountant. That class was a class of 300 to 400 people at a time. And the guy used to walk around with the mic, obviously, and the mic wasn’t very good. So I couldn’t follow what the speaker was saying very well, and my friends were an instrument in helping me in those situations and yet other times, like in my professional career, it was hard. It was very hard. I had to work harder than every single colleague of mine just to prove that I’m first as capable as them, and then more capable than them. So in the beginning when I used to work in finance and I couldn’t talk on the phone even back then, so that led to some difficult conversations, but I worked very hard to prove to my boss that despite this limitation, I’m better than everybody else in the room, or at least I’m harder working than everybody else in the room.

[03:22] Viv
Does it feel like there was this moment in your life where you started to really understand how technology could allow you to do these things more independently rather than needing someone there to help do that sort of translation?

[03:36] Varun
I’d say that the moment I realized that technology, at least in theory, could be a game changer, was when I was first diagnosed with hearing loss. The day I was diagnosed with hearing loss I started daydreaming of a day when there would be smart contact lenses that would give me live captioning. I wanted my assistive tech to be completely invisible because that was my mentality at the time. Anyway, I still dream of that day, but that’s where it stemmed from, but at least in there, for me, it was about hiding my disability. I didn’t wanna ask for accommodations. I didn’t wanna ask for help cause I thought it would be held against me. When I applied for MBA, I didn’t actually disclose I have a disability for the same fears. But after coming here, after doing a lot of the work that I’ve done, the work that I’m doing, technology has already changed my life massively and I know the potential that it has to change my life in the future.

[04:38] Viv
Wow and do you think that perhaps technology has allowed you to feel more confident to step out and tell people that you identify as living with a disability?

[04:48] Varun
The first, yes, the second, not necessarily. Technology has helped me become independent. To give you an example, I lip read and yes the lack of technology at MBA was the catalyst and me inadvertently subconsciously picking up lip reading. I call myself extremely lucky that in a way, the pandemic hit when it did because live captioning only came into being around 2017, I would say before that it wasn’t very common, and it wasn’t very accurate. From 2017 onward was a turning point in automatic live captioning. So when the pandemic hit without live captioning, I would’ve lost all ability to communicate with people on my own, people who were wearing masks. But with live captioning, I could do that. It was, as I said, life changing for me.

[05:48] Viv
So Cool. And now can you speak a bit to the work that you do at Access to Success?

[05:53] Varun
For sure. We support the development of future leaders with disabilities and assistive technology. So in the future when kids like me search for corporate leaders with disabilities to have a good long list of people to look up to. So we do that through the Access to Success fellowship for MBA students with disabilities. Which provides up to $90,000 in annual scholarships to MBA students at four of Canada’s top business schools. We provide, in addition to that financial contribution, a lot of support, resources, mentorship opportunities networking opportunities and stuff like that to not just the recipients of the fellowship, but also any MBA student at one of our member business schools. The second part is supporting the development of assistive tech. It’s a nature, very similar to the amazing work that you and your team do at Remarkable, which is to support startups that are building products for people with disabilities.

[06:53] Viv
So Great, and what have you learned about the size of the assistive tech market in Canada and then the world?

[06:58] Varun
So speaking of people with disabilities in Canada, people with disabilities are estimated to command 82 billion dollars in annual disposable income. This is according to the research done by a Canadian Rich Donovan whose research is now world famous in this space. Globally, this market, depending on numbers, we look at, there’s several hundred billion dollars of income. If you include, for instance, friends and family of people with disabilities, caretakers for instance, that’s estimate to be a total of over a trillion dollars. Long story short, people with disabilities have a lot of money to spend.

[07:34] Viv
What do you think is the missing piece in the education systems that we are teaching people about how to build a business and build a product? What is missing from that?

[07:45] Varun
The biggest thing, the first thing really is to start with what we call ‘Co-design’. Co-design is the idea is that you design your product, your solution with people with disabilities, that means that you talk to the people for whom you’re designing that product. Far too often what happens is that really well meaning innovators coming from a really good place in their heart, make assumptions about what people with disabilities might need, and create a technological solution that might not really serve a purpose. A very prominent example is Sign Language Gloves. The idea of sign language gloves has existed since the eighties, since the 1980s. And every single year news comes out of another researcher PhD candidate who’s working on new Sign Language Gloves, and consistently the thing that they miss is actually talking to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community about ‘what do they actually need?’. So when you talk to the people for whom you’re designing, there is no substitute for that. You gotta figure out are you actually solving for the right problem, the problem that you want to solve? Is that a problem that needs to be solved?

[08:58] Viv
And do you have examples of maybe even technology that you use in your daily life that does have that ripple effect where it is, it’s something that you use that benefits everyone else that you interact with, and then that has a flow on effect?

[09:12] Varun
Yeah, absolutely. So I have hearing loss and I rely on live captioning, so that’s the one I can talk about at length right now, for the purpose of this conversation, I’m using Google Chromes inbuilt captioning, and that’s the reason we’re able to have a fairly smooth conversation. I also use this app called Otter.ai, that’s Otter like the Animal. And it’s a great live captioning and note taking app that I’ve been using ever since I first heard of live captioning. One other technology that I want to talk about. Even though I was diagnosed with hearing loss when I was 18 or 19, I’ve never been able to speak on the phone my entire life. My family, and I just didn’t know that it’s because of my verbal cognition limitations because of certain technical limitations that I won’t bother with, essentially live captioning until very recently, didn’t work directly with phone calls. So if I want to wear my hearing aid and have the phone audio go directly to my hearing aid or my earbuds, for example, live captioning, wouldn’t pick that up because for that to work, the audio needed to be on speaker and it wasn’t very accurate cause the audio quality was very poor, until recently. Google’s Pixel phone was the first phone ever to come out with the functionality to have live captioning for phone calls. And last year I had my first ever conversation with my wife that lasted for longer than five minutes on the phone, and at the end of the conversation she goes, ‘Varun do you realise this is the first time we’ve had a real conversation on the phone?’ And I was like, ‘oh, dang! You’re right’. I’m probably never going for another phone because I’m just so attached to Pixel now because of that memory.

[11:02] Viv
How wonderful! What did that feel like in that moment?

[11:07] Varun
It was amazing! It’s the same thing, one was just like emotionally it was… so great. For the first time in my life, I can independently make phone calls by myself. It wasn’t something I could ever do before, literally to talk to my doctor. I needed to have my wife with me to talk to my bank! My bank wouldn’t talk to me on the phone because I told them that my wife is helping me, and they said ‘she’s not authorised so we can’t talk to you anymore’. I can actually have those conversations now.

[11:40] Viv
That is so cool, Varun. And at the end of these conversations I like to ask the guests that we have on our show to leave our listeners and the people enjoying this podcast with a remarkable insight. And that can be a piece of advice, words of wisdom.

[11:56] Varun
Perseverance was what did it for me, it’s what always did it for me. Like a lot of people with disabilities, I have received a lot of No’s in my life. A lot of disappointments. A lot of rejections, a lot of times things don’t pan out, where disability had a direct and real impact on those decisions and having that thick skin to take that punch. Take a day after you recover from the punch, but then the next day I get up and keep going. That perseverance was instrumental in helping me not just get where I am, but also continue going where I’m trying to get to. Times when perseverance doesn’t help is the second piece of advice, which is a sense of humor. When perseverance doesn’t help, when you’re trying and you’re trying and you’re trying and you keep getting a no, you just laugh about it, right? Maybe it’s not for everybody, but it’s what helped me a lot.

Remarkable Insights: Minnie Baragwanath Part 2


[0:00] Viv
We would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we record this podcast: the Gadigal people. This is their land never ceded always sacred and pay our respects to the elders past present and emerging of this place.

[0:17] Viv
Coming up on remarkable inside…

[0:20] Minnie
I was called back into the principal’s office and she genuinely looked devastated and she said look, the organisation said you can’t do this now because you’re disabled you’re blind. and that was the first time I realised the world might see me differently.

[0:35] Viv
Surprise! We had so much fun talking with Minnie that we couldn’t continue to one episode so here is a spontaneous part 2. In this episode we Speak about how Minnie accidentally became the first person in the world to have an eBook and her experience growing up with disability.

So firstly Minnie I understand you received your diagnosis at quite young and soon after you met a doctor who changed your life by introducing you to new technology?

[1:02] Minnie
No, you’re so right. Absolutely. I was so lucky that when I was given my diagnosis, I was sent to the hospital. So I grew up in a town called Palmerston North in New Zealand. The ophthalmologist who diagnosed me then sent me off to a specialist at the hospital Leslie Bolton. I still remember this so vividly, walking into this beautiful room, cause hospitals on the whole aren’t. Known for their beauty, but I think it was because I remember there was sunlight coming in and she had this sunny personality and she was all about what I probably now call possibility thinking. She was only focused on what was possible. She was always looking for different ways at different solutions, different technology that could support her patients, and in this case me as a 15 year old and This was in about 1985, and so it was really pre-computers in a way. There were probably a few emerging, but she had the most extraordinary array of magnification equipment and some of the most extraordinary technology. For me to try out, particularly in the classroom, because the big issue for me was as my site deteriorated, by this stage I was virtually unable to read books and I certainly couldn’t see anything on the blackboard, and I couldn’t see using overhead projectors, which are a thing of the past now. And so you can imagine that made accessing schooling really difficult. I was a very keen student. I loved learning, but. I felt sort of these barriers were coming into play, and so we tried all this equipment, which she had sent me back to school with magnifiers and like little telescoped kind of things to look at the blackboard with, and this piece of technology that was like a handheld device that I could run across my books. Because it was just like this red light and it was a single line of text, but you had to keep your hand really still because you were actually literally running this camera over the page one word, one line at a time drove me absolutely bonkers, insane. Because it was so slow and cumbersome. But nonetheless, these were all the precursors to the technology that we now have available. So some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Look, it’s fair to say none of it could bridge the gap of my site loss. So everything took me maybe incrementally closer. But none of it unfortunately was like that, and here’s the thing that will really put you on a level playing field. But as I said, it was a process of elimination. It was also at a time where technology was evolving quite rapidly. Certainly today, if I was a 15 year old getting this diagnosis and heading into the classroom. The kind of tools that are available are just, oh, they’re in a different league. There’s no comparison. When I was studying, I went to university quite young, and one of the ways we got around the fact that I chose to do English literature, goodness knows what I was thinking. There is so much reading in English literature, but my darling mother would read. As many books as she could. She brought us up pretty much on her own at that point and was working full-time. So it wasn’t easy for her. But she would sit in her bed and read the novels I had to read onto an audio cassette and post them to me at university, which was extraordinary. My earliest audio books were my mother reading to me and there were these funny moments. We should spill tea or something and she’d go, “oh, bugger. I’ve just spilled the tea!” or something in the middle of the book.

[4:50] Viv
That’s such a good example of how your mum would record her voice and essentially give you the first prototype of an audiobook.

[4:50] Minnie

[4:51] Viv
Was that something that you told your classmates or your teachers that you were doing?

[4:45] Minnie
Oh my God, no. Isn’t that funny? I don’t think it would’ve occurred to me. Isn’t that interesting? I think it’s possible. I didn’t tell anyone. Probably my flatmates would’ve known… no. And I think a lot of that was I felt that I had to nut a lot of this stuff out on my own. It was tricky. It was very tricky. And I think part of the way I probably responded, and probably to some extent still do, although hopefully I’ve learned a few other strategies to ask for help now, is to go inward and think, now how can I do this? What do I need to do to get through? So I think what I’m, I feel lucky that I seem to have a disposition that is focused on. There’s gotta be a way, there’s always gotta be a solution, there’s gotta be, I’ve just gotta look at this differently. And I have always had the ability to think laterally, I guess in terms of a situation. Sometimes I think I’ve had to wait until I was nearly at the breaking point to discover what that was. But that sort of desire inside of me to persevere, to keep on trying and trying must have been instilled in me somewhere really early on in my life.

[6:16] Viv
And is that a narrative that you experienced a lot? When you had your diagnosis?

[6:22] Minnie
So yes I did. And I noticed that the world quickly fell into two categories. There were the people who. Couldn’t seem to imagine for one moment what I could now do or what they perceived I couldn’t do. And I really stressed that cuz I think that was more about their limitations and their worldview than mine. But the problem is if they are people in power, if they’re our teachers or employers or whomever, That limited worldview can be incredibly destructive. The other side of it is the my doctor Leslie Bolton worldview, which is the possibility, let’s, it’s just a matter of looking at this differently and using some imagination and being creative. And so I talk about the people who have a possibility, worldview and the people who don’t, or I talk about the people who are with you as an access citizen and the people who are not with you. The first time that really happened was when I was selected to represent the school on this amazing boat adventure that high school students would be selected for, and there was often only one student per school. And you’d go away with a group of other students for a week and sail all around in New Zealand. And I’d been selected, which was just extraordinary. And then about a week later, I was called back into the principal’s office and she genuinely looked devastated. And she said, ‘look, the organisation says you can’t do this now because you are disabled, you’re blind’. And that was the first time I realised that the world might see me differently and in that moment, limit my opportunities. And so that was gutting. I just, yeah, I’ve never forgotten that moment and thinking, how am I gonna navigate this if other people are so unimaginative?

[8:14] Viv
I know language is super critical. And just for people listening, you like to use the term ‘access community.’ I would love to unpack what that term means for people listening. And you think if people with disabilities or impairments were given the right , access that they wouldn’t experience disability in many ways.

[8:30] Minnie
That’s it. Probably the first thing I’d say is I think language is so powerful. Every social change movement comes with a shift in language. Language is how we make sense of the world around us, and we communicate ideas and how we create shared frameworks for understanding and meaning creation.It’s vital. So when we set ‘Be Accessible’ up, back in the day, everything in the world was around disability. It was ‘disability’, this ‘disability’ that. Absolutely fine. And I understand the social model and I’ve researched and studied the medical model, so I really get all of this and I also respect, if that’s the language people choose to use.
‘Be.Accessible’, we didn’t call ourselves ‘Be Disabled or ‘Be Disability.’ We called ourselves ‘Be Accessible’ ; it was a call to action. We want the world to be accessible. So we felt as a social change movement, it was vital that we had language that mirrored our intent, and I wanted us to work in a worldview that we were calling an ‘accessibility worldview’, and that was a worldview that believes that equality is possible. It’s a worldview that actually sees all of us at some time in our lives will have a disability, or what I would call an access need. If we live long enough every single one of us on this planet is likely to have some kind of impairment through ageing. I also wanted language that was inclusive of everyone because the challenge I see with disability is that we often use it to denote a particular group over there. And I think it runs the risk of keeping us very binary, us and them, disabled, non-disabled. So accessibility was an endeavour to create a more spacious environment that can hold all of us. And I also noticed that one of the largest communities who have disability is the ageing population. Baby boomers, I haven’t yet met a baby boomer who has happy to call themselves disabled. They’ll say, ‘oh dear, I can’t hear very well, (this is my mum) or I can’t walk, or whatever. But I’m not disabled, I’m just getting older’. And I thought, okay, so we need some language that invites them in. So this was an invitation to smooth off some of those edges. By making it a universal experience. That was also a critical part of our argument that by creating accessible businesses, schools, education, workplaces, customer experiences, we are actually creating a better world for all of us.

[11:09] Viv
Minnie, thank you so much. You have been absolutely brilliant.

[11:15] Minnie
Thanks, Viv!

[11:16] Viv
Thank you for coming.

[11:17] Minnie
It’s a pleasure.

Remarkable Insights: Minnie Baragwanath


[00:16] VIV
Coming up on Remarkable Insights…

[00:19] MINNIE
We had this announcement at the launch of our organization announcing that we had been granted a million dollars a year to set up this social change organization and I remember the entire room just went absolutely silent.

[00:34] VIV
Stick around to see if I ask for a small loan.

[00:37] VIV
Hi everyone I’m Viv Mullan, host of Remarkable Insights, a podcast about disability driving innovation. Minnie Baragwanath joins us to tell us why being human is the greatest innovation in technology today.

Minnie, welcome to Sydney. Thank you so much for coming here and joining me today. How are you?

[00:54] MINNIE
Oh, look I’m fantastic. It’s just such a treat to be here, actually. Been up swimming this morning, 7.30 in the pool.

[01:06] VIV
24 hours in and she’s sunburnt.

[01:09] MINNIE
First thing I bought this morning was a sun hat and some sun lotion as well.

[01:15] VIV
I think that’s how every trip to Australia should work though, right?

[01:18] MINNIE
That’s true.

[01:19] VIV
Now I remember last time we were together in person was in San Francisco and when we were there I took the chance to ask you about visual descriptions and saying at the start of our podcast episodes we would ask a lovely guest to come in and give it a visual description for anyone that was enjoying the show via transcript or video. And I would love to know if you would like to give one and also if it’s something that you find useful or enjoy in podcasts.

[01:46] MINNIE
Look, do you know it’s not something I had really encountered. You introduced me to the visual descriptions – in terms of, in this context, I do now listen to audio description on films and things and actually it’s quite entertaining and I sometimes do think, what movie are they watching? But anyway it’s like in the things they don’t describe. 

But anyway I’m very happy to do that. So I describe myself or do I describe you? I’ll describe myself. So I’m wearing a… I think it’s called Cali Green, I think is the green, which is like an Irish green dress and I have creamy white skin, which is looking a little pink today after the early morning swim. I have on a gold necklace and I have on bright red lipstick and I have blondish hair and I have green eyes. Is that enough?

[02:44] VIV
It’s beautiful. And do you find that information useful for you when you’re at events and things? And if you were going to listen to this podcast would that be useful for you?

[02:54] MINNIE
If I was at an event and there was a speaker presenting and I thought, oh gosh, I’d really like to go and talk to them afterwards, it probably would be helpful to have some idea of what they look like. I am partially blind, visually impaired but I do have some vision. 

In other contexts I probably… it might not be something I’d worry about too much? I’d be, so I’d probably just be interested in what it was they were there to talk about. So it probably is all about context actually.

[03:23] VIV
Thanks for your perspective on it. For the people that are listening that don’t know you can you just give a bit of a description about what it is that you do and how you started doing the amazing work that you do.

[03:36] MINNIE
What do I do? Yes, and this has become a more difficult question rather than… Sometimes I think if only I was a lawyer or an accountant, you know I’d have a one word answer. I have to write an entire book, as it were to explain it. We’ll get to that later.

When I was 15, I was diagnosed with a rare sight condition called Stargardt. And Stargardt is a form of macular degeneration, so I have no vision in the center of both my eyes.

And leap forward several years and I guess now maybe I would say I’m a social entrepreneur, an accessibility innovator but I think the common denominator is everything I’ve done, particularly of the last 20, 25 years has been really focused on finding and exploring multiple different ways of trying to advance accessibility and at the heart of that, it has been really how do we engage mainstream society in different conversations and ways of thinking about access.

So I’m always interested in exploring different ways to get people’s attention around why it’s so important that we level the playing field.

[05:04] VIV
Can you speak to your journey opening up Be.Labs and then that evolving?

[05:09] MINNIE
Absolutely. So it’s funny because people sometimes say, ‘what led you to set up what was originally called Be.Accessible?’ It rebranded about 10 years later into Be.Lab and people are thinking, ‘oh, there’s gonna be some very inspirational story’.

But I always say it was probably equal parts desperation and inspiration, which is a really powerful combination. And I think it was a mixture of realizing that I could not stand the kind of employment situation I was in any longer and I kept thinking there’s gotta be a way for me to have a better experience of being employed. And I was also incredibly frustrated with the slow pace of change around accessibility that I was observing internationally, but in this case, particularly in New Zealand. And I felt I had something slightly different to offer into the mix. I felt maybe there was a way of approaching accessibility that maybe had some value.

I’d never employed anyone. I had never managed anyone. I’d never run an organization. There were a lot of reasons why people… quite a valid reason this time have said ‘Minnie, that’s maybe, a bit out of reach’, but luckily for whatever reason at that moment in time all my guardian angels rallied around me. And all the right people showed up, all the ‘possibility people’, all the ‘with people’ started to show up in my life and before I knew it, there was a team of us with this vision for this organization called Be.Accessible.

All of a sudden we seemed to have funding. It was extraordinary and I remember going down and I’d been invited to present down at Parliament and I walked into this room and I’d never been, I’d never presented to ministers before and I’d completely underestimated the magnitude of that moment and realizing that it was now or never. And I just had that feeling of Minnie you’ve gotta jump and trust, you’re gonna fly or flop. But as it were, I think I flew.

And then finding out I don’t know maybe, it must’ve been three months later that we had this announcement at the launch of our organization announcing that we had been granted a million dollars a year to set up this social change organization. And I remember the entire room just went absolutely silent because first of all, disability organizations, new organizations just never got funding so this was extraordinary. Secondly, it was during the global financial crisis. So it was a zero budget. There was no money, new money going to anything yet, somehow in that environment… oh my God, it still makes me quite emotional now thinking about it, this had happened and it was, it truly felt like a miracle.

And that was when you felt we had this incredible belief and support for this vision for Aotearoa to become the most accessible country in the world.

[08:22] VIV
You speak about the excitement when you found Remarkable and finding people working in the same space, what are some of the risks that you get scared of in this moment of excitement as well? When we see people becoming interested and wanting to put money into this space?

[08:38] MINNIE
Oh, that’s such a good question too. What we need to be asking ourselves and other people coming in is ‘why are you working in this space?’ Or ‘why do you want to invest in this space?’ Or ‘why do you want to make a product for disabled people or access citizens?’

I look at the access space and I feel some of this excitement that’s going on and I start to think people with a lot of money don’t just invest out of the goodness of their hearts usually, that might be one of the motivations. If they’re seeing a business model in here, there’s a business model in here. Why would we, as the ‘access community’, allow ourselves to be exploited for others to make money out of our suffering? Because that’s actually what it is at its worst.

Then you go, okay, we live in a capitalistic world, what’s an appropriate business model that values the ‘access community’ as we invest in products and services with that community? Is there a business model that means ‘actually if I’m developing something for the blind community, how do I make sure that a certain return from the profit of this product actually goes back into the blind community, not just into my shareholders?’, because we wouldn’t have even designed it had it not been for the blind community and their lived experience. Do you see what I mean? I’m really interested.

I think one of the areas of innovation we must be thinking about is, what is the business model we would be proud of in 10, 20, 30 years time that our ‘access ancestors’ can say, thank goodness people were thinking about this 30 years earlier, so that we’re creating products and services in a way that are affordable for us because a lot of the products and services are being designed at the moment are actually designed at a price point that many people can’t afford.

This space needs money. This space needs investment. It’s critical.

[10:39] VIV
You’ve released a book and I’m so excited for you but the people that need to read it are certainly the people in the startup space building technology with and hopefully by people with disabilities because it holds a mirror up. And as part of that, you talk about both people outside the community and in the community holding a mirror up to themselves and what the word disruption means in relation to that. Can you shed a light about that concept of disruption?

[11:10] MINNIE
Yeah it’s funny, ‘disruption’ is one of those words that gets used a lot these days, and particularly marketers love it. If we want things to change, if we really want an accessible future, if we want a future full of possibility where we celebrate and value ‘access citizens’ as the extraordinary innovators, creators, designers, citizens that they are. Then we adopt a ‘with’ approach to everything that we do. It’s that simple. That’ll be in my second book.

[11:43] VIV
Your second book will just be that. Those few words, end of!

[11:49] MINNIE
Exclamation mark! Exclamation mark! My poor editor had to remove all my 10 million exclamation marks.

[11:56] VIV
She’s an enthusiastic person! And one of the last things we like to ask people and you’ve left, I’m sure people listening with a bunch of insights that they can walk away with but what would you like people if you were going leave a remarkable insight for the people enjoying our show to go and think about and ponder and hopefully carry with them after this, what would you like that to be?

[12:21] MINNIE
The most extraordinary technology, if we want to use that phrase and the broadest sense possible, are human beings.

So in this sort of scramble to design the next greatest thing, let’s not forget to keep investing in human beings and in our capacity as humans to imagine different realities, different possibilities and to really show up as the best person and people we can be.

Because this revolution, this possibility revolution or change that we are talking about today can only happen if we choose to show up as people who deeply care about equity, about fairness and about the wellbeing of all humans.

So my little soapbox is all about investing in humans as the most remarkable technology I think we will ever experience on this planet.

[13:26] VIV
Thank you to our guest and hopefully you’ve found your own remarkable moment. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and follow our Instagram @remakable_tech for unheard moments from this episode.

Talk with you all on the next one!

Remarkable Insights: Steve King


[00:00] Viv

Hi I’m Viv Mullan, host of this podcast about disability driving innovation. Our guest went from a small town in Western Australia to Foundation Director at one of the biggest and richest companies, Atlassian. Steve King is always on a mission to drive the representation of disabled entrepreneurs and here’s why. Steve, firstly can we please start with a visual description of yourself.

[00:59] Steve

Ah, I don’t even really know how to describe myself. It’s always a bit hard, but I’m just a white guy with blondie/brown hair and dark rim glasses, wearing some big headphones, which are quite uncomfortable. But yeah, that’s me.

[01:18] Viv

That’s great, For everyone listening, Steve has got the world’s best smile, so we’ll give you that as well thank you. Thank you again for coming on and agreeing to share your story and the work you’re involved with. And for those who don’t have the total privilege of knowing exactly who you are, would you mind just starting off with giving a bit of an intro about who you are, Steve, and how you got to where you are today?

[01:41] Steve

Hi, I’m Steve King. I’m the director of Atlassian Foundation for Business Impact. I look after our pledge 1% initiative, which is really just taking the model that we built Atlassian Foundation with and bringing it out to businesses in the community. We honestly believe that we can really bring more philanthropy and social impact through startups that want to have volunteer time or opportunities to be able to donate or give their products away to organizations that are having an impact. And yeah, we’re just trying to find a really good way to do that. Previously I’d come through the Remarkable program. I’ve been a founder of a startup. I’ve been a really, an accidental founder, co-founder of a startup. I’ve been an accidental a lot of things but yeah, most recently accidental director of Atlassian Foundation.

[02:31] Viv

I think that it may feel like an accident to you, but I’m sure you’re exactly where you’re meant to be every step of the way.

[02:38] Steve

Sure hope so.

[02:40] Viv

And I know that even in your previous role, you were with Canva for a bit and you were heading accessibility and I’d love to unpack where this passion for accessibility in the disability space comes from.

[02:51] Steve

It’s a combination of places. I think my journey in technology really started from a place of not having access to the same avenues of technology or the same opportunities in technology.

Growing up in an area that didn’t really have a lot of technology in it, I was really quite lucky to have access to the things that I did. And yeah, I really made that work even though it was really not clearly in my destiny at that time. Yeah, growing up and not being able to access the universities and not having a lot of the things that I think a lot of other people would’ve had. I didn’t finish high school. I didn’t finish university. I think for me, it really ended up putting a lot of emphasis on being able to access that stuff was really important to so many people, not just people that have the opportunity to access it.

And I started by doing a lot of work in getting kids into coding and getting kids into technology so that they had access to that, all the things that I didn’t when I was young. And I think it just went from there.

I was really privileged to have a lot of people with lived experience of disability in my life as well. I was able to navigate things with them and understand more about what was actually needed.

And as I developed as a product manager and as a software engineer over the years, inversed to that but as I went on that journey, I was able to see how the decisions that we make in building software and building products actually impact so many people. Not just the users that we target, but also the users that we’re not actively targeting and how much of an impact that can have.

So that really led me to being more aware of not just digital accessibility, but more from my childhood around inclusion in general and getting people access to the things that they can access to then go and build amazing things, whether it’s software, cars, or whatever it is. And then also being able to have access to the same opportunities. Whether they take those opportunities or not. Who’s to say? Not being able, to be able to use university tools because you can’t see in the same way that other people do or not being able to access technology because you can’t hear, you can’t see, you can’t walk. These are all really crappy reasons not to be able to go and build amazing stuff still.

That led me to really understanding more about the customer experience around people with accommodation needs that led to building out accessibility with Atlassian and then eventually over at Canva as well.

[05:26] Viv

You say you were teaching yourself that coding. How old were you when you were teaching yourself?

[05:30] Steve

Oh I was teaching myself from when I was about I think about 10. Just thinking back. Any piece of old technology that I could get my hands on or that was like donated to my family or that I happened to be able to find or scrounge around, I would try and find a way to use it and pull it apart, put it back together. I just loved it and I couldn’t get enough of it

[05:54] Viv

And did you feel that the schooling system almost didn’t fit the way your brain was working at such a young age?

[06:02] Steve

A hundred percent. I found out that I was neurodivergent much later in life than I probably should have. I feel like it was obvious to a hell of a lot more people than me before I got my diagnosis.

But yeah the school system was really tough. I remember. Not just struggling with classic behavioral issues or being told I couldn’t focus or I couldn’t apply myself. And like I had a huge amount of potential. That was always a real struggle for me because to spend your whole life being told that you had potential but that you weren’t doing enough was just a real, it was a real downer because you never really know whether or not that’s true and you’re just not reaching that potential or if you are just not smart enough and like they think you’re smart, that’s great, but maybe you’re not smart enough because people keep telling you you should be doing amazing things, but you just can’t seem to get that together. So I spent a lot of time thinking that I was pretty dumb.

I loved maths, I loved physics, I loved computer engineering and software engineering. I wrote some good code, some bad code, and I just love puzzle solving and I think through school that was really where I should have clued in at that point that all these really analytical things I loved and the things where you had to try and express creative freedom I was struggling at.

But yeah, it wasn’t really well built for someone who was trying to navigate that at the same time, is navigate life itself as a teenager.

[07:36] Viv

It’s so cool. I’m chuffed to know that we can have this conversation and bounce shared experiences off each other. And it’s that thing of feeling quite alone in a journey until you realize there’s a bunch of really cool people that are in your corner and in their own corners. We’re all a quirky bunch doing our own thing. And yet you still feel this imposter.

I’ve heard you talk about this imposter syndrome. Can you speak to the process of that sort of doubt and how that transitioned into feeling more confident in what you’re capable of?

[08:07] Steve

Oh, I don’t feel confident at all. Sorry, everyone. No, look before I was diagnosed, I think what I struggled with the most was legitimacy, right? And that was actually separate from feeling neurodivergent.

I’d already grown up feeling like I wasn’t living up to my potential and feeling like I accidentally landed in things because of happenstance. And a lot of that was opportunity, being able to network and being able to bring that quirky insight to things, meant that people kept me around because if they didn’t know something they asked me and I tended to know. And so I think from that perspective, I was really fortunate that I’d cultivated such a good group of people around me to lead me into this kind of like software engineering path.

Having said that, like I still really struggled to, once I found my place in those jobs, to really feel like I was valued in the same way that other people did. And I’ve worked for Google, Yahoo, I’ve done a lot of big software projects for big name companies and every time I was like, ‘not the smartest person in the room, there’s everyone else is just better, deserves to be here, you’ve lucked into this situation, so don’t rock the boat’. And that was really tough.

And I think landing in Atlassian was probably the first time where I felt like, to be clear, like I didn’t feel like I belonged because I deserved to be there, but I belonged because people were really direct, they were clear with you about where you stood with things. All of the things around you know the interpersonal things that I’d struggled with, were suddenly not there. And that’s not to say that’s how the whole company operated, but it was much easier. I felt finally, like I’d actually landed somewhere that I belong, but I still really struggled with that feeling of imposter syndrome.

I ended up giving a talk on it and discussing it from the perspective of, ‘yeah this is how I deal with it’ and it’s meditation, it’s validation, it’s all the things that you still struggle with but I’d kind of worked through.

And eventually what I realised was that as much as I see these people really excelling and doing these really amazing things, and they deserve all the credit that they get for those things, what I was doing was probably self sabotaging in a lot of ways and as much as I was doing a lot of things, sometimes also exhausting myself because I was constantly chasing being ‘good enough’ that I’d end up not doing enough to be good at anything. And that’s that whole if you’re mediocre at everything and you’re not great at anything. That’s my life, man. But that’s how I, that’s how I’ve existed. That’s how I’m here. So how do you rationalize that and how do you bring that together?

And I think you know what, it ended up being a superpower of basically being able to dissect how people started to share what they wanted. When you’ve got a group of people around you who are clear about what they need and what they want and how they expect things to be, not you to be, but like the things that you’re working on. ‘This is what I need’ and they’re clear and they’re honest and there’s like a honesty system there, all of a sudden working’s easy because you’re not trying to anticipate what they’re trying to tell you, you’re just doing what they’ve asked you to do and that’s all they want from you, and that’s brilliant.

So I think eventually finding really good people to work with, in a really good culture ended up being the thing that like accelerated my experience.

[11:43] Viv

In your experience with Canva and Atlassian and seeing the way those sort of companies that very much started as startups evolve, they very much take under their wing the innovations and technologies that are built around them and it’s sort of part of your mission to knowing that the disability community is a real sort of hub and pool of potential and ideas and creativity by encouraging more disabled entrepreneurs, people like Atlassian and Canva are really going to benefit from the creations made from this community.

[12:13] Steve

Yeah, absolutely. It takes you five minutes to be a neurodivergent person on TikTok for TikTok to be like, ‘I got you. I understand. I know how your brain works’. And it shows you videos that are all captioned and even all the memes are like, ‘oh, can you turn captions on? I can’t hear what’s going on?’ Because there’s like a buzzing noise in the background. Like these are two real problems. And so I think by understanding my experience, I’m way better at describing the things that I need to not overcome it, to not combat it, to not get rid of it or cancel it out, but to say ‘ you know what, yeah, I can watch videos with captions and also do five other things at the same time, and no, I won’t remember what I’m doing in five minutes, but I’m still enjoying that experience and I’m still getting a lot of value out of it. So how do I get that same experience or that same lived experience and lived expertise from people who are going through those things and putting those into products’.

And if you have someone who’s building a product to solve a problem for the very thing that they’re experiencing on a day-to-day basis, no one will be better at solving that problem than them. And we owe it to them as a startup community to make sure that they’re connected to all the same opportunities that everyone else did.

Just because someone doesn’t come from a software engineering background, doesn’t mean that they can’t learn the skills to engage with software engineers. And just because they don’t come from a product background doesn’t mean they can’t learn the skills to translate their idea and their concept into a working product model or a prototype or whatever it is, right? If people are willing to learn and work hard to do those things or connect to the right people and engage and get those things done, then they are going to be incredible pieces of software, physical products, consulting, like whatever it is. That’s gonna be the best you can get to solve that problem that person lives with every day.

So we should be doing that. Not just spending six months pontificating about what the experience might be like. Let’s just get them to solve it.

[14:22] Viv

To wrap these conversations up, I do like to ask people to leave listeners and people enjoying the show with a remarkable insight, which is open to interpretation, but what is something you would like to leave people with as a bit of a thought provoking final piece?

[14:37] Steve

If I could do it all again, I would. If I could tell myself anything or if I could tell anyone anything that’s thinking about this kind of thing is there’s always a path there.

I for sure think that if you have the tenacity to understand the things that you need to get to get into creating a startup, creating an opportunity like we did with the fellowship, some weird combination of both like that is much easier and much more within your grasp than I think a lot of folks give it credit for, and it’s that ability to be able to leverage the community around you for support the startup community, which are very giving community in terms of like attention, understanding and knowledge.

Leveraging the right communities and building on that to achieve what you want to is just so very achievable and much more achievable than you think.

[12:00] Viv
Thank you to our guest, and hopefully you found your own Remarkable Moment. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and follow our Instagram @remarkable_tech for unheard moments from this episode. 

Remarkable Insights: Srin Madipalli


[00:00] Viv
We would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands on which we record this podcast, the Gadigal people. This is their land, never ceded, always sacred and pay respects to the elders past, present, and emerging of this place.

[00:14] Viv
Before we jump in, would you mind just giving a visual description of yourself and the setting that you’re in?

[00:20] Srin
Yep, sure so my name’s Srin I am dialing in from home, a man of Indian ethnic heritage wearing glasses, with a headrest behind me.

[00:30] Viv
For people who maybe don’t know who you are and the things you’ve achieved, would you mind giving a description of exactly what it is you do and how you got to this point in your life?

[00:40] Srin
Started off life professionally as a lawyer. I worked as a mergers and acquisitions guy in the city of London for a number of years. I decided that it wasn’t quite for me and so I ended up going back to university again, did an MBA and while I was on the MBA I started to learn to code and build web apps and whatnot. And so the next kind of chapter of my life was very much around building software, building applications, online products and that ended up in the world of co-founding Accomable. Accomable was a travel platform for disabled people to find accommodation that worked for them and that ended up being acquired by Airbnb in 2017 and I worked for Airbnb in California for a number of years. Oh, yeah I forgot to mention, I’m based in London. And so it was a really huge move for me going from London to California, but moved back to London just before the pandemic and yeah nowadays I work with an old friend of mine who’s also the sort of the lead engineer CTO at Accomable we run a generative AI consulting studio that we’ve done for a number of years now and then on the side I dabble bit as an investor as well.

[02:04] Viv
So where did this idea for Accomable start?

[02:08] Srin
The start of it, like with most things, I think it’s a slow burn and quite organic. So for me, the initial thoughts around better accessibility and travel and how one can use tech to do it better, I teamed up with my friend Martin to create a magazine around disability and lifestyle. When we were just shooting ideas and just thinking about ‘ oh, what could we do to better share knowledge about our experiences traveling?’ We ended up starting this sort of, this magazine just hacked together off WordPress and that then started its own flywheel. Like we had a lot of people wanting to share their travel experiences and we were seeing the same things again and again, like people were booking somewhere, it was difficult, things weren’t going to plan, or they were finding that established sites just provided really bad information. And so over the course of several years, we were just, getting more cemented data points that this is a real need. And I had left my job, I was working, kind of trying to build up my web development skills and that kinda organically kind of evolved into, ”okay let’s try and build something in this area and see what happens.”

[03:24] Viv
An accident, I think is what you’ve referenced Accomable in the idea of.

[03:28] Srin
An intentional accident.

[03:32] Viv
And in creating it, did it open up a world of travel and vacation to you? Did it inspire that?

[03:39] Srin
Completely because in the first, especially after that trip in 2010, it gave me the confidence to go do more travel stuff. Yeah, I booked more trips, I’d gone to do more things, explored more places, and then even when we were building Accomable, a lot of times we would go out and visit places and build on the journey. So for those first few months, I would often stay with some of our hosts and get feedback on the product and try and turn that product feedback around really quickly to improve it. And that sort of really intense cycle of development was very much based around being able to travel and explore.

[04:17] Viv
And how much did your coding and law background play into the development of Accomable?

[04:24] Srin
Interesting question, I think the law background, probably later on when we were dealing more sort of things on the acquisition side, having been an M&A guy once upon a time, I think definitely gave a bit more familiarity to the situation, albeit it’s still a really fraught challenge. The coding, like only at the core, was essential. Like it would’ve been really hard to get to square one without the ability within a team just to build things ourselves quickly and get stuff up and running. I am very grateful that I was able to find the resources and the support back in the early days to learn to code. And whenever I meet founders and entrepreneurs these days, if they want to do something in tech, I think you know life is infinitely easier if someone in the founding team can build a product.

[05:22] Viv
And at what point did the conversation between you and Airbnb start?

[05:27] Srin
Yeah, so the conversation started around the summer of 2017. So again it didn’t start very much with oh, ‘acquisition and whatnot’ in mind, I think again, it organically developed from a series of related conversations. From 2015 to 2017, the site had grown steadily and it was doing well and we were getting lots of demand, but we had some major constraints. So one constraint was we didn’t have enough supply to fill the demand we had in terms of property requirements. Also, we needed just a huge amount more resources to scale and I had a bit of a meeting with my investors in early 2017. We said, okay, we’re gonna do a bit of a two track process where we will A, try to raise like a big round of funding, but B, we’ll also try and speak to other platforms in the travel industry that have built that infrastructure, that have the resources to see whether this could actually be an investment opportunity for one of these platforms and so one thing led to another and we were introduced to Airbnb. It first started off with me pitching them for an investment, but then the conversation that evolved actually rather than investment, we would rather acquire Accomable and have you and the team work for Airbnb and build out what you’re doing at Accomable within Airbnb.

[06:54] Viv
And when you were in California working at or with Airbnb, was they based in Silicon Valley?

[07:01] Srin
Yeah, effectively. So if you think Silicon Valley as a concept begins with sort of San Francisco on the northern side and goes right down towards San Jose. So you got this sort of narrow peninsula of land that I guess becomes Silicon Valley.

[07:17] Viv
I’m just curious to know how accessible was that experience?

[07:21] Srin
Mixed. So I think some things in America are great, because of the ADA and the fact that it’s been around longer than most other sort of accessibility pieces of legislation around the world. It meant that very rarely did I ever have to call up a restaurant or a bar and say ‘ Hey, can I get in there?’ and I enjoyed that luxury and not having to think about whether somewhere was accessible or not. So like here in the UK most times if I’m going out somewhere, I’ll have to do a bit of homework to check if I can get in. Where yeah, like in the Bay Area it was lovely to not have to think about that. So I think in terms of physical accessibility, things were much better. I think where it is much harder for disabled people in the US is that there aren’t the same systems of social support, like social welfare supports as you do find in Europe or in other parts of the world, again, I can’t comment on it everywhere, but in the UK there were systems in place to make sure that I had care funding from the states. If you are hiring disabled people, we have really great programs like Access to Work to help employers address some of the additional costs that come with disability. So there were just more sources of support that you get from a governmental world that just is non-existent in the US. The reality is I don’t know if I’ll be able to do what I did in the UK for most of my life I had care support from the state that allowed me to live independently and then my parents could go out on work and I wasn’t relying on family to do my day to day care. And there isn’t that same level of equivalent support in the US. So I think on the flip side, things are easier in terms of physical accessibility, but then I think are harder on the other side in terms of the kind of the vacuum of support that some disabled people in other countries get from the state.

[09:22] Viv
Do you have an opinion about the future of investment for the disability tech startup space?

[09:26] Srin
Yeah, I think there are massive deficiencies at the moment in terms of capital and I don’t just mean angel capital, but like real kind of institutional growth capital that can help take ideas from simple prototype products that may have a few people using it to like real kinds of products at scale. And so I think there is just a big need for greater institutional capital. There is a massive need, hopefully for governmental types of bodies to be more proactive and move faster in terms of helping reimburse the purchasing of some products. I think as we all know, the disabled community often is disadvantaged economically, and I think it’s unfair and to always put the burden on disabled people to personally have to pay for certain new innovations and items. And I think there has to be much quicker roots to mark where if someone comes up with an amazing new assistive technology device, there should be a really quick channel where the founders can help their customers get said purchase reimbursed by a governmental authority. And that then helps build up the market, helps build up the market opportunity, and then helps make something far easier for investors to get in. So I think there are massive structural issues at the moment with the disability market and I think it’s institutions stepping into that marketplace to increase buying power, that I think then will help more investment come in and hopefully more innovation come into the market.

[11:00] Viv
We like to ask our guests to leave them with a Remarkable Insight, and that might be a piece of advice or something to think about. What’s something that you would want people to ponder on after this?

[11:16] Srin
Things can be done and really tough things can be done and businesses can be built for the disability world that can really, I hope, have a positive impact on people’s lives. But I think it’s also accepting that like as much as it’s a fascinating journey it is a tough journey like building a business. I tell most people building a business is the hardest thing one can embark on. It is tough. I find it the most enjoyable thing, but it is also incredibly tough and exhausting. But I think the fact that it can be done and you can have a really positive impact on people’s lives is what makes it worthwhile.

[12:00] Viv
Thank you to our guest, and hopefully you found your own Remarkable Moment. Make sure you subscribe to the podcast and follow our Instagram @remarkable_tech for unheard moments from this episode. Talk with you all on the next one.

Learn more about Srin at his website srinmadipalli.com.

#RA23 Startup Story | Possibility Neurotechnologies


Possibility Neurotechnologies creates brain-computer interface solutions.

Our product, Think2Switch, offers a unique, user-friendly way for those with physical limitations, particularly children, to control devices purely by thought. It’s portable, affordable, noninvasive, and bridges a significant gap in the assistive technology market, promising vast growth potential.

How have you engaged end-users in the development of Possibility Neurotechnologies?

We’ve employed a user-centered design approach, involving end-users throughout development.

Feedback sessions, usability testing, and pilot programs have been instrumental in refining Think2Switch. This ongoing dialogue ensures our technology meets the real-world needs of those we aim to empower.


Can you share some success stories or accomplishments that you’ve achieved since launching?

Prior to our official launch, Think2Switch has been home-tested, resulting in profound success stories. One user insightfully reminded us, “Never underestimate these kids…When we give them a way to show what they know—it’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The possibilities are endless.” Their words reaffirm our mission, and highlight the transformative impact of our product.

Pink and purple tile with white text 'the future is inclusive'
What sets your startup apart from competitors?

Our Think2Switch is the missing link in the BCI landscape. Unlike other products, it translates complex BCI tech into a user-friendly, plug-and-play system that enables thought-controlled interaction with everyday devices. We’ve broken BCI confines, extending their benefits to homes, which truly sets us apart.


Being part of the Remarkable community signifies a shared commitment to improving lives through innovative tech. Their support accelerates our goal of making BCIs accessible for those with physical limitations. This alliance represents more than just funding—it’s about transforming futures together.



#RA23 Startup Story | Hominid X


At Hominid X, we build wearable tools that help people to reclaim the use of their hands.

There are an estimated 200 million people worldwide who can’t move their hands to pick up and hold objects, so tasks like eating, personal hygiene, or holding a phone become difficult or even impossible.

A better solution was needed, so we designed “Fiber”, a wearable grasping tool that competes with robotic solutions at an affordable price point.

How have you engaged end-users in the development of Hominid X?

Our design process is user-centric to ensure that our products solve the right problems.

Our expertise in manufacturing allows us to quickly try out new product ideas and get them into the hands of our testers.

We keep in touch with them and empower them to speak plainly about their product experience. These friends are critical to our design process – they are motivated problem solvers who often find ways to adapt and manage on their own.

A hand wearing a Hominid X device holding a mobile phone.
A hand wearing a Hominid X device holding a stylus pen to write on the screen of a tablet.
What have you achieved since launching? Can you share some customer success stories or an accomplishment that you’re proud of?

Our biggest wins were made by our users!

One was Felix, the world’s (almost) first double arm transplant recipient, who wanted to relearn how to ride a bike. He uses Fiber to help him hold his bike handles.

Another success was a youth stroke survivor, Megan, who uses our product to help her hold kitchenware. She told us that she loves using Fiber while she makes her cake and macaroons at her new bakery business, Mae’s Bakery in Louisiana

What sets your startup apart from competitors?

We approach assistive product design with a lifestyle mindset, not just a medical one.

Our users are people with hobbies and goals; they are not insurance claims.

We’ve demonstrated speed and accuracy with our design choices, and our team has a unique expertise in rapid manufacturing, grasp-aid technology, and user testing.

We’re updating the game by bringing modern wearable standards to the assistive tech space.

Where do you want your startup to be in 1 month, 1 year, 10 years? What do you need to get there?

In a year, we’ll have more products and a strong user base. As we grow, we’ll develop more ambitious solutions.

In 10 years, we’ll have therapy systems, aids, and clinical seminars, and be the global brand in wearable assistive tools.

The key elements of our approach will be moving fast, taking feedback, and doing amazing design work – all while focusing on giving delight to our users rather than a “better than nothing” solution. We’re excited!

What advice would you give to aspiring disability tech entrepreneurs?

Place a strong emphasis on your product and test it with users, always. Some might downplay the importance of the little details, but be careful. Form is function, so don’t feel bad obsessing a little.

A well-developed and user-centric product will speak for itself. So design like you have fierce competition, even if your design is totally new. Marketing is easier when you get the product right.

Follow Hominid X on social media

Remarkable Insights: Kelly Schulz


[00:00] Viv: Kelly, “Hi”, can we please start with a visual description of yourself. I am also curious to know what you think about visual descriptions.

[00:17] Kelly: For me personally, who has lifelong blindness, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to me. It doesn’t change my judgment of people unless it’s something entertaining, unless they’re describing somewhere where they are that might be exotic or different or the language they choose to use. When it’s deliberate like that and is a really interesting description, then I’m interested in it. But I don’t need it to fundamentally feel connected to a person or to make a visual image of that. I don’t think when I listen to people, I have a visual image of that, of them when they’re speaking. I also feel uncomfortable for people who then have been blindsided by the request to actually give a description, because it often puts people off. It’s like, ‘ oh I wasn’t expecting to do that. Hang on, I hadn’t thought about it’. And it feels really awkward to them and it feels like a poor way to start a conversation or a presentation then. And so I feel a bit bad for them that they’ve all of a sudden someone’s told them to be inclusive, they have to do this bit. So I think if people are prepared for it and have something interesting to say, then great. But otherwise for me it’s not a big issue.

[02:12] Viv: Yeah, so it almost serves more of an icebreaker?

[02:16] Kelly: I think so. I think it can be an interesting icebreaker, particularly if people are prepared for it.

[02:20] Viv: Thanks for sharing. Kelly, I would love you to introduce yourself. Where are you based right now? What do you do and what is your favorite colour?

[02:29] Kelly: Hello. I am in Melbourne today on Wurundjeri country. There is actually a dispute over which country I’m on, but we go with Wurundjeri for the most of the time, and it is supposed to be 21 degrees and the sun’s shining out there at the moment. My favorite colour is shiny. So anything shiny catches the light. Bright lights. Bright colors. Shiny is definitely my favorite colour and I always say I’m here for my own entertainment because I’m curious about almost everything. I never grew up from asking ‘why’, I just like to know stuff about everything doesn’t necessarily mean I retain that information, so I’m not a walking encyclopedia and don’t take me to pub trivia because I’m useless. But I just like to know why about things. I’m always curious about things and why do we do it that way? And so the worst thing you can say to me is because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Yeah, that’s me.

[03:34] Viv: I think that’s a great sort of segue to chatting about your podcast. I’ve been listening and it’s so cool the mission that you’re on, but I know it comes from, was inspired by a quote, and I’d love you to share that quote and what it means to you.

[03:49] Kelly: So ‘Knowable.me’ is my podcast. Thanks for the plug. And it was inspired by Maya Angelou’s quote, which is, ‘Do what you know, until you know better, then when you know better, do better’. And I think the know-better, do-better is part of that curiosity. It’s part of wanting to know more, so that we can be better at doing things, and there’s always something better we could be doing. Always that next step, always moving forward. Our vision is a world where human uniqueness isn’t a barrier to economic and social participation. And I call it human uniqueness because yes, we’re all unique humans and to coin a phrase, some are more unique than others, but it’s about celebrating that everyday things and everyday experiences are different for everybody. So something that you might not think of as you go about your day is something that, for someone else, could be a really high effort, high anxiety, high stress or highly complex situation. My first episode was about lifts. Lifts have been one of my favorite topics for a very long time because lifts are fundamentally an accessibility tool designed to help people get from one floor to another without taking the stairs. So it’s now a convenience rather than an accessibility tool, but for something that’s fundamental to accessibility, they’re just not accessible. They haven’t been designed with accessibility in mind or unique humans for that matter, and it seems to be the further we get on in technology, the more downhill they go.

[05:33] Viv: You used to work in more of a corporate role. You have also shared experience about a lift that got upgraded in the office you were working.

[05:41] Kelly: So it wasn’t the lift upgrade that made me pivot my job, but the lift upgrade was certainly annoying. The short version is that lift upgrade went from lifts that you’d go to the right set of lifts, get in a lift, physical button, tactile button, braille on the button, press that button and reliably get out at the right place. To a system that had a touchscreen, you could select your floor. It would tell you specifically which lift to go to. Hopefully you made it to that lift, and then it would go up to the right floor. The problem being that touchscreen was not fundamentally accessible, so they had put in an accessibility button and then it would start talking to you and it would say, ‘press this button the number of times for the floor you want’. In my case, I worked on the 39th floor. At that point in time, that button had to be pressed 39 times, hopefully you didn’t miss it because it would scroll through all the floors before that and 39 button presses. I like pressing the pedestrian button multiple times, I’m one of those people, but I don’t think it ever gets to 39. That’s a lot of buttons to push that experience. Once again though, fundamentally accessible is it reasonable? Is it right? Is it usable? Is it equitable? I don’t really think so. I decided that there’s something more, there’s data missing from that equation and data that indicates that you need to be thinking about your most interesting users because they’re the ones that are gonna bring you the innovation. I think there’s a lot of talk at the moment about closed captions and the fact that 80% of people 18 to 24 are using captions 80% of the time. 80% most or all of the time, I think was the stat from the BBC. So that tells me something that was an innovation for deaf people and hard of hearing has begun something that an overwhelming majority of the population wants. So if you were building a streaming service today, you wouldn’t build that service without putting captioning in because you’d lose your key demographics. So that’s an innovation that belongs now to everybody, and there are lots and lots of examples in accessibility and the disability community of people who’ve come up with those innovations that everybody’s using every day. And so to me it’s not about the question of how many people are there who might actually wanna use that? It could be everybody. If we start gathering data about the needs and preferences of people with disabilities, we’ll start being able to design from disability, not for disability.

[08:31] Viv: I think that’s season two of ‘Remarkable Insights’ done! What are your thoughts on the accessibility of a lot of the storytelling and the messaging out there about technology and innovation?

[08:45] Kelly: In a real practical sense I’m hoping that audio descriptions are the captions of the future, so everyone is gonna figure out how good it is to have captions. Because when you’re watching a Mafia movie and everyone’s wearing a black suit and a black tie, and you actually think they all look the same, and you’ve got no idea who’s who, that the audio description’s actually telling you who’s who, and you don’t have to think about it anymore. So audio descriptions are amazing, and I’ll tell you watch your first sex scene with audio descriptions, and you’ll never go back! So audio descriptions are the new captions, and I’d like to think that in storytelling we can get better at that and that audio descriptions are seen as enhancing the experience, not just as an accessibility overlay, almost in the way that captions have gotten to. So that’s one improvement that stories really need to have.

[09:36] Viv: And I know in your previous role, I believe you really pushed for audio description.

[09:41] Kelly: Audio descriptions can and should be anywhere and everywhere because they are about enhancing the experience. I think creators need to get more creative. I can’t stand the TikTok voice just quietly. And anytime I start to hear that woman, ‘I’d go, oh, I don’t wanna watch this one’. And you can also be really entertaining with those descriptions. So if your ad is only music, it could be the most banging track. But if you’re not telling me what you’re advertising, completely wasted that spend, and that could have cost you five grand in prime time or more, you’ve wasted it on me.

[10:23] Viv: What is the assistive technology in your day-to-day life that people perhaps wouldn’t know would technically be assistive technology for everyone?

[10:31] Kelly: I used to cheat answering this question and say that my guide dog is the best piece of technology I’ve got. But there is a short description as to why, and it’s that she is completely flexible to my needs. She’s reliable. She’s cute. That helps. Totally relatable. She breaks down social barriers for me. She has all these, what I call human characteristics of what we think of being human, and that’s what I want from my technology. I don’t want my technology alienating me. I want it to facilitate communication, to facilitate independence, to facilitate human and social and economic participation and that’s what my guide dog does. And I say that because so often there’s lots of news articles out there about the guide dog of the future, and sure they don’t poo and they probably don’t vomit, but I also don’t necessarily wanna be the person that looks like they’re walking a Dyson down the street, because that’s not gonna facilitate my social participation. It’s not gonna cuddle up to me at night and make me feel better when I need it. I just think technology needs to facilitate all those human needs. It should be working for us, I shouldn’t have to adapt to it.

[11:55] Viv: And what, if you don’t mind me asking, what is your relationship with technology?

[11:59] Kelly: I think deep down I really love it. And that’s a generalisation because most of the time technology is totally enabling, but there are times where it doesn’t work because it hasn’t been designed in a thoughtful, accessible way.

[12:18] Viv: And what do you hope the future, we hear a lot of things about AI and there is technology that doesn’t exist, I mean it exists, but it’s really at this sort of birthplace where it’s getting traction and these new things are being introduced. How do you hope that can leverage off what you’re doing with Knowable Me?

[12:38] Kelly: We always often jump to the nefarious use of technology and why it’s gonna be bad. I think we need to focus on the positives and mitigate the risks. So the idea that AI is gonna help every kid cheat at school is not what I’d be talking about. I’d be talking about the fact that AI can help neurodivergent kids communicate their own thoughts and ideas better by putting that into some order of communication to help them communicate. That’s the story we should be talking about. And mitigate the risks. Go ‘actually kids, you can use the AI, but let’s understand it as a tool. Let’s understand its limitations. Let’s learn our critical thinking and how to ask a good question’. Because they’re the skills that kids are gonna need. AI is not going anywhere, so let’s embrace it and embrace it for the positives and mitigate the risks.

[13:34] Viv: We do like to end the episode with asking a guest to share a remarkable insight, to share something you’d like to lead the guest with or listeners.

[13:42] Kelly: What I have talked about is finding your most interesting users. I understand that’s hard to find people who might be doing things in an interesting way, but I think having curiosity to try and learn from people who do things differently and do experience the world differently for whatever reason, is a really important part of being an innovator and an important part of being remarkable is to find those things that no one else is looking at, to shine a light on those experiences and to really learn from them. I also like to say that inclusion is like cheese. You can never have too much, but some is always better than none.

Check out Kelly’s podcast Knowable.Me and follow her on LinkedIn and Instagram. For more updates on what is happening with Remarkable follow our socials! 

#RA23 Startup Story | Aurie


Aurie is a medical device start-up that is developing a reusable no-touch intermittent catheter system for people living with neurogenic bladder or urinary retention.

Our products help to increase access to safer no-touch catheters and reduce catheter-associated urinary tract infections, which are a leading cause of death for intermittent catheter users today.

How have you engaged end-users in the development of Aurie?

Yes! We have interviewed over 120 individual catheter users about how they use products today, and have held human factors studies to get feedback on prototypes from close to 60 catheter users.

We’re continuing to pursue user research as a means to get user feedback on our product and go-to-market strategy.

Can you share some success stories or accomplishments that you’ve achieved since launching?

We haven’t launched yet – the road to getting a medical device FDA approved is a long one.

Graphic design of the Aurie urinary catheters.
What sets your startup apart from competitors?

There are approximately 600,000 people in the United States living with neurogenic bladder and urinary retention, who will typically use 4 to 6 single-use intermittent catheters a day in order to urinate. Altogether, the catheter market in the US is approximately $2 billion.

We are the only company in the catheter market that is focused on developing safely reusable no-touch catheters. Our system allows us to provide safer, infection-reducing no-touch catheters at the current price of single-use standard catheters. This means more people can access this potentially life-saving technology.


1 Month 1 Year 10 Years
We plan to build prototypes for FDA testing and to start building relationships with VA hospitals where we will pilot the system with users. We will have received our FDA approval and will start product sales We will have a broad portfolio of durable medical equipment products that are designed in partnership with (not for) our users that help to meet unmet user needs and advance our users' health and independence. To get there, we need funding!

Some investors will tell you that your market is too small to matter. Don’t listen to them! The work that you’re doing is important.



It’s incredibly inspiring to be a part of a community where everyone is giving it their all to make a profound difference in the lives of their users – and where everyone is open about the struggles and successes that they face along the way!

Follow Aurie on social media

#RA23 Startup Story | Indii


Indii is on a mission to enable greater independence for people with disabilities.

We’re initially focusing on helping the more than 17 million people worldwide with Cerebral Palsy (CP) and others who have limited mobility and fine motor control.

We’ve developed an adaptive switch, called Sofii, built on the latest smart home standards, designed to open up the many benefits of using this technology to new users.

How have you engaged end-users in the development of indii?

Building solutions with and alongside our community is deeply embedded in the way we work. But it’s not always been that way.

The initial inspiration for the work we’re doing was seeing the needs of my youngest sister, Sophie. Sophie has CP and had formed the basis of much of the design work we did, but I hadn’t gone out to speak to other users.

Once we started talking to our users that’s when the project really began to take shape. It is out of these conversations that many of the most innovative features grew.

The Sofii adaptable switch, a dark blue technology device with 4 black buttons one which has a green light on.
The Sofii adaptable switch, connected to a device by an electronic cord.
What sets your startup apart from competitors?

We’re positioning ourselves in an interesting place.

What we’re developing is at the nexus of assistive and smart home technologies.

The user-centred design that we’re bringing to the smart home space deeply considers user-need, particularly for people with a variety of disabilities.

Our focus on delivering a high-quality, attractive product that is at-odds with existing assistive technology that can cost as much as 5x what we’re charging, and lacks that focus on aesthetic design.

We want our approach to accessibility to be replicated by our competitors; the prospect of us achieving a cross-over success in AT and smart home is getting people in both industries excited.

What advice would you give to aspiring disability tech entrepreneurs?

Get out there.
Share your idea.
Speak to people.

It’s too easy to hide away developing in isolation. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly, you’ll build the wrong thing. Getting feedback from people on what you’re doing is important.

And more importantly, you need people. Telling people what you’re working on will greatly improve your chances of taking your business to the next level.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Remarkable community?

Remarkable is an incredibly nurturing community. Being supported and challenged by the team and the wider community has enhanced our entrepreneurial journey immeasurably.



This time next year Sofii will be available via our website in Australia and the UK and through a network of NDIS and charity suppliers in both regions.

In ten years we have aspirations around providing products and services that enable people not only at home, but in public spaces, hotels and beyond.

The care space is full of innovative businesses vying for relevance and market share, and we believe our value will lie in enabling these companies to better create and manage their solutions by handling connectivity of these services with physical places and devices.

Follow indii on social media