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Building the Ultimate Learning Engine for Empathetic Understanding

As hard as it might be to admit, we as humans, are unconsciously biased. Our brains are hardwired to make unconscious decisions. And we instinctively categorise people using easily observed criteria such as age, gender, disability, culture and sexuality.

Sydney-based startup Equal Reality are building an unconscious bias app using Virtual Reality to put you in the position of minorities receiving unconscious bias; to experience and understand what it looks and feels like to receive that prejudice.

Interactive Diversity and Inclusion Training through VR

With over 10 years of research and development, co-founders Annie Harper, Brennan Hatton & Rick Martin are experts in VR user experience.

“Virtual Reality has allowed us to unlock a new type of learning,” Brennan said. “By having technology like Virtual Reality we can actually put you in the shoes of someone else – put you in new experiences, experiences from other people’s perspective.”

Equal Reality’s interactive VR app teaches you to recognise unconscious bias by putting you in a scenario where you are on the receiving end unconscious bias. Immersed in the scenario, you’re required to signal when you think you’re receiving this bias. The whole experience is designed to trigger empathy, then reflect on your experience.

“We engage the head and the heart,” Annie said.

Being a huge believer in social justice, Annie wanted to use her skills with machine-to-mind communication to tackle some of society’s tougher challenges.

“In the past, humanity has really focused on intellectual training and you can see trends where every generation does increase slightly in their IQ capacity,” Annie said. “But there’s been equal studies that show emotional intelligence and social intelligence are not increasing.”

Already thinking beyond, Equal Reality are creating a powerful social learning tool using VR to improve workplace diversity and inclusion.

“Diversity in the workforce improves financial performance and innovation,” Rick said.

“It’s not just a feel good issue; it’s simply good business.”

Successful Launch of Demo Product

Equal Reality have released a Beta Demo – the first module of their app, which focuses on gender bias. Less than one week after launching on Viveport they achieved #1 most popular VR Business App in Australia, the UK and the US.

The next modules released will explore age and disability biases.

Currently in the 2nd Cohort of the Remarkable Accelerator program, they have been working closely with our Entrepreneur in residence, Ben Reid.

“The beta shows just the tip of the iceberg in what could be possible in using VR for diversity and inclusion training,” Ben said.

The Demo App is now available to download free on Viveport.

New App Improving Travel Access for People Living with Disability

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Accessibility is more complex than just having access to buildings and transport. It’s about being able to choose where you get educated, where you work and how you spend your free time.

Ultimately, for people with disability true accessibility is all about quality of life and being able to access society in the same way that everyone else can.

Jessica and Steve King were determined to help this become a true reality. They are the creators of abil.io, an app that harnesses real-time data to help individuals discover the true accessibility of public transport, and help them navigate around various cities.

However, the app is much more than that.

“I think that being able to be spontaneous in your life is an important part of living in a city. Doing your shopping, hanging out with friends or going to work is a part of everyday,” Steve said.

True accessibility is about the whole journey experience

“We drive people to use public transport, restrict parking and discourage car use, but we don’t spend the time thinking about how this impacts on other members of the community. True accessibility, to me, is thinking about the whole journey experience, for people with disabilities in the community,” he said.

It’s not a one size fits all approach, and what qualifies as ‘accessible’ very much depends on the individual.

“Disability is diverse. For some people with disabilities, a no-step route from their entry to a station to boarding a vehicle is accessible enough. This can be lifts, ramps or chair lifts and should be possible without the support of station staff or other people,” Jessica said.

“For others, if this journey includes a ramp that goes up and no lift, this could mean the whole journey is inaccessible as they don’t have the energy to ascend the ramp,” she said.

abil.io is very much a passion project for Jessica and Steve. Jessica has congenital heart disease and gets fatigued quickly.

“Preserving energy is important when you have a chronic illness. For me, it means I’ve had to make key life decisions such as where I went to university and the job that I took based on whether I could drive and park my car close enough to where I needed to be. I go to social events with friends if I know there’s parking nearby, or if someone in my social group is familiar with the location and can tell me the most accessible place to park,” Jessica said.

Encouraging people with disability to use public transport

“When we saw that Transport for NSW were looking for apps to encourage people with disability to use public transport, we knew we could make something useful. We set out to create something that took into account the diversity of disability, a product that didn’t make assumptions about our customers’ abilities. We wanted to give them a whole of journey planner that they could personalise to their specific needs,” she said.

For people with disability, or the elderly, the huge range of potential scenarios that happen in the thousands of kilometres of roads, footpaths and other public spaces means that unless you can go with some prior knowledge of the journey and destination it can be scary leaving the house at all.

So far, abil.io’s program testers are providing great feedback about their experiences using the app, saying they are more confident using public transport for unplanned trips and are using it more regularly.

“And personally, I’ve been using it to get to and from work, to meetings and to the hospital. For the first time ever, I’ve taken public transport to specialist appointments,” Jessica said.

abil.io is looking to expand into other cities, and are continuing to search for and integrate additional data sources and services to give users a more inclusive experience.

Harnessing technology start-ups to build social and economic inclusion

Remarkable, an initiative of Capability Avenue, is designed to help start-ups such as abil.io innovate and instigate social change and impact. Jessica and Steve say the support and funding provided via Remarkable has given them a great boost.

“The knowledge we have gained through the program has been incredible. Access to mentors with a lot of energy who are willing to share their expertise has been invaluable. The Remarkable program made us rethink the ways we approached the project as well as understand our brand – learning in months what we would have taken a lot longer to learn on our own,” Jessica said.

To be seen as a trusted source of information and expertise on accessibility, and to build a community of people who want to create a more accessible and inclusive world, is abil.io’s ultimate goal.

“We want our users to feel they can go anywhere with confidence locally and internationally and know abil.io will help them plan their journeys from start to finish,” Steve said.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]