For the last 3 years at Remarkable we have seen that technology truly can transform the lives of people with disability. We have seen lower cost robotics, wearable sensors, customised 3D manufacturing, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, that have helped to overcome issues of physical access, provided workplace aids, and has allowed someone with impairment to have autonomy and independence in ways they’ve never experienced before. And now Remarkable is looking to replicate its accelerator model overseas – first the US, then Asia. Setting up global chapters isn’t new – lots of accelerators are doing it – however for us this mission is an imperative. We believe that an inclusive future could be closer than we all think. But along with this excitement, there is a deep fear that things could get worse before they get better so we need to expand our influence as a matter of urgency.
Technology is built into almost every part of everyday life. Work, school, transport, cooking and entertainment – it enables our communication, it aids our health and provides convenience. But what if the very thing that we are becoming more and more reliant on was out of reach, or worse, that it became a barrier to our full participation in the world? That is the reality for many people with disabilities.
The Australian Digital Inclusion Index in 2018 showed a significant gap in digital inclusion between people with disability and other Australians. In fact, the overall digital inclusion gap widened throughout 2017/18. This was mostly due to lack of progress around affordability and digital ability. It is imperative that we get this right.
This divide isn’t just happening locally. The global acknowledgement that the digital divide exists for people with disabilities is well documented. The UN calls people with disability the largest minority in the world. And yet, it is largely ignored as a market, with only 5-10% of the population who need assistive technology (around 1 in 10) having access to the assistive devices they need. The digital divide is leaving more and more people with disabilities behind, creating more barriers to inclusion. This shouldn’t be the case.
It is this reality that drives Remarkable to affect change globally in innovative technology for inclusion.
As with any systems change, there is no silver bullet. Others have written about the complexity involved in reaching the millions of people who need assistive technology. There is no denying that it takes more than just creating interesting technologies. But taking inspiration from colleagues at our Cerebral Palsy Alliance Research Institute, who have collaborated globally with the best researchers, they have managed to see a reduction in the incidence of cerebral palsy in Australia from one in 400 births, to one in 700 births within the last 10 years! There are three things they’ve done that have influenced change that we can learn from:
- Joined-up Thinking.
Seeing cure(s) and/or prevention for cerebral palsy is the ultimate goal of our research institute. It is not an easy goal. Having the will and determination to take on something of this magnitude, takes courage. Remarkable’s goal is to create an inclusive future through innovation in technology. We’ve begun to validate the problems with technology for people with disability in developed parts of the world, and also in developing parts of the world. And while the spectrum of work is broad and complex, there are some common threads – a small handful of large companies controlling the market, overpriced equipment, mono-functional use, difficult referral systems, and many more.
We don’t take on this challenge lightly. There will be obstacles. But the potential impact is worth it. The opportunities for technology to create a more inclusive world is well known. But progress so far has been slow.
The second key ingredient to change is linked to the first – the right tribe.
Our research institute knew that they weren’t going to prevent cerebral palsy alone. They needed to find the best and brightest research minds and to bring their thinking, and to be aligned around a common strategy.
The same applies for innovation in technology.
In May 2018, Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) hosted our first Technology and Innovation for Cerebral Palsy Summit in San Francisco – an invite-only gathering of around 80 technologists from industry, universities and, most importantly, individuals with disability and their families. We ended the two-day summit by posing the question: How we can lift the level of excellence for everyone in the room? The consensus was strongly around supporting commercialisation of ideas and funding for early-stage startups. This is the beginning of our global tribe.
Furthermore, user centred design places the user – the customer – at the heart of the design process, ensuring their needs are addressed. The earliest idea of Remarkable grew out of a two-day event called Enabled by Design-athon that was developed in the UK by Denise Stephens. As someone living with a disability, she was perplexed at how little assistive devices had changed in decades. So she sought to bring together people with disability, along with designers, makers and creators to develop products that met the users needs. In 2014 CPA co-hosted a 2-day Design-athon in Australia with Denise. It was some of the inspiration we needed to develop the idea of Remarkable. People with disability are at the centre of the problems the startups are solving.
When an Australian researcher discovered that cooling babies’ brains could reduce the severity of lesions on an unborn child’s brain, the next challenge was to educate professionals on the intervention. It’s not enough to develop a solution – the next challenge is to disseminate it. Cooling babies’ brains is one of the factors that has led to a reduction of the number of babies born with more complex forms of cerebral palsy in Australia in recent years.
It is not enough to have new technology released into the world. You need a pipeline of innovation. You need investment into startups. You need customers to adopt and trial technologies. You need markets to exist to buy the products. You need referrers. You need coordinated health systems. You need good government. You need big technology companies creating enterprise solutions. This is joined-up thinking.
It is not enough to just produce technologies, we’ve begun to create an ecosystem of customers, innovators, investors, mentors and enterprise and joining these dots to create joined-up thinking.
For CPA, taking Remarkable onto the global stage is driven more by the imperative than the opportunity.
It is not enough that we do this in Sydney Australia. We are at a particular point in time where the potential of the technology is there to overcome barriers to full inclusion. So help us take courage, join our tribe and be part of the joined-up thinking we need to get this life-changing technology into the hands of the millions of people with disability who could benefit from it.