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The buzz of excitement in the air nowadays always revolves around one new social platform or another, and we have somehow found the absence of inclusivity of people with disabilities in the startup ecosystem jarring. It’s time to tackle this issue head-on, seatbelts -fastened, and shoe-laces-tightened. The majority of people with disabilities want a productive life where a career doesn’t only provide an income, but also social participation.

As the late Stephen Hawking said, “My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”

The United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs found that companies who have employed disabled people have bettered their comprehension on how to serve customers with disabilities. This adaptation led these businesses to develop great flexibility in reaching the diverse needs of a significant market. Thankfully, it’s not all bleak. We came short on finding startups that cater or include disabled people in the MENA region, but the ones we did are nothing but fantastic. 

  • Meet Amal Glass from the United Arab Emirates, an intelligent robot worn as a pair of glasses that can identify the environment of visually impaired persons, sensing their movements and any possible obstacles to prevent collisions. The smart glasses have 25 essential features for daily life, such as people recognition, weather conditions, color recognition for choosing suitable clothes, currency recognition, and is equipped with GPS. It also helps students record audio lectures, read barcodes, and capture photos. That’s to name a few. 
  • There’s also SwiftBraille, which is an Android soft keyboard for blind and visually impaired people that lets them type using braille. Developed by Mohammed M. AlBanna, the app’s features include: free to use, voice input, easy gestures, customized keyboard, and more. How is SwiftBraille different from the numerous other soft keyboard apps available? Mohammed explains, “Those apps are adept in some ways, but they lack in others. For example, what about small screen dimensions? How would a blind person use their eight or even six fingers on such small screens? It would be difficult to use in any other position, aside from sitting down.” This attention to detail will definitely benefit the app’s users to utilize it more efficiently! 
  • The next initiative isn’t a startup, but that doesn’t make it any less effective and considerate. Sahel Ramps is a passionate community-based project by Lateefa Khalid, a Bahraini architect who took matters of inclusion in her own hands, and started a project for building ramps for people using wheelchairs, which aims to create a public environment that is suitable and accessible for wheelchair users and people with disabilities. Currently, they offer consultation to different facilities to make their space easily accessible before implementing any further steps. They’ve already started making changes by partnering up with Mcdonald’s and revamping a branch in Tubli to make it wheelchair-friendly. 

Although these are steps in the right direction, we have a long way to go to accommodate our friends and neighbors to stop feeling invisible and uncared for. We came across startups outside the MENA region that are either catered for disabled people or is founded by one that can inspire you to adapt inclusivity within your startup.

  • Bluereo: Brushing teeth is not an easy task for everyone, especially for people who don’t have control over their movements and caregivers. Bluereo is the product to make it simpler. The South Korean startup created an oral care device that’s an electric-suction toothbrush with unique features to make the process easier, such as a tongue cleaner, replaceable brush, water suction, sonic vibration and LED lights! 
  • DFree: Designed for seniors and people with disabilities, DFree is the first wearable device that predicts when you need to go to the bathroom. The device is synced to a customized app that checks the timing of urinating and its accumulation. It’s also rechargeable so it can be used on the go, anytime. 
  • Our Ability: Founded by John Robinson, a disabled man who faced serious challenges all his life when it comes to landing a job, Our Ability is a company that Robinson worked on building a site for. This website brings together companies with jobs suited to disabled applicants that could be likely candidates. Although the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is twice that of people without, and some disabilities border on preventing full-time employment altogether, there are still opportunities for them, persons who are just as likely to have a head for business ventures or coding skills as anyone else — yet they can be difficult to acquire. This site helps to filter out positions for both parties, candidate and company.  
  • Spokle: An Australian-based app that specializes in speech therapy. It provides a practical, family-oriented approach to support and interact with children with communication disorders. It also features a range of exercises to undertake every day,  and learning via videos that come with real-life examples. 

These are some of the initiatives in the market bridging the gap between people with disabilities and greater opportunities; whether it’s in the job market or easing their way around life. The desire to innovate within disability should be amplified by now, especially seeing how forward we’re moving along as an ecosystem, yet we still have a few challenges to face along the way. 

The real takeaway here is, innovation comes at its strongest when it’s supporting those who are left behind. We should be investing and putting in resources towards empowering disabled persons to help improve the circumstances for everyone, because improving these sorts of outcomes will definitely be one of the most sound financial decisions for our communities as a whole in the long run. 

Spending on systems and facilities for persons with disabilities is not for the privilege of a small minority, but an investment for everyone, and hopefully, more people come around to see that. Next time you have an amazing idea for a startup, consider how you can include those who are disabled or how to better serve that aspect of society that is facing every-day challenges.

Maryam Malik

Maryam Malik

Maryam Malik is an English Literature and French student in the University of Bahrain. She’s a part-time poet and full-time reader. You can almost always find her enthused about music, books and films.