Pressing ‘The Button’

Neatebox is an Edinburgh based tech company with an unswerving focus on solutions. For Gavin Neate its founder, Occam’s Razor seems to be a guiding principle behind Neatebox’s success.

Their flagship smartphone application ‘Button’ is aptly named. It’s simple. It’s a simple solution to an issue, that like so many challenges unique to persons with disabilities, is overlooked because of its prevalence.

Crossing the road for people with restrictive movement or partial sight can be a daunting task. Awkwardly placed crosswalk buttons, too little time to cross, the implications can be huge. As Gavin explains:

I’ve always thought of roads like rivers, if you have a river, and you haven’t got a bridge, you can’t cross it. If you’ve got a road, and you’re nervous about crossing it, you don’t cross there. You go miles out your way, or you never go to the shops on the other side, and those shops could be for groceries, it could be a social environment where you want to play boules, or meet people, or just go and see a friend. It could be a cinema, it could be where you go to work, or where you could go to work. Commercial, medical, fitness. There’s so many reasons. There’s a whole country of people who face these issues.”

Neatebox solves these issues. With the Button app (available for free) installed on your smartphone, Neatebox presses the crosswalk button for you, automatically via Bluetooth, with an extended time window to cross. The hardware consists of an unassuming circuit board that can be retrofitted to any crosswalk in a matter of minutes. In Gavin’s words: “It’s really simple and the cost is minimal as well.”

Fresh from a pilot scheme in which the ‘Button’ was installed throughout Largs, there’s good reason to be optimistic for 2018.

Just recently we had a report from Largs, IBP Stategy and Research and they did a report for Transport Scotland… Hopefully transport Scotland will say, ‘this has got to be everywhere’”

And that isn’t difficult to imagine. Through the app, users can request the technology be installed at specific crossings, and Neatebox will automatically contact the relevant local authority on the users behalf.

This isn’t revolutionary technology, but rather, a remarkable and considered approach to problem solving, to removing seemingly small obstacles to disabled persons, with huge implications for equality. Their second project is a natural progression of that mentality.

The ‘Welcome App’

The Welcome app launched in August 

last year with a focus on empowering the customer when it comes to customer service. If the Button app helps the user in getting to the front door, the Welcome app solves whatever issues may arise through an ignorance of the barriers people with disabilities may face once inside.

A lot of what we’re doing is educating. A lot of people didn’t understand there was a problem.” says Gavin.

I don’t think there is any company in Britain with an anti-disabled policy, but it’s not the people at the top, it’s not the people in HR, or marketing, it’s the staff at the front of house who you meet first. If the staff doesn’t know how to interact with a person with a disability, because it hasn’t been considered, it’s as good as having an anti-disabled policy. It’s not good enough anymore.”

With the Welcome app, persons with a disability can alert participating companies, stores, restaurants etc of their disability, their arrival time and needs specific to them- be it staff introducing themselves to someone who is visually impaired, or readying a ramp for someone in a wheelchair.

Less obvious capabilities of the app however include alerting staff of hidden disabilities; a disability that is not immediately apparent such as epilepsy, or traumatic brain injury; minimising the possibility of confusion, or embarrassment.

RBS, Edinburgh Airport, The Double Tree Hilton, The Falkirk Wheel, as well as many coffee shops and restaurants have already signed up, with the assurance there are big companies ready to participate.

As with the Button, users of the app can request venues they would like to see participating and Neatebox will contact them directly. Neatbox’s solutions put the disabled users at the heart of the process, as an active participant, empowering them through technology.

From Charity to Empowerment

Neatebox is a company at the forefront of a trend, developing inclusive technologies to level the playing field for those living with a disability. Gavin was keen to point to a developing change, not just in attitudes to disability, but in the role charities play in the lives of those with disabilities.

When you say ‘access’, people always think ‘physical environment’. They rarely talk about people. There’s definitely a change in building design, and there’s definitely a change in management ethos. Where there needs to be a change, is in people’s attitudes. Some people still think, ‘I feel sorry for you because you have a disability.’”

For younger people who have grown up with the Paralympics and prosthetic limbs, empowered people with disabilities is normal.

What’s happening more and more is people with disability are saying ‘I’m going to get it, I want to be independent, I don’t need people to be giving me stuff all the time, I want to be a part of society. It’s not everybody, because there’s a lot of people out there who can’t do that, but there’s lots of well-educated people who identify as professionals, but then they encounter issues. The idea is to remove those issues.”

The last century was a century of charity. At the start of the century we had people starting to give money and services to people who were disabled. And then, at the end of the century we had big charities being big business, providing things for people who are disabled. I think this century we are in now, is the century of empowerment, rather than charity.”

In the future what I’m hoping to see, is a world, certainly advanced countries in which we’ve removed the barriers to people with disabilities living, earning, and using the skills that they’ve got.”

If you would like to find out more about Neatebox, or would like help downloading either of the applications please visit www.neatebox.com or contact Neatebox on 0131 247 6700

After ten years in The RAF Gavin Neate commenced an eighteen-year career with Guide Dogs working as a guide dog mobility instructor. Neatebox was founded. The focus of Neatebox since its beginning has been to promote access and inclusion for everyone in everyday environments through the use of assistive technology.

Gavin Neate is a judge in this years Blackwood Design Awards, an annual competition recognising innovative solutions and attracting engineers, designers and inventors from across the globe. For more information on the awards, see the link below.

http://www.bespoken.me/forum/topics/blackwood-design-awards-2017-18-now-open

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