Tecla by Komodo OpenLab

The MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) are proud to announce the 2015 RBC Impact Entrepreneurs. The Entrepreneurs were showcased at the 8th annual Social Finance Forum.

Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, smartphones and tablets have revolutionized our lives. These devices increase productivity, strengthen social networks, facilitate leisure, and enable instant access to online products and services – all while on the move. However, millions of people with moderate to severe mobility impairments (currently, there are 10 million in North America and Europe alone) are unable to access touchscreen devices. Thus, they couldn’t take advantage of the benefits that were readily available to their peers.

Unable to access the latest technology, people with physical disabilities had to continue to rely on traditional assistive devices. For example: as a person with limited upper-body mobility, the options for accessing a mobile phone were slim. The only initial solution available was to attach an assistive button to an adapted Bluetooth headset. With this setup, you could pick up a call or dial pre-programmed numbers, but there was no way to dial a new number or send and receive text messages.

Traditional assistive devices can help bridge the accessibility gap for people with disabilities and for aging individuals. However, vendors are trapped in a cycle that forces them to create devices designed to comply with localized and outdated-funding regulations, instead of the needs of the end-users. Vendors must often reinvent the wheel, duplicating functionality already available in consumer devices, but at a significantly higher cost. Instead of promoting innovation, this model increasingly hinders the widespread availability of solutions for people with disabilities and limits the vendor’s own ability to catch up with new technological advancements.

As a result, individuals with mobility impairments had no choice but to rely on funding organizations or insurance companies to acquire expensive, cumbersome and outdated equipment that, when available, actually segregated them from their able-bodied peers.

Enter Tecla

As the iPhone became mainstream, many people with limited mobility attempted to use it, but the only ways to access the screen were by using a mouth-stick with a stylus, or by using a typing splint. This wasn’t ideal and, frankly, difficult to manage.

We first launched Tecla for Android (a more open platform, at the time), along with a corresponding app. For the first time, Tecla allowed people to use any switch or their wheelchair driving controls to access an Android smartphone or tablet. In addition to making phone calls, Tecla users could now text, email and read eBooks on-the-go. Soon after that, an iPhone/iPad version was released.

My son, 16 yrs old with cerebral palsy, RANG ME for the first time ever, using an iPhone and Tecla Shield. Does anyone have tissues?

— Tamara Hills (@tamara_hills) July 27, 2012

We now have over 2,000 Tecla users in 22 countries. Our users range from Chris, an Australian teenager who has become a YouTube celebrity for his videos on assistive technology, to Todd who can now independently run his software business from his iPhone, and to Owen in Ireland who is studying computer science in order to develop apps to increase his independence and others’ with physical impairments.

We are excited to be in this space where we can have such a direct impact in the lives of our users. We’ll continue our development efforts to make new technologies, like Smart Home and Internet of things, for example, accessible to all.

Editor’s note: Forward Vision Games was an RBC Impact Venture at Social Finane Forum 2015. Please contact the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing for an introduction. 

RBC is helping to catalyze the growth of social finance to help solve some of society’s most challenging problems. To learn more about how they are mobilizing private capital for public good, visit www.rbc.com/socialfinance.

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