Posted on Mar 30, 2020 by Matthew Gooding
In the first of our series on Cambridge-based impact ventures, we profile Dyslexia Box, an Allia Future Business Centre-based company providing life-changing workplace technology for disabled people
In partnership with Allia Future Business Centre
D yslexia Box operations director Ben Lewis is in possession of a very expensive pair of glasses. Actually, it’s not the glasses themselves that come with the hefty price tag, but the attached technology, an advanced ‘artificial vision’ device for blind and partially sighted people. Developed in Israel, the system, OrCam MyEye, is the most, er, eye-catching item supplied by Dyslexia Box, which provides assistive technology and services to help people with disabilities in schools, universities and workplaces.
“It’s a camera that sits on the side of your glasses, attached with some really powerful magnets, and can read aloud pretty much any text anywhere,” Ben explains. “It can read words on products, it can recognise faces when you’ve programmed them in, and can recognise objects and barcodes, so it’s really helpful in a supermarket, for example. We’ve done a lot of demos with it and there’s always plenty of interest.”
Costing £4,200, OrCam MyEye represents a significant investment, but Dyslexia Box provides plenty of other solutions for its clients, which range from big corporations such as Volkswagen and Haribo to a plethora of schools, universities and the NHS.
“Our flagship offer is to provide reasonable adjustments for dyslexic and disabled people – things which allow them to go about a job where their disability is holding them back,” Ben says. “The law states companies have to make these reasonable adjustments where necessary, so our workplace needs assessors will go out, do an assessment, then provide a report with recommendations for the changes which are needed.
“These are usually in the form of pieces of technology, my boss is sending me emails all the time and I’m struggling to read them, text-to-speech will read those aloud to me. Dragon, our most popular product, does it the other way around – I can speak into a microphone and it will convert that into text.”
Ben and his business partner, Larry Jenkins, founded the company 18 months ago to build on their previous experience in the sector. With 3.7 milllion disabled people now in work, an increase of 800,000 over the last six years, the market for assistive technology is certainly a growing one.
“We usually deal with HR or purchasing managers, who often panic when they’re asked to look after a team that includes someone with a disability, because they don’t know what to do,” Ben says. “They come to a company like us, and we almost take care of that employee for a while, train them, build their confidence and get them working.
“Companies invest a lot of money in this area but often end up buying all the things separately – their purchasing is all over the place and that’s not good for the purchaser or the end user, who has to see loads of different people and might not even get the best technology to help in their situation. We provide an end-to-end solution for workplace adjustments, we don’t just run away once we’ve made a sale.
“There are more disabled people in work and wanting to get into work than ever before. Access to work is growing every year, with the Government giving more money to help people get back into jobs. We think that’s going to continue.”
There are more disabled people in work and wanting to get into work than ever before. Access to work is growing every year
Dyslexia Box has been based at the Future Business Centre on King’s Hedges Road for the last year. The centre is run by Allia, an organisation that has helped hundreds of impact ventures – companies wishing to make a positive contribution to society – grow and flourish since it was founded in 1999. Ben is in no doubt the centre is a great place for his firm.
“We knew the manager here, and she was always telling us about the centre, and when we looked into it we could see it was a no brainer to move in,” he says.
“It’s a fantastic place, you meet people in the canteen who are doing amazing work and going through the same things as us. It’s a really inspiring and supportive environment.”
We have people ringing us up all the time, particularly from schools and universities, to thank us for our work
Ben says the company is expanding to meet demand, taking on more trainers and assessors across the UK and around the world, as well as exploring automated methods of assessment which it can offer to clients. “I don’t have dyslexia or a disability myself, but I like the sense of satisfaction from helping people out,” he says. “We have people ringing us up all the time, particularly on the schools and universities side, to thank us for our work. I went out to do a demo of Dragon once, and had someone crying because she didn’t know those kind of systems even existed. The technology we provide really can be life-changing.”
Find out more at dyslexiabox.co.uk
Allia Future Business Centres offer flexible workspace, business support and a vibrant community for those who are creating change. Its four centres in Cambridge, London and Peterborough are dedicated to supporting businesses that have positive impact on people, planet and place to start, develop and scale.
Find out more at futurebusinesscentre.co.uk