Software firm changes life for the disabled
Jan 29 2013, 18:20 | By SME Mentor
Barrier Break Technologies is the only Indian start-up developing software solutions for the physically challenged; helps them find independence, employment
When Shilpi Kapoor was working with an American securities firm in Mumbai, she didn't know the US-based gentleman she co-ordinated with for two years was paralysed until the technology he was using stopped working. After she overcame her initial shock and awe, it sank in - technology has almost limitless capabilities and can be a very powerful enabler for the disabled.
Up until then, Kapoor had been teaching visually impaired individuals to use computers. But after her moment of awakening, she realised just how rudimentary the technology she was using was. So Kapoor launched Barrier Break Technologies in 2005, to bridge the gap between the use of computers by the visually challenged and enabling them with software applications that would help them find jobs and become independent. And, should they need to reach out for help, quite literally, they can log into the Mumbai police website, which will soon be accessible to deaf-mute and visually challenged individuals.
A Solution For Everyone
With a seed capital of Rs 20,000, Kapoor initially conducted only accessibility tests for web portals. Today, her company develops assistive software as well as sources it from overseas, to enable and empower individuals with all sorts of disabilities and impairments. Her products include applications for computers, websites as well as mobile phones, and there are also a handful of products for the elderly.
"There are plenty of companies that make technology for the disabled overseas but not a single one in India . I look around and feel the need single every day," says Kapoor, who believes that physically challenged individuals should have equal access to information and communication technology and services as does everyone else.
Leading The Blind
One of Barrier Break's big projects was making the website of the National Institute of Open School (NIOS) accessible to blind students. "The NIOS has 65,000 students enrolled with it, a large number of them disabled. These students were not able to access important information pertaining to admissions, results and curriculum, Kapoor points out. Thanks to Barrier Break, the NIOS website now has screen reader access for disabled individuals using different software including JAWS, Supernova, SAFA, NVDA and System Access To Go. Some of the accessibility features include adjusting display settings, ease of navigation and content readability.
An Innovative Mind
As her company's name suggests, Kapoor is always on the lookout for problems to solve in her domain. Thus, when she spotted a deficiency in sign language interpreter services in India , she created India 's only sign language interpreter portal called signntalk.org.
Now, if a deaf individual needs to communicate with a prospective employer, Barrier Break gets them both in front of a computer and connects them to a sign language interpreter over video chat. The interpreter then calls up the employer and communicates. The great part is the service is free.
The company has also developed a mobile application called Fun With Money for Windows mobile phones. This is an educational app for autistic students who have a problem understanding the concept of money. Although the app is free, Barrier Break has not adopted the advertisement model to earn revenue because autistic children are easily distracted with pop-ups.
Barrier Break's products cost anywhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 5 lakh. For instance, products that use 'eye gauging' solutions are expensive as this software helps users operate a computer solely with eye movements. "The cost of our services varies with the amount of work that goes into developing the software or website, and the size and scale of the site," reveals Kapoor. "We have been profitable for the last 3 years and growing at the rate of 50 per cent, year on year. Revenues for the last financial year were Rs 2.1 crore."
Kapoor says the biggest challenge for any social enterprise is mindsets. "Not too many educational institutions, banks and financial institutions are keen on making their institutions accessible to the differently-abled. We have been fortunate with a few organisations like New India Assurance and NIOS. It's a slow process and requires ongoing awareness," says Kapoor, adding that 75 per cent of the people she employs are disabled.
Barrier Break now wants to increase the reach of its products. "We want to have an ecommerce website and widen our distribution network. We first thought of approaching mega retail stores to stock our products. But not many are willing to sell equipment for disabled people. We will need a totally different strategy," says Kapoor. Serving the differently-abled means doing everything differently and Kapoor always seems to find a way.
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