Those who are living with disabilities often encounter numerous roadblocks as they go about daily life. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, however, a number of entrepreneurs are seeking to make life more accessible for those with disabilities. Whether someone with visual impairments wants to surf the web or a person with cognitive challenges is looking to maintain his or her own finances, there are a number of startups that are helping revolutionize the lives of these individuals.
Here are five startups that are serving the needs of those with disabilities in the MENA region:
Entrepreneur and certified tour guide Omer Zur formulated the idea for his startup, Paratrek, after his father experienced an injury that paralyzed him. Seeing that his father’s injuries left him unable to pursue his hobby of hiking, Zur set out to develop a company that would make it easier for those living in wheelchairs to participate in hiking excursions.
In 2014, Zur and cofounder Ziv Demeter established Paratrek and debuted its line of unique wheelchair accessories. Those who are looking to embark on outdoor activities can purchase mountain bike-inspired tires that will allow their wheelchairs to go off road. Paratrek also offers a harness that makes it easy for companions to pull the wheelchairs over rough terrain. The startup is looking to develop additional products that will make it possible for those with disabilities to climb mountains.
Through Paratrek, Zur and Demeter also regularly assist individuals who want to go on hikes. After asking about a client’s hiking destinations and physical challenges, the cofounders then develop a hiking plan that will best suit that person’s individual needs. The entrepreneurs also regularly plan hikes for their customers and even participate in these excursions.
With offices in Egypt and the United States, VocalEyes is helping those with visual impairments engage more fully with their surroundings. Looking to empower these individuals like never before, the startup has developed a free mobile application that leverages proprietary machine-learning software to identify the objects around them. Users need only take a picture of the objects they come across, and the application immediately describes what the camera has detected. Aside from objects, the VocalEyes app can identify company logos, detect human faces, and recognize denominations of currency.
While in attendance at an MIT Launch event in 2016, high school students Marwan Refaat, Mahmood Alfayoumi, and Neil Deshmukh developed the VocalEyes technology in just under a month. The team has since worked on an additional piece of hardware called The Eye, which is designed to both identify objects from images and relay information about the user’s surroundings in real time.
After growing up alongside a sibling with special needs, entrepreneur Emile Sawaya saw how many roadblocks prevented those with disabilities from fully integrating into society. Working with his cofounder, Sawaya developed his startup, ReAble, to help people with cognitive disabilities become financially independent.
Delivered as a mobile application, ReAble makes it easy for its users to access and manage their finances. This application simplifies the payment process by allowing individuals to view their available balance, determine which bills they need to use as payment, and confirm that they have received the right change. The ReAble app also monitors users’ finances and sends notifications to their guardians each time they make a purchase.
Mind Rockets Inc.
Headquartered in Jordan, Mind Rockets is developing groundbreaking technology for people with hearing impairments. Since its founding in 2016, the startup has developed a number of technological services that assist those in this community and provide them with a means of independence. Mind Rockets has created its products in collaboration with local strategic partners such as the Assistive Technology Center and the National Call Center for Deaf Services.
For desktop devices, Mind Rockets offers interpretive software that enables those who are hard of hearing to engage with content on websites. One such product, the Sign Language Web Interpreter, helps these individuals access the web more easily by allowing website owners to display content in sign language. Mind Rockets has developed a similar solution for Facebook. The startup is also known for its video interpretation solution, which enables customers with hearing impairments to contact businesses via video message.
Outside of its desktop solutions, Mind Rockets offers a number of free mobile applications that help people who are hard of hearing communicate better. Using innovative 3D avatars, these apps automatically translate Arabic and English speech and text into sign language. Mind Rockets is looking to expand its services to include other languages.
A revolutionary social startup in Egypt, Helm has facilitated public awareness about individuals living with disabilities since its inception in 2011. With a name that translates to “dream,” the organization supports the development of a society in which people with disabilities can fully participate in various aspects of daily life. From improving accessibility to promoting employment, Helm has undertaken a number of crucial projects that aim to change the public perception of those living with disabilities.
In the past, Helm has worked with numerous corporations to help them address pressing social challenges. The startup is also well known for organizing the first-ever mobility conference in Egypt, which took place in 2016.
Most recently, Helm collaborated with fellow social startup Bassita to develop a campaign that highlighted accessibility issues among those with disabilities. Entitled “One Click to Move,” this initiative focused on improving accessibility in and around Cairo University. As part of this campaign, Helm and Bassita developed a video that garnered more than 5 million views within its first week online. This video helped the organizations earn funding for their cause through likes, views, and shares.