In 2022, ninety percent of children with disabilities in developing countries don’t attend school, according to the Fact Sheet on Persons with Disability that was published by the United Nations. 80 to 90% of persons with disabilities (PWDs) of working age are unemployed in developing countries, whereas in industrialized countries the figure is between 50% and 70%, according to another fact sheet on Disability and Employment published by the United Nations. .
Unfortunately, the necessary resources that are vital in aiding the entry of people with disabilities into the workforce are still lacking and the options are limited for those who are fortunate enough to get access to a proper education. Not to mention, the stigma associated with hiring PWDs due to several factors such as prejudice, lack of understanding, and concern in terms of performance that is met by employers.
Luckily, awareness of this matter is on the rise and this is evident in the number of startups that are emerging who are tackling this issue. One of these startups is Key2Enable Assistive Technology who was the winner of the Startup Competition 2022, a merger of the 15th Edition of MITEF Arab Startup Competition and the 6th Edition of the MITEF Saudi Startup Competition, in the Social Entrepreneurship Track. We had the chance to sit for an interview with Cofounder and COO of Key2Enable, Jose Rubinger, according to whom “people with physical and motor skill disabilities have severe difficulty in expressing themselves and are often ignored due to their inability to showcase their intellectual ability”. He also added that “only a fraction can afford assistive technology as they are usually very expensive and can only be afforded by a handful”. This is where Key2Enable comes into force. It empowers people with disabilities by developing their skills and individualities.
Key2enable’s journey started in 2015 in Brazil when Jose met a man named Glieson who was born with Cerebral Palsy . He found out that it took Glieson 8 years to graduate with a degree in Computer Science through the aid of a head pointer. Jose realized that special educators, occupational therapists and parents have a hard time to come up with ways to communicate or tutor people with disabilities and the whole process does not address the problem and is extremely cumbersome. He believes that “proper intellectual stimulation, especially in early childhood for children, can significantly accelerate their progress”.
This realization was the main driving force to establish his startup. He started looking for the most appropriate innovative solution in collaboration with Glieson and that’s how Key2enable and Key-X were born. Key2Enable Assistive Technology is an EdTech company with an A-Z holistic solution for people with disabilities. Their target customers are children with disabilities, such as kids with autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy among others, who are unable to use computers and mobile devices due to motion limitations or lack of fine-motor coordination. They use cutting-edge technology such as Cognitive Stimulation to offer a holistic solution for educational purposes. It is a cohesive amalgamation of a sturdy variant hardware and a 360-degree customizable software that delivers a game-changing educational experience while addressing more than 80% of all disabilities. Their technology incorporates inclusive learning experience through eye blinks and slight body gestures.
When talking to Jose, his passion in making an everlasting impact on society through education is evident. "If I can change the life of one person in a school, then others will follow. It's impossible to see this change and not want it for your child." When asked about some of the challenges that they had faced along the way, he mentioned that the main challenge was collating ideas and making sure that their available resources were optimally utilized to materialize their ideas in the most practical and cost efficient way.
When asked about his experience with the Startup Competition, he commented “Our journey was rather eventful from the application to the flight back. We learnt a lot from the mentors and specialists in our Tracks' bootcamp. We also met a lot of extremely talented individuals with ideas that could change the world and solve really grave and humongous problems. The main event was a beautifully presented and arranged spectacle of grand proportions with notable speakers, who gave us insightful ideas in tackling the current trending problems of any economy.” As for the main takeaway from participating in the competition, he added “ I would say it is the fortification of the belief I have always had about my innovation and a rather comprehensive view of how amazing exchanging ideas can be, made me a humbler person.”
As for its future business plans, the startup is still in the seed stage and is still looking to raise funds before expanding into new markets and broadening the product spectrum. Till now, the team is focusing on building a dynamic and fun internal environment with absolutely no bridges to cross within the company structure where all ideas are welcome.
Jose concluded the interview with this advice to all future entrepreneurs: “Don’t be rigid with the scope of your idea and always keep evolving for a better market fit to create a bigger impact. There will be times when situations will make you doubt if your idea is worth it, never lose focus or motivation.”
If you’re interested in applying for the 16th Edition of MITEF’s Arab Startup Competition, click here and register your interest to be the first to get notified.