Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Sneak Peek at Future APH Products

July 28, 2022 American Printing House Episode 57
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Sneak Peek at Future APH Products
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Change Makers, we’re getting a sneak peek at a few upcoming APH products that will be available for purchase in the coming months.

On this Episode (In Order of Appearance)

  • Jeff Fox, Narrator
  • Sara Brown, APH Public Relations Manager
  • Joe Hodge, APH Technical Product Manager
  • Tyler Maddox, APH Technical Innovations Product Manager
  • Greg Stilson, APH Head of Global Technology Innovation
  • Donna McClure-Rogers, APH Early Childhood Product Manager
  • Dilip Ramesh, Thinkerbell Lab’s co-founder and CEO
  • Sanskriti Dawle, Thinkerbell Lab’s co-founder and CEO

Additional Links

Jeff Fox:

Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH . We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision. Here's your host.

Sara Brown:

Hello, and welcome to Change Makers. I'm APH's Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And today we're getting a sneak peek at some upcoming products that'll be available for purchase in the coming months. We're excited to let the cat out of the bag and talk about two brand new products that are on the way. We're happy to have APH's Joe Hodge , Technical Product Manager, Tyler Maddox, Technical Innovations Product Manager, and Head of Global Technology Innovation, Greg Stilson. They're all here to talk about what's on the way. Hello, Greg Tyler and Joe, and welcome to Change Makers.

Joe Hodge:

Glad to be here.

Tyler Maddox and Greg Stilson:

So glad to be here . Thanks so much.

Sara Brown:

All right , so this question is for Tyler there's word that APH may soon introduce a new desktop magnifier to the line of low vision solutions. What can you share about this new magnifier and its projected timeline for release and why should we all be excited?

Tyler Maddox:

Well, I can share that we're now officially hard at work on developing a new desktop tablet magnifier. Um, we're currently in the last parts of a contract, but with a company out of Toronto, Canada, called TrySight who will be our development partner on this journey. Um, and they bring with them a lot of new and innovative approaches to low vision technology and have some really unique solutions to modern problems that are faced by low vision students. And as you know, generally the desktop tablet magnifiers is really an exciting product line . So I'm really fired up to be working on this. Uh, we've had so many successes and changed so many lives with the Matt Connect, which is the current device and our desktop tablet magnifier product line. Uh, we've also learned a lot from that device, which has now been on the market since , uh , around 2016. So that makes it nearly six years old at this point. But you know, it's still getting really compelling updates and features to this day. But needless to say , uh , this new desktop tablet magnifier is sort of a culmination of a lot of feedback, both positive and negative for features that teachers and students love, but also the pain points in low vision technology that we now have newer and better technologies to hopefully address those problems. So finally, to answer your question, Sara, I can share a few major goals that we're working toward with this device. Um, one of which is we're developing a magnification platform which will build transitional skills for low vision students and give them the same technical toolbox as their peers to make sure no one is marginalized in schools or looked over for careers based on the tools that they require to, to access the curriculum in the classroom. Right? Uh , two is solving some sticking points around ergonomics and making sure that students of all sizes are comfortable using this device. Uh , and three is making this device highly usable and intuitive for both teachers and students by providing incredible support features, user interfaces and teacher settings to meet the needs, needs of a variety of, of technical fluency. So obviously there's gonna be a lot more to talk about with this device , uh , but I hope folks will stay tuned with this. Um, we're, we're sort of targeting , uh , late 2023 . So hopefully , uh , late 2023 is when you can see this device coming to market.

Sara Brown:

Wonderful. Okay. And Tyler , one more question to you, where does this new magnifier fit in the lineup of APH's current magnifiers?

Tyler Maddox:

Uh , so I'll quickly run through our low vision product line from most portable to least portable. Uh , we currently have four magnifiers, but are always, obviously investigating unfilled needs and the direction technology is moving. So I'm gonna go on a limb and say it won't always be four, so stay tuned to that. But , uh , first we have the handheld magnifier, which is represented currently by the Video Mag HD. And this is a great solution for a really durable , uh , product that has great spot magnification. Next, we have our newest magnification product, which is the Juno, and this is another handheld magnifier with incredibly robust features in a small package that would serve the needs of, of middle to high grade students and professionals alike. And it comes with OTR and optical character recognition and text-to-speech and this awesome little barrel camera system , uh , and next is the aforementioned desktop tablet magnifier product currently represented by the Matt Connect. And I always think about this line of magnifiers as sort of a Swiss Army Knife of, of low vision and classroom related functionality, right. It , it , but it also just so happens to be portable. Uh, it generally just serves as a fantastic bridge device between handheld and stationary needs and can do a little bit of everything and do it all really well. And finally, we have our stationary desktop magnifier, which is currently represented by the Jupiter Portable Magnifier. Uh, this is sort of the power user device with powerful and devoted magnification features. Whereas the desktop tablet magnifier is sort of a Jack-of-all-trades. The Jupiter is more of a Jack of one trade, but it does that trade really exceptionally well.

Sara Brown:

Another new product that's causing buzz in the field is a bracelet developed in partnership with HabitAware to curb the habit of eye pressing. Joe, can you talk about eye pressing and tell us about the need for such a bracelet?

Joe Hodge:

Yeah. Hey Sara. So I pressing , uh , so last year, about this time in may, we put out a survey , uh , in related to I pressing in relation to eye pressing. So what we found out was that the field has no products out there that reliably indicates to a user that they're eye pressing that isn't demeaning or that isn't just something thrown together. So we took that feedback and we , uh , we looked around and we found a partner in HabitAware. That currently works with stemming behaviors, such as Trichotillomania , um, nail biting, et cetera . Uh , and they already have a bracelet that can detect these things. So what we have been talking with them is to take that bracelet and sort of look at , uh , the different motions that someone uses to eye press . So reasons that people , um, things that medical issues that eye pressing can cause is eye infections for one , uh, detached retina. And , uh, also it could lead to needing , um, implants. So the, what we wanted to do is find a way that just lets the individual know that they are actually eye pressing. And I love , uh , when we had HabitAware, talk at our Annual Meeting last year , uh, the , um, the word that they used that I loved is it gives the person a hug on their wrist when they are so for Trichotillomania, when they're pulling their hair, it's sort of a hug on the wrist to let them know that they're doing it. And so what we want to do is when someone is pressing on their eye, they'll get that notification and the user can determine whether or not they want to , uh , stop. Uh , and then, you know, on top of that, we're looking at building an app that lets someone know , uh , for example, parent or teacher, how many times this , uh, this is happening throughout the day for the student. Uh, and the reasons that that is important is we got a lot of feedback in that someone might be reading braille or doing O&M and then they start eye pressing and it sort of just takes them away from , uh , that moment. And they, they kind of lose focus. So reasons that that can happen is that the , the reasons that people I press are that it just sort of feels good. Sometimes they, you know, it's believed to have a little light perception. So you get like little sparkles of light , uh , and , uh , you know, kids kind of like that you , you sort of are seeing something. Um, and so it , it's , it's a , it's a behavior that's not necessarily bad. It's just sort of, it can lead to problems if you're , uh , doing it often enough. Um, so the, the, the bracelet itself, what we're, where we're at right now is we have started , uh , a study with HabitAware where we are , uh , observing folks who are eye pressing. So there's different ways that you can eye press , you can use your thumbs or your fingers, or you can ball a fist and sort of rest against your eye. There's , uh , just different methods in , uh, you know, one in a way that folks could actually I press . And I think the, the key is, is kind of looking at the data and sort of seeing how much people are actually, you know, what method they're doing and, and designing an algorithm to the bracelet, that's gonna detect that

Sara Brown:

And what are the next steps to bring this bracelet to market and the projected timeline for doing so?

Joe Hodge:

So that's a great question building off of what I was just talking about with looking at the algorithm. If folks, what we're wanting to do is get some participation out there from the field. So if you're a teacher, parent or a blind or low vision user themselves that know that you eye press, if you could reach out to me at JHodge@aph .org , just send me an email. Uh , I would love to get you in the study and, you know, get some data points , uh, you know, from you and just kind of have a, either in person or a virtual sort of discussion and where we can kind of learn , um, different ways that someone may eye press , um, because we wanna get the algorithm, right. Uh, so we're looking at probably , um, best case scenario , uh , 2023 release sometime around October. Um, it may take a little bit longer just depending on the study and, and what we, what we run into out there. But , uh , the good news is we , we believe we can get this done within about a year

Sara Brown:

And over to Greg. Are there any new products we can get excited about perhaps an update on the DTD and the EBRF?

Greg Stilson:

Absolutely. Yeah. So, so I think when we last talked, we kind of gave a 10,000 foot overview of what the Dynamic Tactile Device is. So just a quick reminder. So this is a device that is done sort of in a three-way partnership , um, with, with HumanWear and with Dot Incorporated. And actually we're doing some consulting with the National Federation of the Blind as well. Um, really just, this is a tool that I would say not only the U.S., but internationally, the world has been, you know, really looking for is a tool that can create tactile graphics and standard braille on the same surface. And it's often regarded as this "holy braille," right? And we've heard a lot of promises from various companies throughout the years that we think we've solved the technology. And one of the things that we've been doing this year is what I call sort of our prove it tour. This is where we've been going around , uh, our, you know, here in the U.S., but also to, to other countries as well, and, and demonstrating the prototype technology and what this is, is basically, this is , um , some Dot technology that we're using that , uh , can create examples of pretty common , uh , things you'd find in a textbook and our goal with the Dynamic Tactile Devices to basically create a tool that can recreate or to, to simulate the experience that a blind student gets , uh , when reading a textbook. And so when you think about reading a textbook, right, you're reading formatted braille, but you're also accessing tactile graphics, charts, and graphs, tables, everything like that. Right. And that's kind of what led us to the need to create this new EBRF or Electronic Braille Ready File , uh , format is that the existing EBRF , uh , standard that was created, you know, several decades ago was created for a static embosser right. So you're creating a , a file that can be embossed on paper. And when you emboss on paper, you're creating a file that, or you're , you're embossing content on a specific size piece of paper. But the difference is, is that with, with tools like we have today with electronic tactile devices and things like that, that the resulting surface that your, your file or your document or whatever you're using is going to be portrayed on , uh , can vary right from a single line display that can also vary in sizes from anywhere from like 12 to 40 characters, all the way to multiline , uh , devices. And, and we, we, we hope that, you know, down the road, we're gonna see more multiline devices. We , we hope that we're sort of unlocking the future as we, we progress here. But , um, you know, this is , uh , this is a really exciting initiative. It's probably one of the most difficult initiatives. Uh , I know I will probably take on in my career , um, because we didn't, you know, that one of the things that, that I always joke about is, you know, I I've designed technology before creating an entirely new braille standard is something that, that is completely new to me, but we are , uh , pretty far along in the EBRF standard , uh , development, we're working with , uh , many organizations around the world , uh , including , uh , the National Federation of the Blind, American Council of the Blind. Um , CNIB in Canada, NELS in Canada , uh , RNIB Vision Australia, Austrian Association for the Blind, Dutch Visio . So I could... , The list goes on and on BANA and LS. Um, so the reality here is that we're, we're really getting in touch with all of these organizations ahead of time and saying, look, we're, we're looking to row this boat. Um, and we need as much help rowing it in one direction as we can. Um, the biggest thing we didn't wanna see is every organization or every country doing their own version of an Electronic Braille Standard, because that doesn't, that doesn't help, you know, sharing of resources and things like that. So our dream here, and, and as we get closer, we are producing things like nonfunctional prototypes and this summer we're, we're really hoping to do some, some pretty serious user experience testing , uh , with both functional and nonfunctional prototypes. Um, but our, our, our goal here is to be able to release a device that has , um, its own applications, including a book reading application where a braille transcriber would be able to, you know, create a book or get a book from a publisher and, you know , uh , make the modifications, transcription, modifications that are necessary. And then as soon as a section of that book is done, rather than needing to emboss it , bind it, pack it , ship it, and here in the us , we ship free matter for the blind. So we often unfortunately get pushed to the back of the bus there. Um, so once a , uh , a book is shipped, it can take over a month to two months to even arrive at the doorstep of the student. Who's gonna need it. It is, our, our dream is that once an EBRF is created or , uh , uh , a braille file is created , um, and transcribed and proofed at that point, they, the transcriber or the , the provider of that book would be able to just simply upload it to an online library or an online resource. And the student would be able to just get a notification on their dynamic tactical device and download it right to the device, or the student could have any single line display that has been updated to support , um, you know, various libraries and things like that, that support this, and they could do the same thing. So, you know, we wanna really take advantage of the connectivity and the new technology that's available and try to really reduce what I'm calling the time to fingertips, which is the, you know, the , the , the moment that that book is done and ready to go. Uh , we wanna reduce that time to fingertips so that the kid has it in their hand, or the user has it in their hand , um, almost immediately. So, so that's really where we are today. Um, we're gonna be setting up regional testing , um , locations as well around the country and around various other locations , uh , internationally. Um, and if you do want get to get involved , um, there's a , an email address we set up here at APH that is just simply DTD or dynamic, tactile device dtd@aph.org .

Sara Brown:

That's so cool. I can't wait to hear more about that. And just learning about the time it takes to get books printed, you know, whether it's chapters or an entire book, and the , the time it takes to get from print to the student is so long. So this is really gonna change the game. It's really exciting to hear. It's so cool to hear an update about it. Yeah .

Greg Stilson:

And it's, and just to mention Sara, like, it's not , it's not just the time. One thing that I didn't even talk about is the cost, right? Like, you know, I asked , I asked the question to, to our tests and textbooks , uh , department. I said, give me an example of, you know, a , a STEM book, a science technology, engineering, math book, that kind of thing. Um, and I said, what, "what did that, what did that cost to produce?" Um , and they gave me an example of an algebra II book that was produced , uh , in 2021. It took , uh , 13 months to produce , uh , and cost over $30,000 to, to , to create now, granted that's a one time creation cost. Um, but every time you have to emboss that book and package it and ship it, there's a several thousand dollars , uh , cost on top of that, of , of shipping that, that reproduced book. Right. But that initial cost that , that from, you know, publisher copy to final braille copy was over $30,000 and took 13 months. Now , you think about that. That's why we here at APH push as hard as we can to say, look, get your textbook orders in as early as possible, right. Because if it's something that requires tactile graphics, if it requires a lot of , um, science, technology, engineering, and math content , um, that, that number just, you know, goes up and up and up. So we wanna make sure that people have enough time where they put the order in early enough that their student is actually being able to take advantage of the book, because I remember many times, I'm sure Joe does as well. I was in college and I was in a pre-calc class or a calc class. I don't remember which one. Um, and I remember my, my book didn't actually show up until the semester was over. And so those are the type of things that we're trying to , um, to, to avoid or to, to benefit here when, when the EBRF and, and the Dynamic Tactical Device , uh , finally come to fruition.

Sara Brown:

Well , I'm , I'm sure there are many people waiting with bated breath for this to, to come out and change the game. It's exciting. It's really, it's an exciting time at APH .

Greg Stilson:

It really is. Yep .

Sara Brown:

Tyler, Greg, and Joe, do you have anything else you'd like to say?

Greg Stilson:

The last thing I guess I will say is, you know, our team, the Global Technology Innovation team , um, you know, we, we focus , uh , a 100%, on technology needs for the users and , um, the users in our field. Uh, you know, we , we wanna make sure that, that the needs that you have are being met. So please don't ever hesitate to, to reach out to our customer service team cs@aph .org . They are so good at making sure that any feature or product requests , um, get forwarded to our team. Um, because really what we, what we look at is need, right. Is there, is there a need for , uh , that is being unfulfilled right now? And that's something that, that we're super passionate about. We are , um, you know, we are, we are product designers for users, and that's the number one thing I've told this team from the , the start is , um , you know, we need to fall in love with the problem and , uh , and come up with some, some really innovative solutions. So, like I said, email at CS@aph .org and , and be assured that those emails do, do reach our inboxes.

Sara Brown:

All right . Thank you, Greg Tyler and Joe for joining me today on Change Makers.

Greg Stilson, Joe Hodge and Tyler Maddox:

Thanks for having us. Thank You, Sarah . Thank you, Sara.

Sara Brown:

I'll be sure to put those email addresses. They mentioned in the Show Notes. Now we're talking to our friends at Thinkerbell Labs. APH partnered with Thinkerbell Labs to develop Polly, which will be available in the coming months. I have Thinkerbell Labs co-founder and CEO Dilip Ramesh, Thinkerbell Labs co-founder and CEOs Sanskriti Dawle, and APH's Early Childhood Product Manager, Donna McClure-Rogers. They're all here to talk about the new electronic library device. That'll soon be available. Hello, Donna, Dilip and Sanskriti and welcome to Change Makers.

Dilip Ramesh:

Pleasure to be here . Thank you for having us .

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Thank you for having me today .

Sara Brown:

So Donna turning this interview over to you, talk to us about the need for an early electronic literary device?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Sure. Um, yeah, we know that there are a lot of apps and games that exist for print readers, and none of , not a lot of those seem to be very accessible to our braille readers. So here at APH, we were looking for something that would assist our teachers and the field in bringing a device like that to our students. And we knew that we needed something that had a braille display , um, in the device in one unit. So that pairing the refreshable braille display would not be an obstacle for our general education teachers that may not be as experienced with it. Cause we know sometimes our little ones may have some difficulty getting those things set up , um , to get their lessons started. Uh , we also knew that , uh , there's a shortage of teachers for the visually impaired within the United States. And so caseloads can be really high. And from being able to stretch yourself and provide enough practice time for kiddos can be very difficult. We know that teachers cannot spend the entire day with their brail readers in each classroom because they have other students that they need to work with. So this device , um, that we were looking for, we were hoping was going to be able to provide independent, interactive practice for our kiddos and just get them excited about learning braille, even when their teacher wasn't present. Um , we also had some questions and requests from the field , uh , to kind of make a step beyond Braille Buzz and provide something that included contracted and, and , and uncontracted braille lessons and games, and also provide some spelling and vocabulary , uh , that would fit with the standards that were needed within the classroom.

Sara Brown:

APH has the new device coming soon and it's called Polly. Polly was created after Thinkerbell Labs, product Annie, which is currently on the market in India. Talk to us about Polly and how it's different from Annie.

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Well, Polly and Annie are very similar. Um, like you said , uh , Annie is localized to India and also has a setting for the UK. So we took what was already created and localized that to the United States. So Polly is going to be , um , quota eligible, of course, and it is going to be sold only in the United States. And it will , um, one major difference will be that it will include the interactive music that was recently released by Jack Hartman and provide a way for our braille readers to actually see letters and words as the song is progressing, just like the print readers will see on the video , um , as their classroom teachers are showing those videos to them, both devices are going to include Helios, which is an online platform that allows teachers to track progress and monitor what their students are doing , um, in their absence and maybe prepare for the next lesson when they do meet with their students. Um, Helios is also wonderful in that it would allow teachers to customize the order of lessons and make the children's work with Polly fit with any braille curriculum that they might be using for the students. And teachers will also be able to create their own spelling lessons that will compliment what's going on in the general ed classroom devices in are going to include , uh , phonics and just a section for free play in the Explorer area of the games menu. And these will also include , um, actual reinforcement lessons for uncontracted and contracted braille characters. And one of the other main draws for this device is the electronic slate. So we know that a lot of students are not really using the slate and stylist right now, but it is a very portable device that students can just slide in their pocket and carry around. So it's not something big and cumbersome like the Perkins Brailler. And so we're hoping that they will be able to utilize the electronic slate on this device, and that will provide them with interactive lessons and time to kind of learn how to use this with less frustration and get that feedback immediately as they're working with it. Um, the games on these two devices are so much fun. Um, even adults are having a good time with these. So I know these are gonna be a great addition to our students , um, activities and exposure to this.

Sara Brown:

Can you talk about the meaning behind the name Polly and it's association with the Annie name?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Well, we wanted to kind of follow Thinkerbell's lead on this one. Um, they named the "Annie" after Anne Sullivan , which was Helen Keller's first teacher. And we thought that was such a wonderful way to introduce this to the market. And since Polly was gonna be so similar to Annie and was kind of the second version of Annie , uh , we found that Helen Keller had a second teacher whose name was Polly Thompson . And so we decided to go with the name Polly , uh , to stay with that idea.

Sara Brown:

And turning to Thinkerbell Labs. Can you let listeners know , um, just a little bit more about Thinkerbell Labs and its history?

Dilip Ramesh:

Hey sure. So , um, honesty goes back to about eight years ago. Yeah .

Sanskriti Dawle:

Wow.

Dilip Ramesh:

So I , it , it just something that started off as our technical project , um , it was when we were all engineering graduates and when we were learning about things like student, we were students. Yeah . Now we graduates <laugh> when we , when we were learning about things like , uh , digital design and logic , uh , there was, there was this piece about , uh , seven segment display, which is basically any of these LEDs you might see on digital clocks or calculators , uh , which in which each digital is formed by having seven different segments of , uh , lights. And each of those statements are either turned on or turned off. And depending on a combination, you get the 10 digits, right. Uh , and very similar as well in concept you have six dots and you either raise them or lower them. And depending on , on which of them are raised, which of them are lowered, you get different combinations and letters and you found words with it. So we had a very rudimentary prototype, which we took to a conference in Montreal. And , uh , we were sort of fortunate to have some teachers for the visually impact attend that conference as well. It was a tech conference, but we also had some teachers attend that . And, you know , they were to opinion that there is a lot of scope for a product like this to bring some positive change and impact , uh , in education. So that is how we were , uh , a little inclined towards it . It fit all our , all our right , other right bills , right? So we are , uh , inclined towards technology for good , uh , working on something, using our skills to bring about large scale impact, solving some problem in a comprehensive way and not just a part of it. Uh , so these are the things that sort of bring us together and keep us together. And that is how it started. We started a , a , a formal company in 2016 , uh , two years after, you know , the product was conceptualized. And since then we wanna talk about how our journey has been.

Sanskriti Dawle:

Yeah. Uh , so first off, I actually wanted to , uh , appreciate you Donna, for bringing out the , uh , you know , the differences and similarities between Annie and Polly so beautifully. Uh , I, yeah, it it's, I think it speaks volumes of , uh , how, how deep and , uh , natural the partnership , uh , with Thinkerbell Labs and APH's. So thank you so much for that . I'm also , uh , adding to what Dilip said. Uh , I think , uh , well, as , as engineers, we bit of , you know , star in college , uh , wanting to make a difference in the world. And , uh , there's , there's a bit of, there's a bit of a rude shock that you get. If you go out as a , uh , as an idealist in the world, trying to solve problems, when you realize that most problems don't have easy solutions, you know, and most problems aren't solvable , uh , even , um, with, with technology. And for me personally, I think the , uh, uh , the , the , the real light bulb moment was realizing that , uh , low braille literacy , uh , one, I mean, in India, it's a very per pervasive issue and it is also pervasive across the globe. Right? And for me, that light bulb moment that really changed things was realizing that low literacy is a problem solvable by technology that , uh , children seem to like even the , uh , crude prototypes that we're building. We , uh , and I remember in one of our very first , uh , the , you know , uh , prototype trial , uh , we had a teenager that was playing with "C D E F G," just one braille letter that, that, you know, went , uh , that , that displayed different characters while , uh , playing the alphabet song , just "B, C , D E F G ." So I mean, you know, you know, how teenagers are, they're very interested in anything. Uh , so for, for a teenager to play with something like that and to practice the alphabet, that, that , that was a big , um , yeah. As a computer scientist, I think that was a big moment for me when I decided that, that this has to be there in the world. And , uh, and , you know, if , if nobody else has done it, then I will , yeah .

Sara Brown:

APH partnered with Thinkerbell Labs for the development of Polly. Tell us about the importance of partnerships?

Dilip Ramesh:

Yep . So, I mean, this is a conversation we've sort of had going for quite some time, and we couldn't be happier with how it's progressed and stands today. From a very early stage, we've sort of , uh , kept an eye out for , uh , good partnerships because we, we all want this entire industry to grow, right? There's , there's no aspect of it where individual institutions can grow in silos. We can all grow only if the entire industry grows with us. So the only way of making that happen is by fostering good partnerships , uh , so much. So it's sort of very deeply ingrained into how we think about , uh , you know , running a company , uh , building new products, because our first employee that we hired was actually for partnerships. So his entire role, Donna, you've met Avinash right ? So entire role is to look for partnerships across various domains to be product business, distribution technology , uh , or even thought leadership , uh , which we sort of ventured into of late in India, at least. So for any aspect of what we do here at Thinkable Labs, we look at partnership as one of the , uh , at , at , at the highest, with the highest regard and the same goes with APH as well, and partner with an organization as large APH's and , and the legacy that it has. Uh , we are very thrilled about it. And we do have a lot of lofty long-term vision as well, visions as well. Uh , it's not just Polly that we want to work together with. I think there's a lot of scope with , uh , us, with innovation, working together, coming up with new technologies, new products to solve the new problems that keep coming up. There are new problems every day . And there are some old ones which need to be sold as well. And I think we are in a good place where , uh , there's a good mix of skills from both sides coming together. Uh , we work to work well together as well. Uh , very evident in how, you know, on both sides , we're looking forward to the weekly calls that we have. Yeah. I mean, obviously there are not always those smoothest calls. We have, we have hiccups as well, like every partnership does, but that's, but then there's always alignment on solving those problems and getting things done, which is , which has been very en enriching , uh , very enriching experience for all of us. And yeah, it's been the highlight of my work for the last year and a half. At least it's something I talk to , uh , with everybody, you know, anybody ask me what I do. I make sure to mention APH's one of the big things that I do at Thinkerbell Labs. So it is been a matter of pride as well, best for me .

Sara Brown:

And can all of you all talk about your part in the creation of Polly?

Sanskriti Dawle:

Well , uh , I think , uh , personally for me, my , uh , input was primarily with Annie and seeing as Polly is the more , uh , contextualized version of , uh , Annie for , uh , a very , uh , well, a very different audience, so to speak . I have been mostly, you know , uh , sharing the team from sidelines as they sort of discover what makes it tick in a , you know , take one product and apply that innovation in, in a new market. And , uh , yeah, I would say my , my contribution, the creation of Polly has been more or less from , uh , trying to be a cheerleader for everyone. Just, just the , you know , uh , you know, dying with happiness as something. So, so , uh , uh , dream has actually come through .

Dilip Ramesh:

Oh yeah. I think you underplaying your , uh , contribution. So I , one aspect that , uh , sort of stood out for me when we were discussing how we should go about getting Annie to the United States was , uh , I think probably again goes back to how much weight the partnership actually holds, right? So we were all years in every conversation with APH asking them, how do you think we should go about it? What do you think is the best way to sell Annie there, to get Annie in the United States? And when they said, "Hey, look, I think rebranding it for the United States, adding certain features, which make it stand out from Annie will actually aid in this partnership going forward and us reaching people." We are very quick to jump on that bandwagon said , "okay, that it's new feature." Yeah . Yeah. Whether it's new features we could add. For example, I can think of the on indication piece that we added. Uh , a lot of these came up in conversation with Donna and her team, right . We're talking to her, getting her insights , her inputs, and then taking it back to our team to see what we can do about it. It's a lot of, it's a lot of iterative process in this entire piece. So I would say , uh , a lot of it came from being open to different possibilities when we started approaching the entire distribution in United States piece . Yeah . Yeah. Happy with where we've come with it. Uh , I think if we had a very rigid approach, would've be in a much different place and maybe not have had the outcomes we've had so

Sanskriti Dawle:

Far, which, which brings me back to the partnership part really. Uh , I think when you're actually trying to make change in the world , uh , that's the only approach that will work totally . Um , it's, it's not a "winner takes all situation." It's how to make everybody win. And , uh , I'm, I've been very, very happy , uh , to see, to , you know, one to , to see the same sentiment reflected back at me from everyone APH as well.

Dilip Ramesh:

Yeah , I think we had this one conversation , uh , and was also in this call and we said, we looking at a partnership where we have a win, win , win . Uh , that means us Thinkerbell Labs, APH and also all of our customers and users out there who will be using volume . Right. The only way this entire piece entire , uh , all of us can win is if all three parties involved in it get a win for each of them. So that's, that's been, that's how we are looking at this partnership. We'd love to hear from Donna , uh , on her .

Sanskriti Dawle:

Yeah , yeah , totally . <laugh>

Donna McClure-Rogers:

Yeah. Well , um, I have really enjoyed working with Thinkerbell. Um, all of the people that work with this project are so creative. Um, I am so amazed at the stories that they come up with to, to get this content and make it interesting for our kiddos. I I'm just so excited about it, but mainly with my role , um, as the product manager with APH, it's just to make sure that we are incorporating everything that has been asked of us by the field for an additional product , um , beyond Brail Buzz and as a former TVI. Um, you know, I, I, I kind of look at what my students needed when I walked in the classroom and the different things that I saw that they didn't have , um, such as , um , especially, you know, something during center time when the class was basically broken up into smaller groups. And, you know, I saw the print readers just playing with tablets and having a really good time with these games. And, and so I knew that there, there was a need for this. And , um, when I'm looking at the content that is provided by thinker bell , um, you know, I have to kind of go through and test every lesson and make sure that , um, everything is coming through and the updates are working well. Um, just to make sure that this is something that's going to create transferrable skills from Polly to using a refreshable braille display as , um , as the children grow and, and move through their technology journey , um , with braille and, you know, so I also helped to locate the , um, the voice of Polly. Um , we had to make sure that this was someone who was going to draw the students in and keep them interested , uh , like their most energetic teacher that they may have had , um , in the classroom . So we wanted that to be a reflection of, of their environment and , and kind of pull that in . But we also wanted to make sure that this could be something that , um, a print reader might be able to understand. And so we've worked together to make sure that lessons are understandable for young students and adults who are not familiar with braille. Um, so it's, it takes a lot of time and , um, and effort, but this has been one of my most favorite products to work with , um, because well , one, it also reinforces my own braille skills, which is great. Um, that's always a good thing to have. And , um, it also helps with understanding the , um , the needs for our kiddos and just making sure that everything is understandable and, and fits with what they might experience in life. And so , uh , it's just been a wonderful journey. I've really had a wonderful time.

Sara Brown:

Thinker about labs was recently on Shark Tank India. Can you talk about what that was like in the outcome?

Sanskriti Dawle:

All right . So , um, why I hope you all , uh , see the episode it's in Hindi, but , uh, I , I don't think language will be a bad , you just have subtitles as well. It does have subtitles. And also for anyone working in the speed , like I'm presuming the audience , um , anyone working in this field , uh , it's truly magical to watch my say that is , um , when we did, when we , uh , went on the show, when we knew we were gonna pitch at shark tank , uh , we, we, you know, we were brain storming. What's the best way to get people to connect with something like braille literacy , um , or self learning or something like a S and why that is important, because the truth is , uh , you know, you know, it, it's , it's a, it's a fairly niche segment.

Dilip Ramesh:

Yeah. And when you're on national mainstream television, you need to pull a big one there. Right.

Sanskriti Dawle:

<laugh> so , um , uh , I mean, even, even while , while , uh , fundraising, right. Uh , that's, that's always been , uh , our , uh , thing . So, so earlier I remember when we used to pitch , um , uh , we used to start the pitch in another language that the audience might not know, and then try and link that to how is it different when you comprehend everything that's happening versus how left out you feel when, you know, you , you , you cannot and trying to use that to get people to empathize, because that was all we wanted out of the show , right? If you're going on national TV, we just want more people to think about brail literacy. And , uh , uh , you know, I , I can't remember who it was, but someone had , uh , the idea of, you know , uh , looking at all our students who who'd use Annie in the past and , uh , trying to get one of them to , uh , to actually demonstrate that on TV. So we got , uh , our star student patron who , uh , who was , uh , uh , you know, who was staying on any pre pandemic. And , uh , he'd also been using it during the pandemic. So , uh he's um, well , uh , I , I think he could rule the world . He is , <laugh> so smart. Uh , at 10 years of age, he is , uh , quite, quite , uh , intelligent and, and yeah, I , I think he'll go places, but anyway, so talking about what Annie does and what Annie means to him has actually transformed. Uh , I think, I think, you know, I think it has transformed our whole business model because , uh , suddenly so many people know, people know about braille people know about literacy. People understand the importance of braille literacy and why technology is needed to leapfrog that gap because they connect with proclamation , they empathize with him. And I mean, I , I cannot begin to describe the far reaching impact that it has had in terms of people's own psyche. Like if you, if you try and , uh , look for the episode on YouTube, you'll see thousands and millions of comments from people saying, I understood what, what proclamation must be going through. And for, for someone to take that moment out of the day, to put themselves in his shoes and then realize the impact of the technology. I mean, I'm , I'm not going to , well , we did raise investment on the show, which was awesome. And I think it's gonna grow the company even , uh , even further, right. Uh , but to me, the most precious part was everyone in the mainstream beam able to connect. And I I'll give you one tiny example, right? Our a box has , um , an Annie , the charger and the stylus in it. Uh , so every time I fly somewhere , uh , I am stopped by airport security and I have to show them my braille business cards and , uh , some information the website to , to tell them that, okay, you know, you can trust me with carrying this stylist in my journey because I needed in my , at my destination to demo my product. So that used to add a solid 10 to 15 minutes to my airport security check, every single flight. And now when people see the, a box , they say, yay , Shark Tank, follow product there . This is the Shark T ank product. How do you have it? That is what has happened , uh , because the airport security check, everybody knows. Yeah . Yeah . <laugh> that anything you wanna add ?

Dilip Ramesh:

Yeah. So I I'm from south India , not a native Hindi speaker, but the show was in Hindi and I had to sort of , uh , fight my way through it. <laugh> for lack of better words , but it was a very, I mean, talking about , be us being on the show itself right. Was a little , uh , different because we had not done anything of the sort before , uh , go to a movies. I mean , a set , uh , of , of that scale and look at the , their processes of, you know , shooting a show of this sort , which was , which is very different, very interesting , uh , experience for us all. And I don't think we were expecting the kind of storm that we ran into post that show, right. Because the shoot was about a couple of months, or I think a month and a half before it aired on TV. And , uh , so we did the shoot, we came back just a close friends and family knew about it. And a month later it , it went live and everybody just lost it . We get , we so overwhelmed with responses on all of our social media, all of our phones ringing all the time. I mean, he just didn't stop for a long, long time. Yeah . Uh , but my biggest takeaway would be sort of the broadening of our outlook on how , uh , big we can think with , with this, how deep we can take this product and what sort of impact we can drive , uh , within our country. I think this, yeah, I made us look at the bigger picture and sort of, I feel like it made that picture also a little bigger environment than what it was earlier. Uh , we've got a lot of calls asking. I mean , uh , people asking to buy one nanny , which we don't do in India, we do a lab like setup in special schools because we have a lot of special schools here. So we do this product called Annie smart class , but you typically have an email between five to 20 Annies in one classroom. And we then start getting a lot of requests saying, Hey, I want one for meetings at home. I want one for my niece, my nephew, and things like that. So now we're looking at, you know, how can we bring Annie to the masses ? Uh , so these are very large. So the problems to be solved given the size of our country, the number of people in it, but , uh , us being on national TV and a lot of people knowing about, about us has definitely made it slightly easier . So really looking forward to how we can leverage this further and , and see what we can come up with in the next year or so.

Sanskriti Dawle:

I , I , I'd also like to add that. I mean, the point you said about people writing in to buy Annie's on an individual basis. Uh , so we never really got into the consumer market, consumer electronics market in India thinking that, okay, if, if anyone does want to buy a specialized product like this, how will we even find them ? And what happened because of shark tankers, they started coming to us. They , they , they , you know, they became aware that such a product and they started coming to us. And , uh , I think, I think that's , um, I mean, to be honest, still sort of figuring out the , the second or third order effects of this, but , uh , flipping that , uh , go to market strategy for anyone in the special education needs space, like having the market come to you , um, is, is I think , uh , going to be transformation in the way we approach , uh , special education needs. Uh , and I think, I think that's, I mean, we've seen a great example in , uh , you know, the quota system at APH where there's , uh , you know, decades of institutionalized , uh , structures that, that actually provide that , uh , that sort of visibility to the right technology, which I think we are with just at the beginning of those , uh , changes in India. Totally.

Dilip Ramesh:

Yeah. It's a great start . And we are , we have taken the right steps.

Sanskriti Dawle:

Yeah.

Sara Brown:

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Donna McClure-Rogers:

I would just like to add that working with thinker bell has been one of the absolute best experiences I have had at APH . I think they are one of the best teams and one of the best vendors that we have ever had. And we are so thankful to have entered into this partnership, and we are looking forward to what comes out of this in the future. Um , because I know that, you know, we're hoping to get a few other things , um, with them in the future. And, and we're just really looking forward to what this is going to bring. And we are just so thankful to have you guys,

Dilip Ramesh:

You , you beat us to it .

Sanskriti Dawle:

<laugh> maybe wanna talk about how great it's been working with APH <laugh> yeah . Uh , I think , I think we are a great model for long distance love.

Donna McClure-Rogers:

<laugh> definitely. Yeah. I think, I think this really, this really shows , um, how remote access to the world is, is helping. And, and I think we can, we can thank the , the pandemic for that. And , uh , this, this has just been wonderful. We've been able to get so far with this and, you know, we're so many miles apart. It's just absolutely wonderful.

Sanskriti Dawle:

Yeah. I , I just , I just want to add, I mean, in, when we first started out in this field and we started starting, you know, who are the major players and stuff like that, everyone , um , every major player in the sector is at least a hundred years old <laugh> Oh, well, I mean, so , so that sort of , uh , you know, we , we , we always had thought, okay, maybe we have to be like really big as a company to even think of , um, uh , approaching , uh , such large players, but , uh , APH themselves, you know, because they're so well , they're focused and driven about bringing the latest innovations. Yeah . Yeah . Um , so they're, they've actually been scouting for , uh , things like this, and it's been nothing short of a revelation in terms of what is possible , um , even in a very old organization. I mean, I think , uh , we have a lot to learn as a startup . Also, we we've actually instituted a lot of , uh , internal structural changes in the way we work because of, because we get to learn from an organization, like in terms of how to manage something and how to , how to have that organizational intelligence that, that translates beyond a single person, but becomes the core ethos of the , uh , company itself. Absolutely . That that's something , uh , we've really, really , uh , we been inspired by , uh , APH about it .

Sara Brown:

Okay. Thank you so much. Donna, Sanskriti and Dilip for joining me today on Change Makers.

Sanskriti Dawle:

Thank you.

Speaker 7:

Thank you for having us.

Sara Brown:

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Change Makers. I hope you have enjoyed yourself. Don't forget the check. The show notes for the email addresses mentioned earlier in this podcast. And while you're in there, you'll see a link where you can get on the waitlist for Polly, and there's additional links in there for some educational videos that can be found on YouTube and be sure to check APH's social media channels for updates on the DTD magnifier and Polly as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.