Local business faces Microsoft and Facebook in Disability Smart Awards 2018

Exclusive By Róisín Kilroy

An Edinburgh based business has been nominated for the Disability Smart Awards 2018 alongside huge international businesses, Facebook and Microsoft.

The awards ceremony is on Thursday 29th November.

Neatebox is the brain child of Gavin Neate, who spent eighteen years working for The Guide Dogs for the Blind as a guide dog mobility instructor, and ten years prior to that working as a dog trainer in the military.

Neate turned his attention to utilising technology as a resource for disabled people in 2008. He started realising that tech could be a real: “conduit, a gateway, a bridge for people who are disabled to actually interact a lot more with their surroundings.”

His first project in 2012 was a smart phone operated pedestrian crossing, for people who couldn’t reach or find a crossing button. The app, named ‘Button’, addresses the “issue of inaccessible crossings for a person with a mobility or visual impairment.” Initially starting in several spots around Edinburgh, success for the team and for app users came when the entire town of Largs was installed with their software. Soon after, Button was rolled out across different cities in the UK and is even being trialled in Hong Kong.

A big focus for Neatebox is to help provide an accessible tool for disabled users to utilise to help with inconsistent customer service. Using proximity aware technology and geofencing, Neatebox created ‘Welcome’. The app informs a business’ customer service team about the approaching app user, notifying them of who they are, a picture of them, information about any conditions they want highlighted and a message about what they want to achieve in the visit.

This technology allows independence and consistent treatment for the disabled user and an easier, less anxious experience for customer service teams. The app is free for users, and is entirely funded by venue that applies the technology. Neate explains: “They pay a monthly prescription, we never charge or advertise to the disabled person. It’s totally free to them and they are not taxed for their disability. They are just given a greater opportunity to spend their money in the businesses that are participating.”

“There’s £249 billion a year, that is equal to the 20% of people who are disabled, or are disabled in some way. That’s a lot of spending power to provide services for people who are disabled. You’re missing out on people coming in and using the services.”

The app is used by Scottish Parliament, Hilton, House of Fraser, Jenners, City Council buildings, and the Royal Bank of Scotland to just name a few.

“This isn’t just about a disabled person having stuff done to them, or not even about a disabled person getting better service, it’s also about the person helping the disabled person by removing their anxiety. There’s a lot of anxiety for people to actually interact, so what we’re doing fundamentally is we’re improving human to human communication.”

In January, the company will be seeking investment and crowdfunding, to help expand the reach of this technology.

Speaking about the company’s competition in the awards, Neate has said that he’s not intimidated: “anyone can come up with an idea, if you truly believe in the idea you can make it happen. If you think that because somebody is rich and powerful and large that they’re going to know better than you, that they’re going to be better at it than you, then you’re wrong. If you use that excuse to not start the journey, you’re certainly never going to achieve anything.”