Feelif is the first (and only) provider of multisensory digital content for the blind and visually impaired. They work closely with tiphlopedagogues, blind and visually impaired individuals and their parents and teachers in order to develop the best content that they actually need or want. They have developed educational content and digital games for all ages, including chess, four in a row, battleships, memory and more.
Below you can read a very informative interview with Željko Khermayer. In the last three years, Željko Khermayer and the Feelif team have developed the first multisensory technology, over 20 multimedia digital apps and the first multisensory smart devices for the blind and visually impaired.
Intro question: What is the social innovation Feelif about?
The Feelif technology that we invented allows the blind and visually impaired to feel shapes on a standard touchscreen. Our devices also give them better access to digital technology.
We developed three Feelif devices (Feelif Gamer, Feelif Creator and Feelif Pro) that can play back multisensory digital content.
The blind and visually impaired can feel digital content through vibrations, talk-back as well as audio and visual information. The multisensory feedback leads to a better, more memorable and engaging user experience.
We are the first (and only) provider of multisensory digital content for the blind and visually impaired. We work closely with tiphlopedagogues, the blind and visually impaired and their parents and teachers in order to develop the best content that they actually need or want. We have developed educational content and digital games for all ages, including chess, four in a row, battleships, memory and more.
On top of that, we developed a special application for the teachers and parents of the blind and visually impaired. FeelBook Maker comes pre-installed on Feelif PRO, and it allows sighted users to create multisensory content for the blind and visually impaired for any Feelif device.
Last, but not least, we developed Feelif Open Platform. It is a marketplace for the purchasing, selling and sharing of Feelif content, which is why we are also actively working with external developers to produce more content for the blind and visually impaired.
Why did you (or your partners) start this social innovation?
We began developing Feelif, knowing our technology could help raise the quality of life of blind and visually impaired people. Feelif devices can increase their cognitive capabilities, fine motor skills and spatial awareness, while also acting as a good inclusion tool. At the same time, Feelif technology and Feelif devices can be immensely useful for the parents, carers and teachers of blind and visually impaired individuals, as they can easily create new content for them.
I knew that nobody had created anything like this at the time, and I wanted to take advantage of that. My team did a lot of work as well, and together we made Feelif into a business. I’m very grateful for their support.
How did you come up with the idea? Was a creative or collaborative process involved?
It all started in 2013 when I watched a documentary about deaf-blind people and how they live with their disability. Because of their problems with communication and considering that the available technology for communication was expensive and unreachable for most deaf-blind people, they were very lonely. I found that to be deeply moving.
I envisioned that smartphones and tablets could be modified to be used by people with vision-related disabilities in everyday life. By mimicking the pins used in Braille, I was able to distinguish the individual letters of the Braille alphabet.
Together with co-workers from my digital agency firm 4WEB, we developed a special application for touchscreen devices and designed a special relief grid. The concept later became known under the name Feelif.
Throughout the process we worked closely with tiphlopedagogues, the blind and visually impaired and their parents. A couple of visually impaired communities have been our testing partners from the start, whereby we would always test our new developments with them for their feedback.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
The first concern was whether our technology would work and whether the blind and visually impaired would actually be able to feel shapes with it. After a successful series of rigorous tests, our users’ feedback was very promising. They were very impressed with it and their feedback proved immensely useful. After that, the other big concern was presenting our innovation abroad and finding a way to get our devices to as many people as need them.
I suppose that the concern never goes away, especially if you are deeply invested in what you are doing and are striving to be the best at it. Despite that, knowing we’ve received a lot of good feedback so far helps to keep me calm when things don’t go according to plan.
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?).
The beginning was very exciting, especially when we realised that we were moving in the right direction. Despite the financial difficulties at the start, when we were reliant on financing from the European Union under the European Regional Development Fund and the Republic of Slovenia, along with private equity funding, we focused on building up our credibility. Having applied to various social innovation and start-up competitions, our successes opened new and exciting opportunities for us.
We are also constantly learning and analysing our approach. With our goals in mind, we always ask ourselves whether we are on the right path and course-correct when we are not.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
I believe we have gained the most recognition with our accolades from the various social innovation and start-up competitions over the last few years. With every award we received, we also received a good amount of media attention.
But we have always worked closely with visually impaired communities in Slovenia, who were testing and providing feedback on our devices. Their testimonials proved to be immeasurably valuable not only to the functionality of the devices, but also to share the benefits of Feelif to our other potential consumers. Their testimonials also informed others about their fundamental problems, most of which would seem trivial to the rest of us.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
As I said before, we always worked closely with tiphlopedagogues, blind and visually impaired individuals and their parents. With Slovenian visually impaired communities we had always extensively tested our devices, which gave us valuable feedback and insight into their needs and requirements. We care that our users get from us something that actually solves a problem they have. It would be a lot harder to do that without our testers.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DIY fundraising?
In our prototype we invested our own funds. After having a working prototype and proof of concept, we received funding from public and private investors and various competitions. When we started receiving good feedback and consequently the first happy customers, we knew it was all worth it.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
We come up with new ideas for scaling our business almost every day. In my opinion, it is very important to think outside the box.
But if we are talking about getting a social innovation recognised across the world, this is the result of a good product, backed up by good marketing.
How do you change the whole system?
For the first time, the blind and visually impaired can feel shapes on a standard touchscreen. Our technology opens new possibilities for the blind and visually impaired in terms of how and for what purpose they can use tablets.
We will also connect all blind and visually impaired people in one place on a Feelif Open Platform, where the best content for them will be shared or sold. The Feelif Open Platform will connect all stakeholders in one big community.
Feelif is affordable. It is mobile and easy to carry around. Feelif will provide new opportunities to the blind and visually impaired, so they can be creative.
Feelif and Feelif Open Platform will help the blind and visually impaired with easier and faster access to the best digital content for them, so they can be more informed, competitive and prepared for life. But not just that: With Feelif and Feelif Open Platform they will have the opportunity to have fun playing games, even online.
We cannot repair their vision, but surely we can make their lives more interesting, richer and playable. Feelif will have an impact on the quality of their lives.
What would be the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, who has only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
The key to our success was having good co-workers and good relationships. Those definitely help, but my advice to an aspiring social innovator would be the following:
When you feel something is right, just do it. Don’t delay just because it’s hard, everything worth doing is. The only question you have to solve is whether you will do the work and solve a problem people have, or will you let them wait until someone else solves it for them?
Interviewed by Maja Novak
When Željko Khermayer was an IT student at the Josef Stefan Institute, he was invited to join a project developing Text-to-Speech software. He realised that blind and visually impaired people could not use Windows and were instead still using DOS. Željko decided to address the issue they had, by inventing a program called ‘Sound Hint’ which enabled the blind and visually impaired to use Windows. Although the program was celebrated at conferences and highly appreciated within the community, a lack of funding marked the end of the project.
About 20 years later, Željko was watching a documentary on the living conditions of deaf-blind people. He was touched, but that’s not the emotion he remembers from that night: ‘I realised that the gap is bigger today than it was back then. So I decided to change that once again, only this time I wouldn’t stop.’
In the last three years, Željko Khermayer and the Feelif team have developed the first multisensory technology, over 20 multimedia digital apps and the first multisensory smart devices for the blind and visually impaired.
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