22nd November 2016
The work developed by Neatebox has been featured on The Guardian, BBC, itv, and now on the People for Research blog, within our #MakeTheWebAccessible campaign. The company was founded by Gavin Neate six years ago.
Meet Gavin Neate. Following years of dedication to The Royal Air Force (RAF) and a lengthy career as a guide dog mobility instructor, Gavin founded Neatebox, a company that currently focuses on the development of digital products that make the lives of disabled people a bit easier and safer.
Gavin’s comprehensive knowledge of visual impairment led to the launch of Neatebox’s original (and revolutionary!) app, a product that helps visually impaired pedestrians and users with reduced mobility to cross the streets in safety. But Neatebox doesn’t plan to stop here, and it’s all about creating accessible user experiences (UX) in the long term.
🎙 Your career started at the Royal Air Force, then you became a guide dog trainer and now you are working with accessible tech. How did this happen?
I always wanted to work with dogs as a young child. My father led a mountain rescue team and I loved the idea of dogs rescuing people. I left school and joined the RAF Police wanting be a police dog handler; I took part in several competitions and loved the idea of dog and person working together. Towards the end of my 10 years with the RAF, I started volunteering for Guide Dogs for the Blind, in Forfar (Scotland). I eventually applied for a job, but had been recommended as a guide dog mobility instructor. This was a dream job, training other people how to work to the standard I had experienced myself. I no longer felt the need to be involved with the dogs, but wanted to be a part of the process for others.
I noticed as early as 2003 that my clients were increasingly arriving to train with their new dogs whilst utilising new smart technology. I truly saw how this was going to change how I would deliver my service and could see how the future for people with disability was going to change dramatically. I wanted to be a part of this, and ultimately saw I could even influence it.
🎙 What made you want to work in the accessibility field, making technology inclusive for all through the Neatebox apps?
I saw how the technology my clients were using could be adapted for a multitude of solutions and adaptations. It was very exciting, but at the same time frustrating as I could not see my peers engaging in the same way. I wanted them to see what I saw.
Frustration led me to research and find a solution for a pedestrian crossing button press, as this wasn’t being done utilising smartphones and I saw this as the future route in which the solution could be inclusive.
🎙 Tell us a bit about the products that Neatebox has developed so far, such as the pedestrian crossing app.
The pedestrian crossing was my first and the one which I focussed on initially. It’s a small thing to press a button, but it can turn into a difficult task if you can’t reach it or find it in the first place.
Why should the disabled person have to feel embarrassed and foolish when they want to do something as simple as cross a road? By addressing this, I thought I could give them back a tiny, but important piece of independence.
🎙 UX experts say the big problem with digital products is that accessibility is usually an add-on, but that doesn’t work every time. Do you think the industry will change in the near future?
Yes, yes, yes! The industry is so incredibly focussed on making money that the act of making money becomes the driver. People didn’t build bridges to make money, they did it so they could cross rivers. This simple problem-solving process, of course, leads to income generation almost as a by-product. At no time did I think about making money, as initially the company was ran on my own savings; it only became more important as I brought in investment.
💭 “If you’re making an accessible product, the first thought must be: does it make the end process more accessible?”
User experience is also not purely the remit of the disabled person. We don’t just ask patients how we can improve the health service; we ask (or should ask) that question to nurses, doctors, etc. The same for the disability service sector. UX experts appear to think that you just ask the person with disability. The fact is that this is only half the story, we must also find people who can help interpret this information.
🎙 Can you share good and bad examples of accessible and non-accessible digital products?
This is not an area I have studied, but I am very aware that the BBC is top of the tree with the accessibility it incorporates into iPlayer and its website.
🎙 Can you share simple and an easy-to-apply tip that can make a big difference in accessibility if applied to some websites or apps?
The best tip is: employ people with disabilities within your organisation. Not only do they use this tech on a daily basis, they are probably a million times better than you at using it. Trust me, this is a top, top tip.
Maria Santos, Head of Marketing and Data Protection
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