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This App Helps the World’s Largest Minority Group to Communicate and Thrive

By 3p Contributor

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Unreasonable.is. Republished with permission. 

By Brittany Lane

In 2007, Carlos and Aline Pereira welcomed their daughter, Clara, into the world in Recife, Brazil, but their world would never be the same.

“The day my daughter was born, a medical mistake induced her with cerebral palsy,” Carlos says. “She wouldn’t walk or speak. From the moment I found out, I started to look for solutions to help her.”

He discovered stem cell treatment, which at that time was impossible to access in Brazil. The procedure would cost $40,000. At the time, he only had about $3 to spend. So Carlos opened a bank account, built a website, and launched a crowdfunding campaign – the first one in Brazil. Before he knew it, he had raised the full amount needed for the procedure, earning a ton of media coverage in the process.

In 2009, when Clara was almost 2 years old, she became the first person in Brazil to receive stem cell treatment, according to Carlos.

For most of the 1 billion people around the world living with some form of disability, treatment remains out of reach and financially prohibitive. According to the United Nations, this group forms the world’s largest minority. Collectively, people with disabilities tend to experience greater degrees of workplace discrimination and economic hardship, especially when they can’t communicate orally.

After her treatment, Clara gradually showed signs of improvement. However, she still struggled to communicate. Carlos says around 15 million people in Brazil alone can’t speak due to their disabilities. Not wanting his daughter to live a life unheard or uneducated, he decided to build a software solution.

“I’m an electronics engineer with no background in development,” Carlos explains. “But I saw my daughter needed it, so I had to learn. I went to a computer class, started learning, made a prototype, and tested it with Clara.”

After several rounds of this experimentation, Livox emerged.

Livox is an app with an intelligent algorithm that adjusts the “incorrect touch” of someone with motor or cognitive challenges as they interact with it on a tablet. The app is populated with educational content, and it uses natural language processing and machine learning to teach differently-abled people to read, write, and understand complex math concepts in a customized way. A speech synthesizer, similar to what Stephen Hawking uses, even enables the user to vocalize answers where applicable.

“Communication is one of the most basic human needs,” Carlos says. “We’re trying to provide ways for people [with disabilities] to communicate. It’s a big challenge for a teacher to have a child with a disability in the classroom. How can the teacher possibly know if this student is learning or not, especially if the student can’t say they don’t understand?”

Word spread fast about Livox, and parents with children who have autism and ALS approached Carlos to ask if the app would work for their kids. Each time this happened, Carlos would develop a new algorithm to address their specific needs.

“There is no limit to how many disabilities Livox can handle,” Carlos insists. “We never stop creating new things. When someone comes to us with a new need, we think about every single thing Livox can do to solve it.”

Livox is available for families to download on Google Play. Carlos also licenses his app on pre-loaded Intel tablets to governments, which then distribute them to schools. To date, Livox has over 20,000 users in 19 of Brazil’s 26 states.

Additionally, Carlos recently closed a deal with a large network of hospitals in Florida, where the Livox app is up to 4,000 percent cheaper than current medical solutions available. Soon, the company will expand into Saudi Arabia, as the government recently purchased 100,000 licenses.

Despite its growth, Livox still only reaches a fraction of those around the world who could benefit from the technology. To increase affordability and accessibility and maximize impact, Carlos launched a nonprofit arm called Inclusion Without Borders (IWB).

“It bothers me a lot, because I know that technology can change lives. But some families don’t have enough money to even buy a meal, and they have a child with a disability,” Carlos explains. “Through IWB, we want to provide this technology cheaper -- or even for free -- for these people.”

Google.org learned about the Pereiras' story in 2015 and awarded them $550,000 as part of the Google Impact Challenge: Disabilities. The money is going toward improving the speed of augmentative and alternative communication software. This will reduce the time that people have to wait for someone like Clara to write a response – something Stephen Hawking himself admits causes him loneliness.

Most recently, Carlos won the Social Entrepreneur Award 2016 from a partnership between Folha and the Schwab Foundation – the largest award of its kind in Latin America.

“Technology changes at an amazing pace, and what’s possible now wasn’t possible 10 years ago,” he says. “It’s hard to figure out what twenty years from now will be like, but I know what I want to do. I want to keep innovating to create technologies for people with disabilities.”

Images courtesy of Livox

Brittany Lane is the editor of UNREASONABLE.is for Unreasonable Group. She believes lasting social and environmental change happens at the intersection of entrepreneurship and empathy.

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