UNICEF Innovation Fund Graduate: Cireha

CIREHA: Aiding communication for children and adults with speech and language impairments

Martin Bedouret
Children with disabilities, their parents and disability rights activists in Zarqa
UNICEF/UN0276028/Herwig
14 June 2019

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is proud to see portfolio member, CIREHA, graduate. They’ve come a long way – from numerous product iterations to deep diving into understanding their ecosystem better, strengthening their business model, and gearing up to take their solution to market. They’re now ready to collaborate at a larger scale – as they find new pathways to work with partners, investors, and the open source community.

 

Reflections from the CIREHA team

Over the past 15 months,  our team has conducted three iterations of development and field testing of Cboard -- an AAC open source web application for children and adults with speech and language impairments, aiding communication with symbols and text-to-speech. During this time, we have grown our user-base to more than double our projected growth!  

User/Field Testing

Cboard has proven to be suitable for a multitude of users. A particular case that stood out for us, we met a 22-year-old with cerebral palsy who previously had no experience using assistive augmentative communication (AAC tools). She has limited use of her hands and arms but was able to use Cboard on a tablet. She was able to navigate the contents of the application, express her needs (was able to clearly express she was hungry and wanted to eat cake),and even expressed she enjoyed using Cboard.

From her interaction with the platform, we gained valuable insights, for example, she suggested that it would have been more helpful for her if the ‘back’ button was larger. She also mentioned that the diagram depicting the ‘family’ was confusing as she did not understand the pictograms used to represent family members.

Team Cireha the AAC Cohort Gathering in UNICEF
Cireha

Prototyping

The initial development of the application was hosted on  React JS as a simple UI application without login or cloud capability. We conducted preliminary research on the project, reaching out to developers,  mentors, and key stakeholders. After deliberation, we decided to design of an API-powered platform in order to provide the Cboard cloud the capability for users to log in, save and create content. With the main architecture and infrastructure in place, we were able to quickly translate our programme and proceed with testing.

Testing Cireha
Cireha

 

Open source is the reason why Cboard exists.

Quickly after the GitHub project was created, people with different skill sets and backgrounds started to contribute in different areas of expertise. We were able to create a space within the open source community for programmers, designers, translators, users, and parents to collaborate on improving our solution.

 

Challenges

Although open source has been integral in forming a large community of contributors to Cboard, maintaining a stable team committed to the long term project goals has been challenging. The infrastructure behind Cboard’s clean and simple interface is rather complex. The application supports a variety of users on multiple devices offering modes online and offline as well as features such as audio and more. Creating consistent output that is of high quality across all these areas is difficult to maintain, especially when there are various developers contributing.

We are working on building a stronger and more stable team, and are putting a lot of effort to have a validated business model that is able to generate revenue. At the same time, we are working to consolidate a marketing strategy in order to reach markets from different countries, especially on those where current solutions are not available.

 

Next Set of Goals

The future is exciting for Cboard. From our point of view, all the work we have done has been a great foundation for more developments. We hope to integrate technologies such as Machine learning, AI, brain-computer interfaces into Cboard in the future. Our team knows that there is no way to escape the growing relevance of technology. We want to be part of that not just because it's a trend but because we strongly believe that new technologies can help provide tools that can support people with disabilities.

In Belarus, three-year-old Agatha laughs with her mother, Ekaterina, at home in Minsk, the capital. Agatha has cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities.
UNICEF/UN0218161/Noorani

Working with the UNICEF Innovation Fund

To talk about Cboard is to talk about UNICEF Innovation Fund. We are quite sure that the project would have been just a nice and cool repository on GitHub and not much more than that without the support of the UNICEF team.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund team gave professionalism and soundness to the ideas that we had.
At the same time, they made us think, they did it a lot.

Prior to our investment, we hadn't thought about developing a business model, understanding the importance of user testing and persona definition, and building a marketing strategy and customer segmentation.

The Fund team did the same thing a good teacher does: make you think about things that you had never taken into account and show you how important these factors are.

 

We really will miss their support and advice from now on.