Artificial intelligence and internet-of-things technologies are helping people with disabilities lead more independent and more creative lives, two leading social entrepreneurs told a London audience this month.
Barry Farrimond from Open Up Music and Jen Hyatt from Troo.ai were speaking at an on-stage showcase of Nominet Trust-funded tech ventures at DigitalAgenda’s Impact Awards, celebrating the best of UK tech for good.
Farrimond co-founded OpenUp Music in 2014 as a charity to help orchestras become accessible to young disabled people, with technology like the newly invented clarion – a digital musical instrument you can play with any part of your body including the eyes – having a key role in that.
“Orchestras contact a dizzying array of technology,” he said. “The clarion is another extension of that long heritage of technical innovation.”
Farrimond said the number of disability-friendly ‘open orchestras’ UK-wide was about to pass 50, with the world’s first national disabled-led youth orchestra launching in September. Nominet Trust had been “fantastic” in its support, he said, being “a friend at the other end of the phone” as well as a funder.
Hyatt, a serial social entrepreneur who has co-created more than 30 organisations including in health and education, founded what was Troo Life Coach in 2016, with a mission to deliver insight and wellbeing through conversational Ai and data analytics.
She said Troo.ai was “doing everything from putting the voice in wheelchairs to working with telecoms giants to help younger people achieve a better work-life balance”. Troo.ai had partnered with a Swedish firm to build a smart wheelchair, allowing users “to engage on a whole library of conversations from relieving pressure sores to having a good day out.”
Nominet Trust chair Bill Liao said that, across 10 years of work, the organisation had invested over £30m in socially motivated tech. That support was highlighted via the trust’s NT100 series – which reached its fifth anniversary with a landmark report – and a new podcast series, Our Lives + Tech.
“Being a social entrepreneur is hard,” Liao, a tech-for-good entrepreneur and investor, said. “Doing it with tech is actually often even harder, so you have to give these brilliant social entrepreneurs the deepest respect, because they have bled for their tech and they’ve bled for their impact.”
In January the trust confirmed that it would be going it alone from its founding funder Nominet, moving forward. “As we continue to evolve independently from Nominet we will scale up and do more,” Liao promised.
DigitalAgenda’s second annual Impact Awards happened on March 7 at east London’s Oval Space.