August 12, 2022
Twenty-Twenty. A number that marks one of the most challenging years in our entrepreneurial journey and the reason behind why we wanted to start this blog. It also marks one of the primary vision criteria behind our customer selection. (Sorry, not sorry). Two years in and after Bonocle's soft launch, here we are. You managed to get yourself to this blog. You already know what we are working on, so I won't bore you with an introduction to our startup but rather to who we are as founders and what we want to achieve with this blog.
Typing this is Ramy (me), the co-founder and COO of Bonocle. Not socially distanced next to me is Abdelrazek (Aly for short), The co-founder and CEO of Bonocle. We are both of Egyptian origins, living in the lovely gulf country of Qatar. We were both raised in Qatar our whole lives. We studied together as kids in school and eventually went to the same university where I studied mechanical engineering and Aly studied computer science.
Apart from the most boring facts about us, the question we often get from people is: What made you start a company for blind people? Our story begins while at university. Aly broke his right hand after a car accident and had to join the special needs center at the university. The center helps students with disabilities, whether temporary or permanent. Aly needed someone to help him write his exams and do some assignments while his hand recovered. That semester, we spent a lot of time between classes at the center and interacted with the students who frequent the center for support, some of whom were blind. I remember Aly kept repeating, "how is it that this was our first time interacting with a blind person?". One of these blind students was pursuing a law degree. Over lunch one day, he told us about the hassle he had to go through to get his study material in an accessible form. It was a long 3 step process from getting the content from the professors to getting help transcribing them in an accessible format by volunteers and then finally plugging it into his braille display, a device that cost upwards of 5,000 USD. We were shocked; all we complained about was how challenging a course or project was. Our engineering mindset came to play. Here it was a problem affecting these blind students and every other blind student around the world according to them, and we had to find a solution. Over the following months, we established our startup, joined an incubation program at a prestigious local institute, Qatar Science and Technology Park, won awards from competitions, and worked hard on making our solution a reality.
Even though the problem was obvious, the solution wasn't. We were just starting to learn about the blind community and the assistive technologies available to them. For a while, we kept brainstorming and creating unfeasible and impractical solutions. Too expensive, too big, not good enough, what the ****, were just some of our and other people's reactions. Until we finally iterated to the current Bonocle. It was all thanks to the connections we made with the blind community. We like to say that Bonocle was created for the blind community by the blind community. It sounds a lot like a cliche, but it was the case for us. Our conversations with people from the community inspired all of our improvements and design choices. We were fortunate to meet blind people who worked on and used the latest technologies and gave us harsh feedback when we had earned it. This blog aims to develop a similar connection with all our users. We want you to hear about our experience and journey. We want to share our thought process and give you a chance to call us out on our mistakes. We want you to be the first to hear about our new ideas and projects and influence what we create.
Apart from the connections we want to establish with the blind community, we also want to spread awareness about blindness to the sighted community. I listened to a podcast where Lucy Greco, an accessibility evangelist at UC Berkeley made an eye-opening example about the awareness around privacy and security and efforts in that field and compared it to the lack of awareness surrounding accessibility. She said, "when it comes to accessibility, people fundamentally believe in the right of accessibility and understand the right of accessibility. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty and the hard work of it, there's still very few people that understand how to make an accessible course reader or how to make sure that your online class is fully accessible." Lucy's example connected with me profoundly. Apart from Bonocle's goal to provide accessible experiences that weren't previously available. We always discussed our aim to make it easier for others to explore and include accessibility within their offerings. More awareness equals more innovation, satisfying more needs, wants, and a lot more access for the blind community.
We want you to get involved. If you learn something new, tell us about it. If you have a different opinion, let us hear it. If you like or dislike something, share it with us. Be generous, be honest and always be hopeful. More importantly, spread awareness. Share this blog, discuss accessibility and tell more people about Bonocle.