Ottawa Student Launches International Start-up to Help People with Disabilities

Thursday December 22, 2016 12:30

Ottawa Student Launches International Start-up to Help People with Disabilities

Posted by Aida Alvarenga

Launches by Carleton University Student, Paul Safi, ReAble aims to help people with disabilities such as blindness or autism with their personal finances.

In Grade 4, Paul Safi was the best goalie on the soccer pitch at school. By Grade 7, he would drop a pencil at his desk and not be able to find it on the floor. Safi has retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary degenerative eye disease that has rendered him legally blind.

A Lebanese-Canadian born and raised in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Safi choose to attend Carleton because the university’s culture of accessibility and support for students with disabilities offered an opportunity to live independently.

Now the 20-year-old third-year psychology student has sprung out of Carleton’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to start a company that promises financial independence for people with cognitive challenges.

“I wanted to launch a business that was not built around one product but a whole ideology of empowerment,” says Safi, whose start up, click=”__gaTracker(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘outbound-article’, ‘https://www.reable.tech/’, ‘ReAble’);” target=”_blank”>ReAble, has graduated from the Barclays-backed Techstars accelerator in Cape Town and is getting ready to roll out an app that will help people conduct banking transactions safely and simply.

“Because of my disability, I’m motivated to help others. Having a social aspect to the company is very important. We identified a need and have a market to serve, but we’re not just doing this to make money.”





Ideology of Empowerment





Before his eyesight deteriorated, Safi wanted to be a doctor. He shifted his focus to psychology because it’s also a healing profession, but his plan to proceed straight to grad studies has been put on hold by the success of ReAble. 

The idea behind the company arose in the summer of 2015, when Safi was visiting family in Lebanon. His parents are both from there but emigrated to Canada and lived in Montreal for a decade before moving to the UAE for work, giving their son dual citizenship.

In Lebanon, Safi met a friend’s cousin, Emile Sawaya, who has a background in computer science. They went to an entrepreneurial ideation event where attendees were encouraged to think about problems for which no solutions exist.

Sawaya has a brother who is autistic and has trouble handling money. Safi had turned to technology when diminishing eyesight left him unable to read text on paper — he could still read large white text on black tablet screens or listen to audio lessons to study. Maybe technology, he wondered, could help Sawaya’s brother manage his finances?

People with conditions such as autism may not understand the difference between a $1 bill and a $100 bill. They can see the two additional zeros but might not comprehend the difference in value.

When buying something at a store with cash, they might not know what change to expect, or even that they should wait for change. If using a credit card, they may not be able to relate the cost of their purchases to the money in their bank account.

“The banking industry caters to the general population,” says Safi. 

Safi and Sawaya, ReAble’s head of research and CEO respectively, came up with a plan to develop an app that could walk people with autism through financial transactions — for instance, by keeping track of the amount of cash in your wallet and recommending the best combination of bills and coins required to make a purchase, and letting you know what change you should receive. Voiceovers and illustrations could also help users conceptualize numbers and money.

“The app is adaptable to each individual user, and different elements are gamified at the beginning of the user experience to help set up the app,” explains Safi. “These elements test and help develop factors such as financial literacy and manual dexterity.”

Author: Dan Rubinstein
Photography: Justin Tang
Source: Carleton University http://carleton.ca/our-stories/story/reable-empowering-people-with-disabilities/