Worldwide, 285-million people are estimated to be visually impaired. While some cases can be reversed, there are 7-million new diagnoses each year, many due to preventable diseases.

The blind and visually-impaired face two significant barriers: (i) they must learn how to be productive citizens despite their disability; and (ii) they must cope with public attitudes and misconceptions about blindness, such as:

  • a blind person has no ability to work productively
  • accommodations for the visually impaired are too expensive
  • people who are blind or visually impaired can not read printed or handwritten materials
  • a blind person needs a sighted-person in order to conduct their daily life

As a result, many blind people suffer from a loss of confidence and true integration in society which impacts their social skills and interpersonal communication patterns. 

I have a solution to empower the blind and visually impaired.

I was inspired to start iAid when I was just 12 years old, after watching a woman with a visual impairment struggle to cross a busy street. In our brief conversation, she shared how challenging it was to navigate busy streets, and I realized that commercially available products like walking sticks are antiquated because they are poor at detecting obstacles that do not have a touch-point on the ground and do not have a 180-visual field. I wanted to innovate a product that could help this population of people operate independently and with confidence.

Being that nature is such a great innovator, I thought about how bats use sonar waves and vibrations to help them divert obstacles. So I started teaching myself about robotics and programming from scratch. I also used Internet forums to connect with coders and inventors from around the world to ideate and collaborate on how we could design a meaningful product.

I worked on the prototype for three years and then spent another three years refine the product -- which is essentially a belt with four sensors that bounce sound-waves off objects. Connected via blue-tooth to a joy-stick, the device scans the environment to identify the best path and the joystick moves left, right, backwards and forwards to help the user find and understand the best path. When needing to navigate to a particular destination, iAid also integrates with Android apps like Google maps and compass so that with a simple voice command, the user can be empowered to get to a specific location.

  • My name is Alex Deans, and I`m an 18 year old from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I am an inventor, artist, public speaker, and the founder of iAid technology for the blind. I created the iAid when I was 12 years old to improve navigation for the millions of visually impaired people worldwide. The iAid was named by the Organization of American States as one of the "Top 50 Ideas Worldwide for Technology in Health, Energy, and Medicine". The iAid has taken me from working with visually impaired communities to speaking to over 140,000 youth about their ability to make a difference, alongside activists like HM Queen Noor of Jordan, Katie Couric, Commander Chris Hadfield, and Demi Lovato. I am passionate about creating a world where a so-called 'disability' can't limit your potential.


Advice for my peers

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF -- I encountered many obstacles and failures in my journey while building the iAid. I started off as a 12 year old who had no idea how to program. I struggled for over 2 years, teaching myself how to program in multiple languages. I had no close relatives or friends who had worked with coding and technology, so I felt very alone in the learning process. There were hundreds of times when the device failed or potential mentors rejected my requests for help. I viewed these "bumps" as obstacles that I needed to overcome in order to succeed. They were instrumental in iAid's success and helped my confidence blossom in the meantime. I developed the skills to combat rejection and persevere. 

KEEP ASKING FOR HELP -- The technology community seemed unwilling to support a young inventor with a big idea. I had to reach out to inventors online, many of whom told me that I wasn't smart enough or too young. Over a year and hundreds of emails later, I found help from inventors in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa. They mentored me in programming and helped me overcome any obstacles that I faced. They were, and still are, a huge part of iAid's success. We need to encourage the public to invest in and support young people and their ideas. 

THERE'S A LINK BETWEEN CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION -- Innovation is all about thinking outside of the box. Personally, I drew creativity from my love for visual arts. I became passionate about portraiture at the start of high school; I relished in the challenge of trying to capture someone's life story in a single picture. Art asked me to challenge everything that I knew, forcing me to look at my artwork from different perspectives. These skills that I developed from my artwork allowed me to tackle any problems from many angles and succeed. 

GET TESTIMONIALS -- When other people champion your products it legitimizes what you are doing. After I finished my prototype, I partnered with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and had a lot of prospective clients use it to navigate through an apartment building without needing to use their hands. As a result of their feedback and testimonials, I was encouraged to keep innovating.  My favorite three are: 

"Alex is an incredible young innovator. He's got it all. I think that it will be very exciting to see what he does next." - Nancy Lockhart, Director Loblaws Companies

"The genius in [iAid] consists of [Alex] being able to combine technologies, and for people who are visually impaired, this makes a world of difference." - Maurice Bitran, CEO Ontario Science Centre

"I can't wait to use [iAid]. I think that it will improve my life. Definitely, we should encourage this product to be in the market" - Tarek Abderrazik, visually impaired participant in iAid trials

MAKE YOUR PITCH CLEAR + SOMETHING PEOPLE CAN UNDERSTAND -- below is my submission for the 2014 Google Science Fair. In it I explain not only how the device works, but some of the outcomes for my stakeholders.

The steps I took to innovate!

STEP ONE: I had to find the inspiration for my idea. For me, this came after meeting a blind woman on the street who was having trouble navigating the busy road.

STEP TWO: I had to research what it would take to help the visually impaired navigate both inside and outside. As described earlier, the device scans the environment to help find the best path forward. All of that information is relayed back to a little joystick which the user holds in their hand.

STEP THREE: I had to make a prototype and work with my primary stakeholders to incorporate their feedback back into my device. 

STEP FOUR: I had to figure out what the market would bear in terms of pricing. Right now, 90% of visually impaired people reside in a developing country where there's no ability to spend money on an expensive solution. 

Similar Innovations