BATA memberr Inclusive Technology has won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its success in exporting around the world.
The Oldham, Lancashire-based company, founded by BATA founder Martin Littler and two colleagues in 1996, received the award after signing up 25,000 paying subscribers for its HelpKidzLearn online learning service.
Inclusive Technology develops accessible software for children with severe learning disabilities or those without speech who need alternative or augmentative communication (AAC).
The company supplies the alternative keyboards, joysticks, rollerballs, switches, touch screens and eye-gaze systems used by learners with these complex disabilities.
As well as stocking and supplying assistive technology, the firm is involved in the design and specification of technology, investing time, market knowledge and, sometimes cash for tooling.
But Inclusive Technology’s big overseas success has been the HelpKidzLearn service and its accompanying iPad apps.
For five years HelpKidzLearn was a free service attracting over 500,000 users. Then in 2012 Inclusive Technology put up a paywall round 90 learning activities and the following year added ChooseIt!Maker3 which allows teachers to create individual learning activities for each child.
HepKidzLearn contributes just over 20% of Inclusive Technology’s sales compared with hardware which accounts for more than 50%. However, HelpKidzLearn is growing much more rapidly.
“All the people who work here are ever so proud,” said Martin.” It’s fantastic, the award recognises the huge contribution that the whole British assistive technology industry has made during the past 40 years."
Martin believes the award will broaden awareness of HelpKidzLearn especially in the US. “We can use the (Queen’s Award) logo for five years on our website and catalogues. Interest in our royalty in the US often seems bigger than in the UK.
“There are really only two nations involved in AT products: the US and the UK. We tend not to compete with the US. American stuff is really good at getting people back into employment, while we are better at the really complex end such as switch accessible software.”
Of course the US has helped us by leading the way in legislation that ensures complete access to buildings. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which grew out of the need to help veterans, served as a model for our own disability discrimination legislation.”
Inclusive Technology and HelpKidzLearn have customers in 59 countries and contacts in 149. Their strategy is to use a database of 120,000 registered contacts to engage key opinion formers and local distributors.
There is little problem in convincing people about the benefits of assistive technology, says Martin.
“When you’ve got a four-year-old who is as bright as a button, but has no means of expressing themselves and you give them that ability, no one who sees it would doubt (AT’s) usefulness for a second.”
“The problem is to understand what help the child needs in the first place.”
And Martin’s advice to other assistive technology companies looking to sell products and services abroad?
“Have something online, have something niche so you don’t have to be huge, just good. Use the web and social media to build interest and be good enough at it to attract customers.
“Inclusive Technology had to invest considerable time and money in building and maintaining its service. The initial development took a lot of money and people to do that.
“But it has saved us money too. We don’t have to provide CDs or as many printed catalogues.”
Martin says the process of applying for the award involved over 40 hours of form filling, but it was worth it.
Now his 25-strong company face a round of ceremonies, starting at Buckingham Palace and ending up with a presentation by the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester in front of an audience of school children.