In this episode of the Inclusive Designer Series we hear from Gavin Neate of Neatebox who talks about his experiences with as a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, founder of Neatebox and why it is essential that we always think critically when it comes to problem solving in order to develop the best new products and innovation.
Perito: Welcome to the Perito Podcast Our World Without Boundaries. A Podcast all about creating inclusive environments and about helping us all become expert at identifying exclusion and creating an inclusive and accessible world for everyone, everywhere. Perito believes that we are all designers in some capacity even if we aren’t the Principal Designers like Town Planners or Architects. This podcast is out there to help everyone become a community expert and recognise exclusion and someone who can then contribute to a design process and make or advise on creating better inclusive design decisions.
The podcast will help listeners learn from the day to day experiences and challenges of our interviewees and the topics we cover so that we all have a greater understanding of what can exclude people from participating and what can be done to create our world without boundaries.
Now in this episode we’re really pleased to be joined by Gavin Neate who will be talking to us today about a variety of subjects including mobility, technology and his company Neatebox.
(0.55) Welcome Gavin how are you?
GN: Truly awesome to be here I couldn’t be happier to be involved in the Perito Podcast, you guys are obviously covering an area which will become apparent as to how close that is to my heart and how important I feel the work that you’re doing is.
Perito: (1.14) Oh thanks for saying so I just had myself on mute there (laughter) which is a good start, let’s find out a little bit more about who you are, so tell us a little bit about who you and your background?
GN: Yeah so my name’s Gavin Neate I joined Military Police when I was 17½, I spent 10 years in the Royal Airforce as a Military Police Dog Handler, in 1996 I left the forces and joined Guide Dogs for the Blind where I trained for 3 years to become a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. A Guide Dog Mobility Instructor is the person who trains the person how to use the dog, so yeah everybody goes “oh wow you must love puppies then” I’m like “no not really” my real passion was for, and I liken it to Lewis Hamilton being pit crew, my real passion was preparing the dog, handing the dog over to the person, helping the person get the most from the dog and then watching them go off down the road and it was amazing job, I absolutely loved it, I did it for 18 years and I had never intended to leave, I had never intended to be a businessman, I didn’t want to have a business, it was not anything that I had aspired to doing but I’m just really, really lucky that I had the opportunity to do it so yeah that’s where I am as a businessman.
Perito: (2.26) One of the earlier podcasts I did was with a lady called Jill Allen-King and she’s been blind since the age of 24 I think it was, one of the early questions is she pointed that how her, she’s had 7 or 8 guide dogs over her lifetime and in the recent few they’re a lot more treat based training she was saying. So essentially the dog gets a treat almost every 5 seconds. It gets to the end of a pavement and we’ll have a treat and then it goes up here and have a treat whereas she felt some of the earlier guide dogs including maybe 5 of the 8, maybe 6 of the 8 had been much more, I don’t want to say professionally trained because I honestly don’t understand it enough but perhaps they had been trained in a different way which meant that more time had been spent, (3.10) do you recognise that or is it something perhaps that might just have been applicable to Jill’s dogs?
GN: It’s a really interesting question this is very much the way that dog training is going just now which is food reward. It’s all very much positive reinforcement but it does require the dog to have or the handler to have a pocket full of treats and the dog to constantly get rewarded whenever it achieves one of the small goals. Now I was a dog trainer in total 28 years and I very seldom use treats as a reward, I used praise as a reward. So you get to a park and the dog gets a free run so there’s the reward in getting to the park or whatever it might be so I didn’t use it, that said it’s a little bit like that moment in Life of Brian where somebody says “follow the gourd” and somebody says “follow the sandal”, the truth is you can achieve different goals both routes, neither route is wrong it’s just that one route might be more difficult than the other to achieve now I think when it came to dog training the food reward is kind of push back against the idea that we used any kind of dominance theory or pack leadership theory and it kind of pushed back against that, a lot of people might say that it pushed too far and now you end up with dogs that are just focussed on treats all the time and if we liken that just for a second to children you could say to yourself well is it better having a child who knows where the boundaries are and knows that if they go over those boundaries then they might be in trouble or are you better off having the child that is constantly looking for a reward from you for achieving something that you wanted it to achieve and I always think to myself I kind of like the boundary thing. I always liked the way that my dogs worked for me because they wanted to work, or they wanted the praise not as it would be if I was a Mobility Instructor now, it would be my dogs are working for me because they want the treat. So I totally understand it, I’m reluctant to ever say one is wrong and one is right because when you do that you start getting yourself into a position where you’ve become partisan and I think we already know without pointing any fingers in any directions just how becoming partisan is probably not a good idea, society is far too separate because of I’m right and you’re wrong type politics.
Perito: (5.25) Following on from that, one of the things Jill was pointing out is extra costs because the extra costs of having to feed these animals, I’m 6’ 5” and I always look at these big dogs and think I’m kind of like that version or this version of me cos they’re big dogs and strong and they must be going through an awful lot of treats and Jill’s there obviously struggling with the financial costs of having a disability anyway and then this treat based dog mobility thing comes in so while I agree with you about not going too far down this there are, straightaway, interesting nuances.
GN: I think it’s all about being positive, I don’t think I was ever that negative with my dogs I just created boundaries and bringing it back to children for a second you could say, “here’s a chocolate bar for you because you’ve been great today and you’ve cleaned your room “ or you can say, “come on let’s go to the park and play football” and I guess over a period of time humans, children, because I believe they are would actually be going “do you know what I wish I could go out and play football” that’s the bit I’ll remember, that’s the bit that I remember of the relationship I had with my parent it wasn’t the amount of times they gave me a chocolate bar.
Perito: (6.35) Yeah that’s a good observation. So next question then is do you prefer The People’s Front Of Judea or the Judean People’s Front?
GN: (6.41) To be honest both of them what can I say.
Perito: (6.43) (laughter) So you’ve covered off a little bit a life and career before starting your company Neatebox so are there maybe a couple of comments or thoughts about that perhaps you haven’t covered in the last couple of ??segments??6.55 that you wanted to go over again?
GN: Oh yeah, definitely so if you look at the situation, I was a Guide Dog Mobility Officer from 1996 onwards. In 2003 I started getting involved in technology because people were turning up with GPS on their shoulders and their phone was starting to talk to them in different ways, the 2006 iPhone bought out voice control which meant phones were talking to you which was just, to all intents and purposes just a glass screen as we’ve got now but the phone was actually interacting through voice so that the blind person could interact with it and because I got really excited about technology and mobility and guide dogs. I started realising that this smart technology was going to be very much a part of people’s lives and then I started thinking about ways that the smart technology could address some of the issues that my clients were having on a day to day basis and the very first one, which I’ll talk about in a second, was a pedestrian crossing system operated by smartphones.
Perito: (7.50) We’ll come to the product side of things later because that will be interesting to chat through. What are the top things you learnt as a Mobility Instructor that you carried through to the design and development work with the Neatebox products.
GN: So interestingly when you are a Mobility Instructor, your job, initially, is to be on the person’s shoulder and to explain to them how they should interact with their dog but ultimately you need to be not there at all, you don’t go from being on their shoulder to not there what you do is, is you increase the distance between you and your client over a period of time as they become more comfortable and confident with giving the instructions to the dogs and reading the dog’s behaviours you are further away but that means that you get to see them from a distance, you get to see the world that they live in and the world that they have to interact with in order to be independently mobile and because you’re increasing the distance from them you’re actually seeing them interact and people interact with them and indeed their environment without those people seeing you, so you’re getting to see a snapshot of somebody’s life from a professional point of view and seeing how they’re going to be the day that you’re not there as much as the day that you are there and that’s where you start seeing the real challenges they have and will have on day one plus whatever because that’s the world they live in.
Perito: (9.03) That’s really interesting so you’re essentially being able to work as the inclusive designer, the fly on the wall inclusive designer. Watching how your training, essentially your products in action and then you can learn. You’ve got your analytical mind clearly so that then you can start applying those and looking at how to increase things. That is, I guess in a mini way, what the podcast is about – sitting on the shoulder of other people’s experience and going through it.
GN: Yeah of course, people said to me later James “so tell me about your market research?” and I said, “I haven’t got any market research” and they would say, “well how did you come up with your idea?” and then you realise that you had 18 years of observational market research, I didn’t write it down on a spreadsheet, I didn’t have any information written down in any way whatsoever but I had 18 years of observing people and seeing first-hand the challenges that they were coming across. If somebody was coming at it from an academic point of view say and somebody said, “right we’ve got a project for you go and find out about whatever” they would then have to try and put 18 years of research into, I don’t know 3 interviews or whatever they might do, 100 interviews or even 1000 interviews they’re not going to get 18 years of observational research and as you say there, analytically I was putting all of that into my brain and going that could be better, I wonder if, what if I was able to do that, because that would address this. Initially it was, that’s a problem, that’s a problem, that’s a problem and I think the big problem we have right now in social media and indeed in society in general is that we’re all brilliant at pointing out problems but perhaps not excellent at finding solutions to those problems.
Perito: (10.40) Alongside the extra cost thing one of my major pet peeves is clearer pavements, the way people park on pavements obstruct it with rubbish and just generally growing bushes out as obstructions and barriers of pavements. With your Mobility Instructor work you must have come across this on almost every street. It engenders a sense of injustice in me so that must have been relatively difficult, and do you think we’ll ever achieve that even with all the clearer pavement schemes that we’ve got going on?
GN: It’s a really a great point and I would follow along behind somebody and the obvious one was an overhanging branch which is very much the mistake or problem or fault of the owner of the garden where the tree is overhanging onto the road, and yes there is very much a person who is responsible for that and they are to blame but then I would look at other things in our environment and I would potentially get angry but then I took it to the next step I went why are they doing that? If we can understand why somebody does something, we can actually look at how we can help them not do that thing. So why do people put sandwich boards out on the street? Well they put sandwich boards out so that people know that they have a shop right there. What is it that means that people are walking by without thinking there’s a shop there? Well it’s because their window display is maybe not capturing people’s imagination, there’s not something there about it that makes people look at it. So you look at that and you go right, what if they had an amazing window display would they even need a sandwich board? Now we’re thinking those buggers they’ve got sandwich boards out but actually what I’ve done there is I’ve said why is the sandwich board there? If we transpose that into absolutely everything we come across we can find out that by solving the problem of the person whose actually put the problem in front of us we can have a society that doesn’t just fix/find where the problems are but actually comes together in the solution and that is a massive part of what I’ve done with my company, is understanding every single person’s problem and then making sure my solution directly addresses the problem that they have as well and that means that, and it’s like, I can even, we can through this a win, win, win, win, win, win situation and I number those for very good reason we’ve got an example we’ll be talking about where every single one of those 6 individuals wins.
Perito: (13.13) So it sounds like your thought process is based on the Five Whys used within the Lean Six Sigma system. It’s quite an interesting thing it’s the idea of you constantly ask why, it’s based around the example of the Washington Monument and the long and the short of it is that you start off with the Washington Monument it was getting damaged and the reason is it’s been getting damaged by cleaning chemicals and then the guy whose been sent in the mid 90’s to do the investigation starts trailing it back and he goes back past the birds, cos there’s lots of birds around and the birds dropping excrement on the Washington Monument and then he goes through to why are the birds there?, spiders, lots of spiders, so the spiders, and then he goes well why are the spiders there? and it turns out the reason the spiders there because there’s lots of insects there and they’re eating the insects. Once he asks that final why he thinks well okay so actually why are the insects there? and then he suddenly realises the reason is because at dusk and dawn they have a lighting system which attracts the insects to the lighting which is then causing the ramifications of everything else.
GN: (14.19 ) Yeah
Perito: So it’s a very good way of looking at it and structure your business around there makes good sense.
GN: Yeah I thought you were going to say the cleaning detergent attracted insects which would have.
Perito: Well it may well do by now I’m sure it’s probably come full circle again.
GN: (laughter) Yeah a really great example and I’m not the best reader in the entire world but we just go through generations of people rediscovering stuff and we have to constantly rediscover stuff because we can’t, we’re useless at taking, if we always took into consideration something that had happened before us and read books and did all those things, my word we’d be seriously in trouble for evolving as little as we have since the dawn of time because we just haven’t taken a lot, I mean wars, does it make much sense, not really.
Perito: (15.11) No, it certainly does not no. But what does make sense is you setting up a company. Why did you choose Neatebox as the name and what does the company name mean to you?
GN: (laughter) So Neatebox itself. I was working Guide Dogs for the Blind in 2011 when I came up with, well 2009 I came up with the idea of the first invention that I actually, well it was more of wanting to solve a problem and I went well, it’s a pedestrian crossing system where the phone presses the button at the pedestrian crossing and I thought well I don’t really know anything about business, I had no understanding of business, I knew about dogs, everything about dogs but I knew nothing about business but I’d heard that Business Gateway which is the Scottish Enterprise up here in Scotland, Scottish Government funded support to be able to get supported from Business Gateway you needed to have a business, so somebody said well you’re going to have to incorporate a business just to be able to get some grant funding and I was putting all my own money into this in my own spare time and stuff like that and somebody said, “well look if you get grant funding from Business Gateway then potentially you could 40% or 30% of your money back” and I thought well okay I’ll incorporate a business and they said to me “well what’s the business going to be called?” and I went “well call it the Customer Service Platform Business” and then somebody said “well no that’s not really going to really work” and I went “well it’s a pedestrian crossing box, my name’s Gavin Neate, Neatebox done” it doesn’t mean too much to me and in fact early days said, “you can’t have your own name in the company, investors don’t like that for some reason” who knew but the name just kind of stuck so it was a working title to start with but now the company’s called Neatebox it’s the name of the products that really is the key here, Button is the name of the pedestrian crossing box.
Perito: (16.49) Well that leads us very nicely onto the next question. So you’ve got these two products, I am familiar with these to a degree now but I know a lot of people won’t be so maybe if you could take each in turn give us the overview of what they do in association with the comments you’ve made before but I’m particularly interested in going back over those creative drivers so we understand why the buttons come around there but what’s going on in your mind that’s saying these are the problems that I’m addressing and you’re asking these analytical questions, the five whys and challenging people.
GN: So you’re walking along the street, your guide dog client is 15 foot ahead of you, they come to a kerb edge, they get to the kerb edge their dog sits, they reach out with their right hand to press the button at the pedestrian crossing and they can’t find it, in fact as they reach out they may hit a little old lady or gent or they may crack their wrist against the pole or a barrier or whatever, bit of fencing and you suddenly think well wait a second why is the pole so far away from where they are when they arrive at the kerb edge, why does it have to be on the far periphery of the crossing and you think to yourself well I kind of know why it has to be there because it can’t really be in the middle otherwise they’d walk into it. So you think well if it is that far out would it not be better if they had a long stick to press the button with and then you think, well I’d say a long stick’s kind of stupid in that respect but you think well they’ve got a mobile phone which is in their pocket and that is totally accessible because we’ve already seen that and mentioned that, well why could the phone not press the button for them, well that would make perfect sense and then if the phone pressed the button for them could it increase the crossing time or could it turn on an audible system where the audible signal be turned off, an audible signal might get turned off after half past 10 at night because it’s in a built-up area and a person at 2 o’clock doesn’t want to be woken up just because a drunk person presses a pedestrian crossing box, beep, beep, beep at 2 o’clock in the morning would be quite annoying so there you go following somebody’s whose having a problem you think to yourself, I wonder if, and before you know it you’re going right a bit of software, bit of hardware, software communicates with hardware, mobile phone communicates with crossing, problem solved. Sadly what actually happens at that point is that’s the beginning of your problems because having a brilliant idea is only part of having the solution is selling the solution, having a company, talking to lawyers and business people and trying to get out there with something and when it comes to disruption, oh my god, it’s like no turkey votes for Christmas and the hotel industry did not vote to have Airbnb, the taxi industry did not vote to have Uber so when you are coming into something like a transport industry and you’re saying “guy’s what you’ve been up to now isn’t actually working, here’s a solution” they’re kind of like “well, yeah it’s we’ve got, we don’t, sorry what’s this you’re talking about, no you couldn’t possibly a phone pressing the button for you surely that’s going to be really dangerous “or even before they ask that question “yeah but how does a blind person use a phone?” so they don’t even know that this is possible let alone required.
Perito: (19.45) So how does the Welcome App fit into this and where did that come from in the deep recess of your training and analysis?
GN: So you walk into a shop with your client, your 10 foot to 15 foot behind, they go up to the customer service desk, the person behind customer service desk interacts with them and the level of service they get is based on so many factors, the training of the person behind the counter, the confidence of the person behind the counter, the understanding, the empathy, the physical positioning of the person behind the counter, the confidence of the person whose going into the shop and you see that and you think oh this is just, there’s inconsistency here, okay so we park that for a second now let’s go back to pedestrian crossing, I’m walking towards a pedestrian crossing and my phone has pressed the button and this was my thought process, my phone has pressed the button at the pedestrian crossing, oh wow if my phone could press the button at a pedestrian crossing well my phone could press the button a door and disability access doors are an absolute nightmare if you can’t find that button you’re supposed to press and if you’re in a wheelchair it’s really difficult to press that button, in fact it’s really difficult to press the button at the pedestrian crossing if you’re in a wheelchair, oh my god this is a pan-disability solution.
Right okay, if I’ve pressed the button at the door then the door knows I’ve arrived, if the door knows I’ve arrived the building knows I’ve arrived, if the building knows I’ve arrived the people inside the building could know I’ve arrived, if the people in the building know I’ve arrived I could actually train them before I walk through the door, purely that is the process my brain went through over a period of 6 months, it just went wait a second I could actually solve the other problem which is how do we deliver staff training to a level where the person in the shop knows whose is going to come through the door and actually treats them in a way that is not just specific to their needs but also empathetic to their condition and disability and understanding of that but led by the disabled person, so empowering the disabled person to be the master of their own destiny rather than the one who is given or done stuff to and if we look at charity as an actual definition it’s the provision of service or financial support for those in need and the key word there is need, when we look at disabled people as being in need the balance of power is off kilter they are lesser because they need something, if you take away the need, if you have a ramp instead of stairs the wheelchair user can get in their not disabled by the building, if you have a low counter the wheelchair can actually have exactly the same experience as the persons whose standing at a taller counter, but that universal design has been sadly lacking and of course it’s sadly lacking, people didn’t allow for lifts in castles, when people designed buildings in the 1920s and 30s they didn’t design in the kind of accessibility that we have and of course we’ve got Listed building so we can’t just instantly change everything around but what we can do is we can change human interactions because you can have the most accessible building in the entire world and the least accessible person or you could have the lease accessible building in the entire world and a member of staff that understands your needs and that’s where we came up with Welcome, Welcome changes human interactions based on proximity and I’ll just mention very quickly we didn’t open the door with the button although we’re going to we actually just put in a beacon, an eye beacon which just triggered the phone to say I’ve arrived but then we put a geofence around the building so that when the person was 300m from the building they got a message in advance and the best way to describe that is in these old things where you would open up the door and it would ring a bell, in a hardware store, probably in a Two Ronnies’ sketch and the person in the back room would come through and say “hello sir how can I help you” whereas what we’ve done is added that bell 300m away from the building and put it so that you already know who I am and what more needs are before I walk through the door.
Perito: It’s like a physical manifestation of the social model of disability isn’t it, you’re effectively saying we could create a position where no one is disabled unless society thinks that’s the case and puts the barriers in place so you’re enabling that to actually happen so we can eliminate that disability, in short.
GN: Yeah but so much more than that if we go back to that what I was talking about the win, win, win, win, win situation well Scope had a campaign a couple of years ago called “end the awkward” which was the recognition that between 18 and 35 year olds I think its 75% of them would rather not actually make a first approach to a disabled person because they felt awkward so in that moment they are disabled right at that moment they are disabled by their lack of confidence or lack of knowledge or lack of positivity in actually going to meet that disabled person, so if I can actually make them feel more comfortable so 5 minutes before I walk through the door or somebody walks through the door they go “right Gavin’s coming through the door, Gavin has a guide dog do not talk to the guide dog”, “Gavin’s coming through the door Gavin is blind make sure you introduce yourself to Gavin”, “Gavin is coming through the door, Gavin is blind make sure you offer your arm rather than taking Gavin’s arm” and if I do all of that the first time I might be quite nervous cos I’m in conscious incompetence or conscious competence at that point, I might be really nervous but the second and third time I am buzzing because I know what I did was right because I’m following the route that the person wanted me to follow and then the relationship we have is absolutely brilliant. Now if we look at that that’s a win, win then we add the business, the business has more people coming through the door happier with the service and more loyal to that business, you then have other members of staff who see that interaction and they win because they can then take away that information yourself, you get the company winning, so my company wins because although we don’t, this is a software as a service model, we get to pay my staff and indeed my shareholders so we have a sustainable business model and society wins because that member of staff goes home that night and helps other people cross the road or collect their shopping or whatever it might be so society wins so we’ve got this win, win, win, win, win, win situation which oh my goodness me it’s like socialist capitalism where we’re changing society with something where everything is positive and nothing is negative.
Perito: (25.31) I was thinking after we first spoke about the Welcome App one of the things that stuck me straightaway was this idea of change management which I’m from a change management background and nudging is an approach that’s used, a constant suggestion and what I quite liked with the Welcome App in particular is the idea that even limited take up has a viral capability to spread this kind of nudging change management constantly within a fixed environment so my immediate thought then once I rolled on from that was in 10 years’ time if tools like yours and other people develop things that are similar maybe in different fields there is 100% possibly I feel to possibly eliminate inclusion, diversity and certainly accessibility as a field in itself because they will simply become no longer needed because the constant change management, the constant behavioural latitudinal change has happened do you agree with a that or do you think I’m being a bit optimistic?
GN: Well I think what you’re talking there is a human evolution beyond our current ability so a pair of people have a child, they want that child to learn French, they have to teach it French so you’re not just born knowing French because your parents want you to learn, they have to teach French it has to learn it, it might learn English purely from communicating with its parents but then they have to make an effort to learn that so the 19 year in old in their first job whose never come into contact with any kind of disability throughout their entire life needs to learn how to do stuff, but we’re in a situation now where that learning can be constant and should be constant, it’s not something that we just take for granted that because a company or a business or a customer service team did an input on Autism last year that every single member of their staff is already going to be trained up on Autism it’s a constant learning and training and that comes from an actual, an empathy for people and belief that other people’s you need to understand other people’s point of view in order to actually understand how you can help them or deliver service or how they can help you but it also has to come from an understanding that you need to put tools in place that make sure that that learning is possible, now I’ve mentioned it to people before right now we’re in a situation where if the seal on the washing goes you go on Amazon, you buy a new seal, the seal comes through, you go on You Tube, you watch a video on changing the seal, you change the seal, for £27.00 you’ve fixed your washing machine. Whereas in the past what we did was we phoned up a plumber, the plumber came round, tutted a few times, looked at your seal, went “yep your seal’s gone”, ordered a seal, 3 weeks later came back again charging you more for coming out again then fixed it, had a cup of tea, you took the afternoon work and you ended up having spent £150.00 on your new seal. If we go back to the former well because of the information, because of the ability to have information in the moment we need it is now so possible we no longer need to call out that plumber, it also means that that plumber can specialise in things that are much more complex that other people can’t learn and that’s really important, that’s really important stuff.
Perito: (28.30) Lovely thanks Gavin that’s great. Tell us about what you’re up to at the moment? How has Coronavirus impacted on your current work because at the beginning of the conversation you mentioned you were quite busy?
GN: Yeah we are crazy busy right now. I’m fairly certain that some of the visionaries on your Podcast will be going “oh wait a second that could be used for this and this and this and this, so we have, I’ll go slowly and those who haven’t got it will definitely get it. We’ve got a button press at a pedestrian crossing and indeed a button press at a door where as you approach a door, the door opens without you needing to actually touch the door, that one’s fairly obvious. You can walk through a disability access door as an able person using a Smartphone that just opens the door for you or indeed I say Smartphone it could be a wearable like a watch or something like that and the door just opens because it recognises you walk through the door. We’ve also got a system whereby which a customer service team in let’s say a supermarket or a hospital will know whose just about to arrive and what their needs are and may have even been able to ask them questions before they arrived so with a hospital I’m turning up to the hospital because I feel I might have Covid-19 and I’m say I’m going using the Welcome App and in the Welcome App I’m asked questions, are you, has this happened, has this happened, has this happened?, do you have these symptoms? and I go “yes, yes, yes” and they say right “okay brilliant please come to this entrance, or please go to that entrance or please do this or please do that” or indeed if you’re going to a supermarket and you are living with a mental health challenge or your visually impaired or your somebody who is using a walking stick or a walking frame and you need a seat and you’re having to queue outside for 25 minutes well how about knowing that person’s needs before they turn up so that you can identify them, not necessarily to get them to the front of the queue but definitely to actually have empathy for the fact that while they’re in the queue they might be suffering so that they when get to the front of the queue if they then have a bit of a breakdown you’re not then going straight back with what the heck are you doing and it being some kind of fight, and that must be so difficult because the person whose managing that queue at a supermarket right now is somebody who probably hasn’t been trained highly in customer service, it might be but there’s a very good chance they haven’t they’re just managing the queue so Welcome is a customer service system which helps people when they go to hospitals well in fact it’s installed with Edinburgh Airport, Royal Bank of Scotland and Scottish Parliament and House of Frazer and Doubletree Hilton and Deloitte and Diageo and hopefully more and more Councils across the country so that’s already installed and was being used before Covid-19 but now it can be used to directly help and support customer service teams and people who are going to supermarkets to buy food and also hopefully in the future medical centres when they open up again and somebody needs to go how brilliant to triage somebody before they actually get to the door.
Perito: (31.17) Where is, and I think we’ve kind of touched on this, you can see the message about visionaries and looking ahead but I’m interested to see where you think Neatebox and what it could look like in maybe the next 5-10 years, where are we headed?
GN: Where does Neatebox go, I’ve always been, I’ve got this vision of fixing problems every day you get closer to the day rather than that vision but if I look ahead 10 years and I think to myself where’s Neatebox, if you take Neatebox out of that picture and you think where is the kind of technology that you are delivering with Neatebox and just bear in mind that nobody’s ever done this stuff before, this is new stuff so we could quite easily be that company but where will this technology be, quite obviously we’re going to be able to deliver something in the future that is based on proximity, we’re already doing it, when you order a taxi and the taxi’s five minutes from the house, you’ll get a message saying your taxi’s 5 minutes away, so the future for Neatebox is absolutely massive however there is so much to that you need to scale, you need to get investment, you need to get interest, you need to build and just because you’ve got a great idea doesn’t mean that you’re gonna be the person that delivers that, I want to make sure that I am because my integrity and my heart tell me that I’m in it for the right reasons so that when this company is successful in the future and I’m involved with it and hopefully my legacy will be giving it to other people who have integrity as well then they are going to deliver a service that is based on quality of the service not on the amount of money that you get in, we can make money out of this and that’s obviously the intention in fact we’re hopefully going to be doing a crowd fund in the future and anybody listening to this, hopefully, hopefully if we manage to do that then everybody that’s out there and that wants to be involved, can be involved and I would just say watch press for details, follow me firstname.lastname@example.org or, well that’s my email address but follow me on Twitter @Neatebox or @GavinNeate and yeah keep in touch because who knows we can make a big community.
Perito: (33.10) Well you give me all those details that you want added on I’ll put it onto the transcript that people can access as well as the introductory information that will go onto Spotify or Podcast and all the other sort of sites so that will be available for people to track down.
GN: Cool I’m use to trying to squeezing things in so you can put them in when you can. So one of the big things for me, I mentioned social capitalism before but was the empowerment of the disabled person and the redressing of the balance or at least balancing it, getting equilibrium within that balance and within all of our systems their all free, we haven’t talked about cost and business models but the business with Welcome pays a monthly subscription and the disabled person gets the App for free, they just download it for free. The pedestrian crossing, the pedestrian gets the App for free, the Council pay for it to go inside the pedestrian crossing box but within the Apps the disabled person can ask where they want it next, so they can request where they want the Welcome venue and we’ve got an entire country and increasingly a world where people or saying to us, I just had somebody this morning, “when’s it coming to Texas” somebody was saying to me this morning, somebody else last week “when’s it coming to Seattle”, “when’s it coming to Canada” “when’s it coming” and somebody would say to us “when’s it coming to Bristol” and I say “you tell me, got to the App and request it and we’ll come to Bristol”. Don’t sit there waiting for things to happen to you be the master of your own destiny, if you’ve got skills, if you’ve got an idea go out there and actually make it happen, it’s tough don’t get me wrong this is not an easy choice but you have to ask yourself are you going to look back one day and say “should I have done that” or heaven forbid somebody does it and you go “I had that idea why didn’t I do it”. I’m a practitioner at heart, I’m a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor who wanted to change something but couldn’t sit down and let it just not be changed, I had to get involved and I had no business acumen, I had very few qualifications when I left school, it is so important for us as practitioners and experts to go “I can do something about this” and not just leave it to academics or to the person whose got cojones that goes “I’m going to be a businessman, I don’t care what I do, I just want to make money” so be the person you want to be.
Perito: (35.14) What advice have you got on what can be done by designers to overcome the biggest problems you have seen caused by disabilities in society? Now I understand we’ve covered a load of those so maybe just kind of the first things that crop up or the ones that really bug you the most or the observations that you’ve made and you’ve seen repeatedly that people who listen to the Podcast who will then take away so I’m thinking people who will listen might be designing houses, might be designing new keyboards, might be designing new aircraft and they will be looking to have their kind of through processes plugged into and kind of help to change?
GN: So let’s imagine NASA in the 1950’s. Let’s look around that room in their control centre and let’s see who’s sitting around in that control centre and I’m guessing if you’re like me you’re looking around a room at 30/40/50 something white guys and yes, they didn’t a brilliant job but that’s not the modern world we live in and if we were asking ourselves if we wanted to make a modern solution would that be enough, and no it wouldn’t because we’d be wanting to be more diverse. Now you can go out there and you can go and ask people but I would say, and I kind I wholeheartedly follow Caroline Casey’s example here which is you make sure that when you look around you at the company that you are in you feel that you don’t necessarily have to go elsewhere to ask people what their opinion is because your opinions are within your company so there’s diversity of thought within the make-up of your company, so make sure that when you’re designing something for somebody that’s disabled you look around yourself and go do you know what we’ve got a job coming up why haven’t we ever actually gone out there and tried to find people who were disabled to actually work in that role because their going give us so much more than just the ability to be a designer or developer or whatever, their actually going to say, “yeah I know how did you get here this morning?” “Well I took the wheelchair obviously and I had to use a taxi and it was difficult because I had this and that” and you “wow you bring an entirely new perspective to our company, your diversity of thought which is the most important thing here, diversity of thought is what actually builds our company” and I say diversity of thought because if you look back at the NASA guys they were made up of lots of different people with different experiences and that’s why they were successful. It’s not just about yeah we’ve got 50% black guys and 50% black women now or whatever it might be therefore we’ve just all the boxes, no it has to be diversity of thought and that’s the next level, yes tick your boxes to say that you actually made sure that you’re an equal opportunities employer and a diversity employer but make sure when you employ those people that the diversity of thought also has a chance to shine through.
Perito: (37.46) Thinking from a less designer, more from an everybody point of view. What can anyone, no matter how they are, do to help others in their community and beyond? My first thought is clearer pavements because I really hate the fact that they put stuff on pavements and above being 6’ 5” I constantly hit my heads on these little, the awnings that come out and there’s a lot of problems like that but what do you, even if they’re the tiniest things like that people can change, what would you say to everybody?
GN: So if you want to help society yes we can go and fix the things that we see are broken but my biggest bit of advice is when you meet somebody whose angry, rather than meeting them with anger take a step back for a minute and think “why are they angry? why have they taken that point of view?” and this goes across the whole of society because if you just take it for a moment, yes they might be wrong, yes they might be a complete idiot, however it might be because they have a whole host of different things that their dealing with or have dealt with or they’ve been angry about because somebody else has made them angry, so if you take that moment to just go “why” it might, might give you that opportunity to say “now I know what their problem is, now I can actually come up with a solution that’s going to diffuse their anger and their actually going to see me as an actual champion for their cause as well as mine” and I think that’s just the greatest thing we can do especially in a world where when you go on social media it’s just anger, anger, anger, anger, look for the solutions, look for the people who are coming up with those solutions but also make sure that you do your best, not to join in with the vitriol of an anger protest but actually to try and find a reason why there is anger and then try and find a reason why in the future that anger cannot be as great as it was the first time.
Perito: (39.35) Did you pick up on the anger in my voice when gave out that, was it that obvious?
GN: I totally understand it, I live there my whole time, why the hell have they put that pedestrian crossing box there and then you go well they did it because if they did it there then a wheelchair user wouldn’t have been able to get by or it would have created an accident when a car came around the corner cos they would have lost sight of some of their vision of who was standing at the pole as it might have been a small child. So you then start realising that the reason it’s been designed in a certain way might be a reason that you don’t understand at the time you get angry but yeah, no if you hit your head off things then I would get angry (laughter), get them to raise it, but understand why they put it that level because it was higher for whatever I don’t know, always think about the other persons point of view I think first before you make a rash decision and then just create anger.
Perito: (40.19) Yep and make that assumption as well isn’t it, that’s the other point you’re trying to make here too, don’t just assume that something’s the way it is because that’s it and that’s where the unconscious bias can come into which is interesting. So any final things you’d like to add on literally any topic at all, bit of an opportunity to say what you think?
GN: (laughter) That’s a good one, yeah okay I’ve got one.
Perito: Go for it.
GN: I guess if I was going add anything onto this is that as much as I had the energy to get where I am now I couldn’t have done it without the most amazing people who either just dipped in and dipped out or have been there from the start who gave me support and belief and actually believed in what I was doing and supporting me financially or through Scottish Enterprise or whatever it might be, every single partner that’s every joined us, every single person who said “I’m not sure I understand exactly what Gavin’s saying but my god he’s really passionate and he has integrity around it, do you know what I’m going go with it, so I think every person like me needs to have other people and I think it was Steve Jobs, was it, yeah Steve Jobs had Mike Wozniak and I think this is the Simon Sinek book you need every why which is my sort of role, you need to have a how person and I’ve got that person and Alan Hutching whose my Operations Director he is a very much a Woody in our relationship, I’m very much a Buzz Lightyear type character but unless you have that other person who is able to compliment you and actually be better than you at so many other things then you don’t get anywhere, so don’t think you have to do it all yourself also when other people help you bear in mind they have helped you and thank them for it as well.
Perito: Nicely done. Thanks for joining us to today Gavin.
Perito: It’s been good to hear about your work with Neatebox and the progress you’ve made with the various products in such a short space of time as well. Something I can see that can make a positive impact and I’m pretty sure people will be sitting here listening and thinking the same. Now if listeners do want to find out more then I put on the details to Gavin’s website and contact details as well that Gavin provides and that’ll go on the transcript and the Podcast introduction information too so don’t worry if you miss anything.
You’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast Our World without Boundaries thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.