Crossing a road is the kind of everyday activity few people stop and think about. But to those with a disability, the need to navigate busy streets can often be a stressful and frustrating experience.
It was through working with visually impaired people that Gavin Neate came to realise pedestrian crossings could be a hindrance to their progress.
His solution, the Neatebox, allows users to activate a crossing via an application in their mobile phone, eliminating the need to locate and then press a button.
First unveiled in 2014, the invention has since been installed at several locations across Edinburgh, including outside the Scottish Parliament and opposite the NHS building in Lauriston Place.
Neate, who is based in the capital, is in talks with one local authority to install Neateboxes at every pedestrian crossing in a medium-sized town.
“We’re not just talking about internet of things - we’re actually in the process of doing it,” Neate told The Scotsman.
“Changing an entire village or town is much easier than tackling an entire city and its 900 crossings. There might only be ten crossings in a small town.”
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Neate’s firm belief is that technology can be used to allow more disabled people to travel independently. The entrepreneur spent 18 years training guide dog users after serving as an RAF police dog handler.
He learned first hand the barriers many people face when outdoors.
“Practitioners see problems and find work-arounds,” he said. “I had experience of clients struggling to reach crossing buttons and struggling to cross. Even in the best case scenario, they’re off to the side or awkward to reach.
“If you see that on a daily basis, you either accept it as the way things are, or you think of ways the problem can be solved.
“Nicola Sturgeon has spoken of her desire to see more people with disabilities being able to find work,” Neate continued.
“But first, employers must understand the needs of persons with disabilities. Unless that person can get to work, under their own steam, it’s kind of pointless.
“We want to help people to get to work independently - without having a support worker with them, or having to ask members of the public help you, or changing their route to avoid a certain crossing.
“Neatebox helps someone who cannot reach the button on a pedestrian crossing, But then it will also help those carrying shopping, for example.
“Ultimately, what we’re talking about is something that is totally inclusive. It can be used by lots of different people - but there are some whose lives could be improved dramatically.”
Neate came up with his initial idea in 2006 and then spent several years developing it “during lunch breaks and after work”.
Support from Business Gateway and Scottish Enterprise allowed Neate to form a company and go full-time with the project in 2014.
He has since hired two members of staff after winning further funding, as well as undertaking several paid trials of the Neatebox technology.
The product is now currently going through its certification process before it is sold on the open market.
“The country has woken up to the need for people with disabilities to be not just included in society, but to enter the workforce as well,” he said.
“There’s no reason, if they can reach an office, they can’t be as productive as anyone else.”