Friday, November 09, 2007

Brighton Beach Brainstorm

The best part of my job is brainstorming with brilliant, passionate people around social issues. On my visit to the UK last month to launch International Bookshare.org (check out www.bookshare.org.uk as an inital example), Kevin Carey of HumanITy invited Hiroshi Kawamura, the new President of the DAISY Consortium and me to lunch on Brighton beach. Although it was October, the weather was even nicer than California. I don't think the beachfront used to be this pleasant in the past, but I recommend it highly to anyone in the future!

Kevin Carey, Jim Fruchterman, Hiroshi Kawamura seated at a wooden table with papersNotes from a Brainstorm

The overarching concern of Hiroshi is a potential split in the disability community over new technology, particularly in the broadband age. He would like to see the disability community speak with one voice on these issues. The particular issue that concerns Hiroshi right now is the Second Life problem, 3D avatar immersive environments. To some disability groups, Second Life is wonderful. They can participate in a world accessible to them without having a disability. Of course, Second Life is completely inaccessible to blind people right now. Whether or not it is just Second Life, it is emblematic of a handful of issues that surround the Web 2.0 phenomena. They are:

  • Highly visual content, multimedia, maps
  • User-created content (an increasing phenomena, with a wide variety of accessibility)
  • Disproportionate cost compared to the benefit (we can’t ask Flickr photo sharing users to describe a billion photos)
We discussed the difference in priorities and costs. For example, disabled people are very concerned about access to education and employment. When the entities involved are public entities like governments or groups with a mandate to serve the entire population (BBC in UK, schools), the standard is higher than for an individual or a tiny business. Hiroshi is interested in establishing what would constitute “reasonable accommodation” under the new UN compact. Kevin pointed out that he had recently done an extensive report on information access needs of people with disabilities. He noted that PWD will say very different things when their “handlers” are present in the form of teachers, librarians, rehab people, nonprofit people. When teacher is present, it’s about textbook access. When teacher is gone, it’s Harry Potter. That being said, in much of Africa and Asia, Kevin didn't see a culture of novel reading among the educated. So, the focus is on pragmatic materials around education and employment, with extensions into biography and other nonfiction. So, we shouldn't assume that the access needs in different societies are going to be exact replicas of British or American or Japanese society.

Kevin’s response was that it fell into two domains: political and technical. On the political front, the question to a disability advocacy group is what the benefits are for spending limited political capital. If not much benefit is possible, it seems unlikely to worth the expenditure of effort.

Hiroshi pointed out that in the developed world, an increasing proportion of the visually impaired also have other disabilities, so that joining forces with other groups is also serving the VI community.

The privacy point came up in an interesting way for people with physical disabilities. When you have a constant attendant, you have no privacy at all. If you can get on-line, it may be the first chance to do things for yourself without being supervised or assisted. This can be incredibly liberating.

We also discussed the challenges around serving people with intellectual disabilities. Hiroshi noted that there were IFLA efforts around creating easy-to-read publications.

Jim mentioned the incipient “Raising the Floor” effort he is co-developing with Gregg Vanderheiden, where we want to see every person with a disability having a basic of level of access to technology and information.

The brainstorm concluded with some action items to be driven by Hiroshi.

4 comments:

Kenneth said...

Jim, I have a few questions for you on Benetech Social Entrepreneurship.

1. How does creating a novel social entrepreneurial (Benetech) concept start and what stages do it pass?


2. How are ideas generated in a social venturs and how are they selected?



3. If venture capitalists are involved, when do they come in and what is their take?

4. How is slips and quality managed and what are the consideration for a market strategy

Jim Fruchterman said...

I suggest you check out these materials on our website. I'm in the process of writing a longer article that goes in more depth.

The short answers are:
1. Like a for-profit high tech venture, but where social outcomes are paramount, and the financial goal is to figure out a way to be sustainable.
2. See docs.
3. VCs come in as advisors and donors. They don't get to make money on our ventures, because we're organized as a charity to go after the kinds of opportunities VCs wouldn't wearing their make-money hat.
4. Like a for-profit high tech venture, except for the primary goal being social.

http://www.benetech.org/about/business_model.shtml
http://www.benetech.org/about/downloads/concept_originator_FAQs.pdf

Kenneth said...

Jim, Your answers were straight forward. I have one last question for you.
How can social entrepreneurial process be organized to reap the benefits of business entrepreneurial process?

Jim Fruchterman said...

Kenneth, two ways that SEs can reap the benefits of the business entrepreneurial process:

- Gain partial or complete support of a social enterprise from earned revenues. Example: our Arkenstone reading machine for the blind social enterprise was slightly profitable, enabling us to serve tens of thousands of disabled people with independent reading without needing grants.

- Partner with companies to use their processes to benefit social issues. Example1: Google Grants provides free advertising to nonprofits to use to promote their social service. Example2: a for-profit agrees to hire graduates of a nonprofit's job training program.