Toronto startup Komodo OpenLab helps people with mobility impairments to access smartphones

It’s always a pleasure to share stories about how technology can change someone’s life for the better. This story is truly inspiring and completely blew me away.

Carolyn Pioro met Mauricio Meza, co-founder of Toronto-based startup Komodo OpenLab Inc., when she suffered a spinal cord injury in 2005. A devastating fall from a trapeze bar caused her to lose all feeling and movement below the shoulders. At the time, Meza and the Occupational Therapy team at the Lyndhurst Rehabilitation Centre helped her to regain her independence with a wheelchair controlled by head switches, a computer managed by voice-recognition software and an optical mouse.

A month ago, Carolyn started testing Komodo’s most recent product called Tecla – a set of open hardware and software tools that allow people with mobility impairments to access state-of-the-art smartphones, using familiar interfaces like their wheelchair driving controls or other standard adaptive devices.

I spoke with Carolyn on her phone yesterday – we had previously scheduled our chat through e-mail correspondence. I asked her to describe her experience in testing the new technology.

“With Tecla, I’m now able to send and receive text messages, read all of my e-books on a Kindle, and dial a phone keypad using head-powered switches from my chair. This means that I don’t always have to rely on voice activation, which can fail in a noisy intersection,” Carolyn explained. “In addition, I feel that Tecla has given me even more independence and I feel safer knowing that I have another means to reach people if needed.”

Carolyn says she’s “definitely a fan of technology. The Tecla interface kinda looks like the Tron video game. I keep trying to challenge myself to see what else I can do with it. I haven’t attempted to play Angry Birds on my smartphone just yet, but I plan to try it out very soon.”

Komodo OpenLab Inc. is a not-just-for-profit corporation that commercializes open and inclusive technologies that benefit the lives of people with disabilities, and everybody else. It truly is remarkable to learn about what they have achieved to date.

Komodo’s goal is to establish and maximize their positive impact in the community at large, but particularly, within the community of people with disabilities in Canada and abroad. The company is working to accomplish this in two ways:

  • by providing built-in accessibility to mainstream technologies instead of the usual, expensive and dedicated adaptive devices, and
  • by leveraging the wisdom of users and their communities through the use of open-source technologies and open standards.

Mauricio Meza, who heads up Business Development at Komodo OpenLab says the company has “set out to increase the quality and quantity of accessible products at a fraction of the cost, and we know we can meet that challenge. Moreover, every one of our clients moves us to push the boundaries of what is possible – getting us closer to our next great breakthrough!”

Komodo’s team of founders includes Eric Wan, Jorge Torres, Jorge Silva and Mauricio Meza. The company is currently funded through grants by Google and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE). Komodo has also secured funds from FedDev Ontario and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) through partnerships with OCAD U’s Inclusive Design Research Centre, George Brown College and MyVoice AAC.

“Komodo is always looking for funders and investors interested in making a positive impact in the community,” says Meza. From what I’ve learned so far, it definitely sounds like a worthy investment.

We’ll be following Komodo OpenLab’s progress and will report on how this product evolves over time.