Royal recognition and top business award for Martin Littler and Inclusive
Leading special needs supplier Inclusive Technology has won the UK's most prestigious business award, the Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2016. It was announced today, April 21, on the Queen’s 90th birthday.
The award is for outstanding achievement in international trade in recognition that 72 per cent of the special education schools and settings using Oldham-based Inclusive’s online resources are overseas – more than half of them in the United States.
Chairman and chief executive Martin Littler, who helped found the company from an earlier pioneer in assistive technology, Northwest SEMERC, is delighted with the award and the recognition it brings to the UK's vibrant special needs community. “I go back 35 years in this industry," he said, "and it has never been more exciting than it is right now. And the main reason for that is the congruence of eyegaze and facial recognition technologies and the online nature of the resources that children, teachers and families now enjoy.
'Instead of having a megaphone we now have a telephone so we have feedback'
“Instead of having the equivalent of a megaphone to broadcast our information to colleagues and customers, we are now having a telephone conversation that gives us feedback all the time. With children using eyegaze we get that feedback all the time too – when they blink, even when their eyes widen or narrow. [see "Look and learn - the eyegaze revolution"]
Martin Littler is proud of the ways in which the special needs community has been able to take new technologies and push them further and quicker than others. For example, facial recognition technologies coupled with eyegaze can free children and teachers from awkward and lengthy sign-on procedures that have previously got in the way of communication and learning.
The Queen's Award for Enterprise is granted specificially for exports, and Inclusive's HelpKidzLearn, a collection of applications for young children and those with learning difficulties, has had a massive impact internationally. It is used in special education in the UK, the United States and 146 other countries.
Some 25,000 subscribers use the software free of charge. In line with 'freemium' business models, an enhanced version is available as a paid subscription. More than 70 per cent of Inclusive's subscribers are in 32 overseas markets, with the United States (48 of the 50 states) the largest customer, providing 53 per cent of world revenues. Its associated resource, ChooseIt! Maker 3, lets teachers create personalised learning apps which can then be downloaded to an iPad or Android tablet. Inclusive's digital resources are available through dealers in 14 European countries in eight local languages - Catalan, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish (as well as US English).
The goal of Inclusive Technology is to provide ICT resources to help learners with more severe special needs and disabilities to communicate, learn and enjoy a more independent life. It develops accessible software for children with severe learning disabilities (SLD), profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) or those without speech who need alternative or augmentative communication (AAC) who perhaps can only make a single voluntary movement or sound.
'Insight' has potential for revolutionary progress and virtual learning worlds
The company provides the alternative keyboards, joysticks, rollerballs, switches and touch screens these learners may need – including revolutionary eyegaze technology, a way of accessing a computer simply by looking at the screen. And in January Inclusive showcased a new service, Insight, created from a cutting-edge research project, that helps teachers exploit the pupil feedback provided by eyegaze systems. It has the potential to stimulate revolutionary progress in this field, and create exciting new virtual learning worlds for children.
It also runs the highly rated Special World website. This online magazine, edited by Mick Archer, is a first call for the most up-to-date information for those working with children with special needs.
Martin Littler concludes: “I am absolutely delighted with this brilliant award, which I feel recognises the huge contribution that the whole British assistive technology industry has made during the past 40 years. Of course the award is also a huge pat on the back for our team of developers, teachers and therapists, all of whom get a buzz from producing resources which can transform the lives of learners with special educational needs and disabilities."
There are those who think of the "disruption" brought by new technologies as an unqualified good thing. But for special needs educators supporting children and their families who need stability and consistency it can be a double-edged blade. The true value of Inclusive Technology is that it understands the experiences of its customers and the technology they already use and value, while keeping them up to date with cutting-edge technologies like tablets and eyegaze so they can truly have the best, and most appropriate, of both worlds. This award recognises the success this has generated, and reflects well on all the UK's special needs education community.