22 October 2018
Many stories exist in this world. Some are so funny that you can barely conquer the first paragraph, and some are so scary that you cannot go to sleep. Then you have a story like that of HeyCane, but first let me introduce myself. My name is Ali Ismail, and I have been diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). This eye condition affects the retina, and an adequate signal (let’s not get too scientific about it) cannot reach your retina. Hence, you cannot see. It is a condition that deteriorates your eye sight completely. I eventually entered the eternal darkness at the age of 9. A joyous boy, who would run around, play knock and run, and would always pick up an injury here and there because my failing eyes were telling me that, “there is nothing in front of me”. The world had turned upside down. I say this figuratively!
Then I found it – my new friend, my new buddy, my new helper. I was introduced to my cane at the age of 11. I did not have to rely on my family anymore. I could move again on my own, and this time it was safer. I did not bump into objects and brake my nose, because my cane taps the objects and textile paving to tell me what is in front of me. You could call it my third eye. So, we can say that every cloud has a silver lining.
Although my cane would provide me with this freedom and independence, I used to encounter a recurring problem. I found that I would often put my cane down on the floor in a social situation or in a class room and I would fail to recall where I had placed it. I might have accidently kicked it somewhere. So, if I cannot find my third eye, I am stuck. Consequently, this caused anxiety. After conducting some market research, we discovered that more than 70% of cane users also face the same problem.
According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), there are 2 million registered people with sight loss within the UK, and over one third of them are cane users. Hence, HeyCane would have an impact on a local and national level. The cane is a vital instrument that gives people independence. Therefore, the ability to be in control of the cane could restore visually impaired peoples’ confidence.
During my final year at Manchester Metropolitan University where I recently graduated with a BA(Hons) Business Management degree, I took part in a Young Enterprise unit. I wanted to use my experiences to come up with a solution to avoid the ordeal of losing the cane and this is how we created HeyCane. This is a sophisticated device that one places on their cane, and then they configure an application on their smartphone. Whenever one loses their cane, they just need to go into the app which sends a signal via Bluetooth to the device, and then one would hear the cane making a beeping noise. HeyCane means that I will never ever lose my cane and strengthens the bridge between me and my cane.
You can watch our research on YouTube where we blind folded people and asked them to find a cane by their chair which had been moved. The results showed how anxious they felt when they could not locate the cane. You can also see how I overcame this problem with HeyCane and watch it in action.
At HeyCane, our aim is to build awareness about HeyCane within the visually impaired community, so that we can eventually achieve our goal of easing the lives of visually impaired people across the UK, while providing the support that they need at the right time and in the most appropriate way. We believe that we can make this happen, if we work together. We are currently forming partnerships with charities and organisations that work with visually impaired people. If you would like to know more about HeyCane you can follow us on Facebook or email at the address below.
Co-founder and Director of HeyCane
Winner of the Institute of Enterprise and Entrepreneurs (IOEE) Enterprising Learner of the Year Award