For most young people, adolescence is a time filled with fashion and romantic concerns. For Alex Koren, his teen years were the beginning of a quest for equal access for the hearing impaired.
“When I was 13,” Koren shared. “I went to a camp that had a program for deaf kids as well. We shared bunks, activities, everything. Some of the counselors were deaf and we had interpreters on staff to help bridge the gap, but we were all encouraged to learn some sign and just truly be friends with no barriers.”
But as inclusive as the camp felt, Koren discovered there were some activities that could not be truly all encompassing.
We'd get back to our bunks afterwards,” continued Koren. “And laugh about what we'd done that night, often inadvertently leaving out our deaf friends who had missed out. It had an extremely lasting effect on me and was probably my first glimpse into the separation that exists between the deaf and hearing communities.”
Years later, Koren found himself in a similar situation when a friend with a hearing impairment vented to him about a theater experience.
“When Marty, my family friend, approached me to describe his horrible experience at the theater using an assistive listening device, it brought me right back to those years in camp.”
Fueled with the desire to make the movie-going experience more inclusive, the LGBT ally applied to the Thiel Fellowship -- a 100k grant awarded by the Thiel Foundation that allows for young people to drop out of college to pursue entrepreneurial projects -- and he received the prize in 2014. Koren left John Hopkins University his sophomore year to work on technology that bridges the gap between the abled-bodied and people with disabilities.
Now 22 years old and a Berkeley, CA resident, Koren is the co-founder of Actiview -- the soon-to-launch mobile app that provides audio description for the blind, closed captioning for the hearing impaired, and Spanish translation to films at the theater.
“We quickly realized that the need went further than just amplification and we set out to make the ultimate access tool for entertainment, offering audio description, amplified audio, closed captions, sign language interpretation, and multi-language support,” said Koren.
Koren’s co-founder is 19-year-old entrepreneur Braun Shedd. The duo was later joined by Pixar’s former head of post production, Paul Cichocki, who came on board after seeing the Actiview demo. Actiview backers include the ex-CEO of DirecTV and the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco.
While Actiview’s initial launch will focus on providing better access to the movie-going experience for people with disabilities and non-English speakers, the startup has big plans for expanding their reach.
“While we’re doing theatrical releases in the very near future, we’ve been building our technology with so much more content in mind. Actiview will be available for online streaming services in the home as well, and we’re working on extending the technology to live theater and sports stadiums too! Actiview will be your one-stop shop for entertainment access,” said Koren.
Belo Cipriani is a disability advocate, a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams, the spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind and the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine — a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work. Learn more at www.belocipriani.com