Paving change for those living with hidden disabilities, Friendly Access is an accessibility social enterprise based in the Highlands and Islands that is dedicated to creating a fairer society for all.
Fuelled by real-life experience, Chief Executive of Friendly Access, Glyn Morris, truly understands the difficulties those with disabilities can face on a daily basis and has dedicated his time to making a positive cultural change since the charity was born in 2014.
Inspired by his own son who has multiple disabilities and special needs, Glyn’s frustration of society’s lack of understanding and acceptance came to a head after being asked to leave a performance of Broadway hit, Wicked, after an engineer claimed the soft vowel sounds autistic Gregor made to be distracting. Leaving in disbelief, Glyn used this experience as a catalyst to kick-start the charity that would grow to become an innovator in the industry.
Fast forward, 7 years, and the enterprise has spearheaded campaigns for national change in autism friendly and relaxed theatre performances, launched Scotland’s first autism specific surf school, leading to Scotland’s first fully adaptive and inclusive surf school - SurfABLE Scotland Project - and is now in the process of creating a unique virtual reality programme that will revolutionise the way those with hyper-sensitivity and anxiety experience airports.
Being sustainable is a crucial element of innovating and we knew we needed additional help which is why we sought support from the Innovate Your Business team at HIE.
As a business, Friendly Access is constantly faced with barriers so finding solutions is at the core of its workings however innovating a unique piece of software brought new challenges to the table that even Glyn and his team knew would require greater support. Glyn said:
“Being sustainable is a crucial element of innovating and we knew we needed additional help which is why we sought support from the Innovate Your Business team at HIE.”
He continued: “We approached the HIE Innovation Team back in 2014 to find out how they could support Friendly Access’s latest ambition – to create a piece of software that would help ease the stresses of busy environments like airports for those living with hidden disabilities and mental health conditions across Scotland. Working in partnership with the School of Simulation and Visualisation (SimVis) at The Glasgow School of Art and Plockton based company Crag3D.
"Funded in two occasions by the European Social Fund and The Scottish Government Social Innovation Fund, we set our sights on developing a validated app as part of our joint research and development efforts. The development of which will also see our app within new stress eliciting environments.
“Having experienced the restrictions that those living with disabilities encounter first hand within my own family, I became passionate and driven to look at ways of making things right. Through amazing Virtual Reality technology, our team at Friendly Access are developing an innovation product that supports individuals living with disabilities.
"The pilot app takes users on a simulative journey through a virtual airport, from check-in to boarding, with control of the variables and crowd environments – which many people are hypersensitive to. The sequence is supposed to assist in desensitising people with learning difficulties and disabilities to stimulating environments like busy airports, train stations and related education and employment situations.”
The development of the programme will be particularly beneficial to those living in the Highlands and Islands region. Glyn explains:
“Currently, individuals with additional support needs can prepare for a flight by arranging a pre-visit at their departure airport a few days before flying. Although a great development, the practicalities of seeing people having to travel sometimes hundreds of miles to and from their airport can be challenging. Our pilot airport app is being developed to enable individuals to familiarise themselves with the airport environment from the comfort of their own home or ‘safe’ zone which is much more affordable.”
“Four years ago, we approached HIE to tap into their knowledge of innovating and the technology industry. After telling them our story and vision for Friendly Access, we were signed there and then as an account managed business.”
HIE can provide businesses with access to their extensive network of industry experts and advise on the best courses or workshops that will be beneficial which was the real benefit for Friendly Access, Glyn continues:
“The support and knowledge share from HIE has been incomparable and has enabled us continue to better our approach and ways of working. At Friendly Access we’re constantly trying to create fairness amongst peers and changes where possible so innovation has and always will remain the foundation of our business model.”
Committed to making small adjustments in everyday activities and environments, Friendly Access has accumulated an impressive list of achievements in such a small period of time and they’ve only scraped the surface for change. Thanks to continued funding through the European Social Fund and The Scottish Government Social Innovation Fund, the team see their development of their airport simulation as only the beginning of their workings.
“We choose to use an airport as the basis of our concept as it provides the perfect environment to address numerous environmental variables that can be stressful to some people. Looking forward, continued funding is allowing to us expand our into other high intensity environments such as shopping centres or train stations and the support of HIE’s networks and general knowledge will help make this possible.”
As Chief Executive of a start-up social enterprise, Glyn appreciates the complexity of innovating within a business however it is this exact approach that has allowed Friendly Access to become so forward thinking.
Glyn comments: “Innovation comes in all shapes and forms and has enabled us to achieve our goals thus far. It is crucial to success and we’re so lucky to have HIE’s team of experts at our dispense for the much needed support and guidance that has got us to where we are today.”
Businesses looking to sign up to access HIE’s innovation services can visit hie.co.uk/hietime or call 0300 013 5041 for expert info on what funding and innovation resources are available from HIE.
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