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Bridging the disability divide through digital technology – Interview with Claudiu Leverenz, CEO of Munevo

15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. Munevo is helping them navigate daily life with independence and dignity.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3) is an international observance promoted by the United Nations since 1992. The aim is to increase public awareness, understanding and acceptance of people with disability and celebrate their achievements and contributions. One billion people, or around 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability and are subject to various barriers to social and economic inclusion, such as inadequate access to physical environments and transportation, lack of assistive technology and equipment, lack of access to public and private services, as well as various social and institutional attitudes and discrimination. Luckily, technology has enabled them to access information and navigate daily life with independence and dignity and Munevo is at the forefront of it.

  1. 3 December has been observed as UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities since 1992. In your opinion, what are some of the greatest needs and aspirations of people with disabilities today?

Unfortunately, there are still many areas that need to be improved. Accessibility, access to new technologies, independence, mobility, etc. It may sound obvious, but we often notice that people who are severely limited like our users are often seen as helpless. But the constant contact shows us exactly the opposite. From many, we get to feel joy of life and drive. And we are very grateful to be able to support them. The biggest challenges are to reduce these prejudices, to create more acceptance and to integrate these people. And on the subject of accessibility, we are often surprised that even the most modern buildings are not barrier-free, in our opinion this should be normal.

2. People with disabilities meet barriers of all types. However, technology is helping to lower many of these barriers. Munevo is a prime example of how smart tech could transform disabled people’s lives. Tell us more about your work.

With munevo DRIVE, we have created a solution to help people who are severely limited in their mobility to become more independent. We have developed the first wheelchair control based on Smartglasses. What sets our solution apart from others? In addition to the very simple and intuitive controls, we have created a platform solution that is not only elegant, unobtrusive and hygienic, but can also connect to many other devices. This way we make it easier to communicate with friends and family. For example, our glasses can also be used to take and share photos or make phone calls.

3. How has the response been so far?

So far the feedback has been very positive. However, it was also very important for us to involve wheelchair users in the development of the product right from the start. This was the only way we could design munevo DRIVE to meet the exact requirements and needs of our users. In regular conversations with our users, we also learn more and more about daily challenges and how we can provide even better support in everyday life with our solution.

4. Where do you see innovative wheelchair controls positioned in the assistive technology market in the next 5-10 years?

Our goal is to help as many people as possible by using smart technology. We see munevo DRIVE as a unique platform solution, and we want to occupy this position in the market. This state-of-the-art solution should replace conventional systems wherever possible. We see ourselves as a partner to all stakeholders (medical supply stores, hospitals and health insurance companies) in order to make the user experience as good as possible. Big goals are of course also the global expansion, with the big challenge to approve our product for the US market.

5. 2020 has been a busy year for Munevo. You started a crowdfunding campaign on Aescuvest and launched Munevo PHONE. What is next for Munevo?

We want to increase the awareness of munevo DRIVE and expand to further European countries. And our developers are also working on many other new features and add-ons. Both on the hardware and software side, you can look forward to something new soon. But perhaps there will soon be news besides munevo DRIVE.

6. On the occasion of this day, do you have a message you would like to share?

The biggest motivation for our team is to see how we can change the daily lives of our users. Many things that are taken for granted by each of us are unfortunately often being overlooked, for example the use of the smartphone or access to new technologies in general. And that’s why we work hard every day to follow our vision: „We want to support people with disabilities to live independently by using smart technology“

7. The theme for IDPD 2020 is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”. In your opinion, how can we place disability in the tech response to COVID-19?

This is an interesting topic, as the crisis has affected us all and has changed our lives dramatically. We too are increasingly working in a virtual environment. At the beginning of the year, during the first lockdown in Germany, we asked wheelchair users from our network how they were coping with the situation. Under the „#AbstandVerbindet“ we got different answers. Basically, it was also welcomed that home office is now used by many more people, which makes it much easier for disabled people to participate in work. The technical progress towards digitalization also offers great opportunities for disabled people. However, we also see the risk that social distancing could lead to a group that is already often overlooked to be overlooked even more. That is why, as I mentioned at the beginning, barriers must be eliminated and these people must be more integrated. We give our best every day and want to support our users on this path.