Gary aims to help dyslexic web users with app

APPY DAYS Gary Smith is in the process of creating an app called Dyslexia Toolbox. Picture: Paul Jacobs (122886-3)
APPY DAYS Gary Smith is in the process of creating an app called Dyslexia Toolbox. Picture: Paul Jacobs (122886-3)
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It started life known as ‘idea number eight’ and was thought up at 4am as two friends discussed how to make life easier for dyslexic people.

Now that brainwave, to help them view websites, is in the process of becoming a reality.

Dyslexia Toolbox is a mobile application – or app – which has been thought up by young entrepreneur Gary Smith.

An app is computer software designed to help the user to perform specific tasks.

The 22-year-old of Abbey Road, Fareham, has been developing the software, along with three colleagues, since June last year.

The aim is to create a downloadable app for smartphones that has a range of tools, such as changing font size and screen colours, to make websites more dyslexic-friendly.

The former Henry Court School pupil says: ‘I was speaking to my friend, Brett Bramall, on the phone at 4am as I was sending off 10 app ideas to mobile company O2.

‘It had got in touch asking if I had app ideas I wanted to enter in a competition.

‘Brett is dyslexic and we spoke about creating an app to help him read websites on his phone better.

‘And so it went down as idea number eight and was sent to O2.

‘It was the one the company was most interested in and so I began to develop the idea more.’

Gary is project manager, while Brett, 23, is a graphic designer and colleague Ryan McDermott, 20, – who is also dyslexic – covers user management.

Dyslexia is a common type of learning difficulty that usually affects the skills involved in the reading and spelling of words.

A person with dyslexia has difficulty ‘decoding’ words, despite having the same learning opportunities as others.

Typically people suffering from the condition are unable to read certain fonts, font sizes, background colours and can see circles, waves or lines in text if this is not altered.

Around 10 per cent of the British population suffers from some form of dyslexia.

Gary, who is a support worker in a care home, says: ‘I’ve spoken to my two friends that are dyslexic and they told me things like they can’t read capital letters very well as they look like smudges.

‘So with the app you can convert capital letters into lower case ones.

‘We’re also developing the app so you can change the background colour of a website so it’s easier to read.

‘There are many different aspects to this app, and it’s all still being developed.’

As part of the O2 scheme, the three friends went to a week-long trade show in Berlin, where they presented their idea to a panel of five judges.

‘They sent us to Berlin where we were among some very clever people,’ explains Gary.

‘They knew everything about apps and how to make a success of it.

‘The whole experience has been absolutely surreal. I don’t get starstruck or like that in front of people, but in Berlin I really was impressed by all the talented professionals I got to meet.’

In the end the team came second and lost out to get funding from O2 to develop the app.

But convinced his idea is a good one, and with his team, Gary is determined to carry on.

‘From the event we met Kevin Weiss, a programmer from Berlin, who had been looking for an app idea he liked to help develop it,’ adds Gary.

‘And while we were there we also made contact with people from Google Chrome. We’re hoping it can be adapted to computers.’

To help develop the idea, Gary has been in touch with the British Dyslexia Association (BDA).

Gary says: ‘I have spoken to the BDA and got information from them.

‘I got a more in-depth understanding of dyslexia and the problems people suffering from the condition face.

‘Just from that I had a list of ideas I could include in the toolbox. I also went to the National Autistic Society.

‘About 10 per cent of the world’s population suffers from dyslexia. There are so many people affected and the aim is to help some of those people with this app.

‘We have set up focus groups with teachers, lecturers and people involved to get an even better understanding.

‘There is a prototype that has been made, it’s not for public use yet though. We hope by January there will be something for people to use.’

THE BRITISH DYSLEXIA ASSOCIATION

A national charity that helps people with a learning disability is backing a new programme to browse web pages easier.

The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) has been set up to raise the awareness and profile of the condition.

Each year the BDA receives 20,000 enquiries from adults and children about the condition.

It also campaigns for policy changes to make life better for dyslexic people.

The BDA is backing Gary Smith’s idea to create a mobile phone application – or ‘app’ – called Dyslexia Toolbox.

Aaran Smith, a project officer for BDA, says: ‘Anything that can help lower visual stress for dyslexic people is great.

‘To create an app for the phone, which allows users to change the font type, size, or background colours, is brilliant.’

The charity provided 22-year-old Gary with information on problems dyslexic people face.

‘We have seen how Gary is creating this app and it looks really good,’ adds Aaran.

‘It’s always valid for technology to help dyslexic people like myself, to help us reach our full potential.’

To find out more, go to bdadyslexia.org.uk