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ATU561 – Texthelp and Don Johnston Inc Joining Forces with Martin McKay and Don Johnston

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guests:

Don Johnston – CEO and Founder of Don Johnston Inc.

Martin McKay – CEO and Founder of Texthelp

www.texthelp.com

www.donjohnston.com

Story:

Supply Chain Issue Story: https://bit.ly/3h6V7Dv

Find out more about INTRAC at www.indianarelay.com

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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

Don Johnston:
Hi, this is Don Johnston, the CEO and founder of Don Johnston Incorporated.

Martin McKay:
This is Martin McKay, CEO and founder of Texthelp. This is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello. Welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology, designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. Welcome to Episode 561 of Assistive Technology Update, it is scheduled to be released on February 25th, 2022. On today’s show, we are very excited to have two huge names in assistive technology. Today, we have Don Johnston and Martin McKay, from Don Johnston, Inc, and Texthelp, to talk about them joining forces, and what does this mean for individuals who rely on their software. We have a story about how the supply chain is affecting one user of assistive technology, as I’m sure it’s probably affected us all over the last few years.

Josh Anderson:
Please don’t forget, if you ever have a question, a comment, a suggestion, or maybe someone that we should have on the show, do not hesitate to reach out to us. Our email is tech@EastersealsCrossroads.org. You can call our listener line at 317-721-7124, or shoot us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project. If you’re looking for a transcript of today’s show, it’s available over at Eastersealstech.com. They were generously sponsored by InTRAC. You could find out more about InTRAC at Indianarelay.com. As always, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to give us a listen. Now, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
During a lot of our shows, I take time to talk about our other podcasts. We have Accessibility Minute, which also features the return on of Laura Medcalf, our wonderful host of that show. As she gives you just a little taste about something assistive technology, and the amazing things that it can do. We have Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions with Brian Norton, myself, Belva Smith, Tracy Castillo, and other guests, as we sit around and answer your questions and comments, and try to see if we can dig down to answers. We’ve built a pretty good community where folks actually send us answers, sometimes, for the ones that we just don’t know. Definitely be sure to check out those podcasts as you get a chance, but also take a little time to go over to Eastersealstech.com. You can find all of our podcasts there, as well as weekly tech tips, where a member of our team will show you a piece of assistive technology and something really cool that it can do. Sometimes, it’s assistive tech, sometimes it’s just a new piece of tech, or sometimes it’s a way to do something cool with your tablet, your phone, your computer, or another device.

Josh Anderson:
The website also has consumer stories, much more information than I can really even talk to, without filling up this whole podcast itself. If you get a chance, go over to Eastersealstech.com. Again, you can check out these podcasts, our tech tips, blog posts, and all kinds of information on all things assistive technology. You can also find information about the tech acts, the loan libraries, and all the amazing things that INDATA does here in Indiana, as well as links to find your local AT Act here in the United States, that might be able to help you out with demonstrations, loans, and other information on assistive technology. Again, listeners, if you get a little bit of a chance, go check out Eastersealstech.com for all things assistive technology. We’re going to start off today’s show with a story from the Cape Cod Times. It’s titled Cape Man With Disabilities is a Survivor: Supply Chain Issues May Cost Him Quality of Life. It’s written by Cynthia McCormick. This talks about a gentleman named Michael Riley. Now, Mr. Riley has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and just celebrated his 40th birthday. He’s extremely active on social media, really enjoys email and other things, as well as playing online games in order to stay socially connected. As many of us probably experienced during COVID shutdowns, stay in place orders, everything else, really being able to stay socially connected is extremely important.

Josh Anderson:
Mr. Riley uses a combination of an Eyegaze system, as well as a small micro switch that he activates using his thumb. As times went on, that is not completely working for him. He’s having a harder time being able to activate mouse clicks, and other things using that switch. After doing some research, both him and his attendant, they found the Sip/Puff switch, which for anyone who doesn’t know, a Sip/Puff switch goes in one’s mouth, and much like the small switch that you’re using with your finger, or your thumb, but instead of that click, taking a sip, or blowing out a puff acts as the activator for the switch. They found this, and of course, went through and were able to order it. A huge problem came up. It says here in the story that the company who manufactures it was unable to get components because of supply chain issues. Really, if you’ve tried to buy pretty much anything, from a car to groceries, to a computer to a tablet, to apparently assistive technology, as well, you realize that there’s a bit of a bottleneck, some things are really getting behind. This issue is one that was maybe coming, without even the problems that the pandemic caused, just because you don’t have enough manufacturers making semi-conductors and other pieces that are used in just so many things that we rely on today.

Josh Anderson:
While maybe not being able to get the exact brand you want at the grocery store, or having to wait a little longer to get a car can be a bit of a pain, not able to get this component can really cut Mr. Riley off from his entire social network. As we all know, and probably if you didn’t know before, you probably know after the last few years that we’ve been through, that social connectedness is, in some parts, a life saver. It really helps us to be able to keep our minds on other things. It really just helps us feel a part of something, and is a very, very important component of daily life. I’ll put a link to this story over in the show notes so that you can read the entire thing. There’s a lot more in here than really what I’m just talking about here, but this is definitely an issue that I realize most of us have probably went through sometime in the last few years. It really can become a bit of a problem when it really affects someone’s quality of life.

Josh Anderson:
Mr. Riley really relies on this for daily social connectedness, whether it be through gaming, through social media, through email, or through other ways. As we’ve talked about on this show before, finding that piece of assistive technology that lets you access the things you want to access is a great feeling to be able to find it. Then, to be told that they’re not sure when you can possibly get it, just has to be a bit of a blow. As I read down through the story, it says that the company that makes this said that some of the semi-conductors, they’re not sure if they’ll even have it by 2023. That is one heck of a backup. I’m sure many of you have probably experienced this. We’ve tried some programs here in our clinical to help folks be able to be more socially connected with the use of tablets and other things. I must admit that even I was shocked with how long some things take to get. You might make an order, and it may be two, three, four, five, six months until some of those things come in. This is for many, many reasons that we’ve probably seen in the news, and heard, at length, from folks.

Josh Anderson:
Again, the semi-conductor shortage, there’s not enough people to package the materials, not enough people to deliver the materials, not enough people to unload the materials. Many places are just so short on workers, right now. Hopefully, this will end up, of course, fixing itself sometime soon. Hopefully, people also look at it and see these weaknesses in the supply chain, and fix them so that if something like this were to ever come, again, we would be able to weather the storm a little bit better, and not have such huge issues with the supply chain. Again, I’ll put a link to this over in the show notes so that you can read it. My heart goes out to Mr. Riley. Hopefully, he can find a loan library, maybe one that’s available through a resaler, or something, that maybe has one on the shelf. We really do hope that Mr. Riley’s able to find that, so that he can access the things that he really loves and be able to live his absolute fullest life. much like I’m sure every listener, I really hope that the supply chain issues and everything related to them is something that we can talk about as a past problem here sometime in the very near future.

Josh Anderson:
Listeners, back in January, we had a quick story about two of the largest and best known learning accommodation companies coming together. Today, we’re lucky enough to have Don Johnston from Don Johnston, Inc, and Martin McKay from Texthelp on the show, to talk about joining forces, and what it means for the future of accessible learning. Don, Martin, welcome to the show.

Martin McKay:
Thank you.

Don Johnston:
Glad to be here.

Josh Anderson:
Thank you guys for coming on, and taking time out of your day to be on here. Before we get into talking about the tech, and all the exciting updates, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourselves.

Martin McKay:
I’ll go first. My name’s Martin McKay. I’m the founder of Texthelp. You can probably hear from my accent, I live in Northern Ireland. I started the company about 27 years ago, and I’m loving it. It’s a really good, fun thing to do, and a really fulfilling thing.

Don Johnston:
This is Don Johnson. My background is, I was dyslexic growing up, and still am, I was a reader. I learned to read when I was in ninth grade. I learned how to learn when I was in eighth grade. I had a teacher that really changed my life, and that really led to me building this company. It started in 1980, and it’s been a great journey.

Martin McKay:
That’s interesting, Don. I’ve a similar personal story. I think people who get into assistive technology, very often have a personal reason. When I was young, when I was 12, my dad had a stroke. It was pretty severe. He was unable to speak, or read, or write. Previously, he had been a science teacher and was very articulate, driven. It had a huge impact on me. In those days, there wasn’t very much assistive technology. I was a computer geek, even at 12 years old. I think at that stage, that was one of the things that really made me want to get into assisted technology. It’s moved from helping people with strokes, to modern neuron disease, and then eventually, into dyslexia.

Don Johnston:
Martin, when we first started talking, I can’t tell you the impact that your story had on our staff, our owners, when we were looking at coming together and really joining forces in order to solve some of the problems that we face in reaching a large number of people, and really having an impact on students. Your story really had a big impact, and it makes a great connection.

Martin McKay:
I think both our companies are founded for really strong personal reasons, and are very purpose driven. I feel the same way, Don.

Josh Anderson:
You guys are both right. It’s amazing how many folks I get to talk to on here, it is a personal story. A family member, a friend, themselves, somebody that has touched their lives and they’ve seen this, and they’ve used their skills and abilities to help create, or be a part of something to help that individual through. We’re all very thankful that both of you did take that step to be able to do that. Now, you both talked a little bit about your companies. People may, or may not have heard of Don Johnston, Inc., or of Texthelp before. Could you talk about some of the different software offerings that you each have? Some folks may be a little bit more familiar with the names of those.

Martin McKay:
Don, do you want to go first?

Don Johnston:
Sure. Yeah. Our two assistive technology products are Co:Writer, which is a product that helps with supporting students in the writing process. Then, our other one is Snap&Read, which is a text reader. What we’re trying to do with assistive technology is support students until they’re successful. What we need to do with that is, what supports do we need to make them successful writers, and successful readers. Those are our two core products. We have other products, but that is the main thing that we’re trying to provide for students, is support.

Martin McKay:
At Texthelp, people may be familiar with our biggest product, called Read&Write. Similar to the Don Johnston tools, is designed to help people support their reading, and support their writing. In this case, it’s in one product. We have another product called EquatIO, which is the same thing, but for math. Math is a language just like English, or Spanish. We help kids in the same way by predicting math to help kids type math, and reading math aloud. I think one of the things that we’ve done at Texthelp, as well, is make our reading support tools available in the workplace. A slightly different version of the product, it’s still called Read&Write, but it’s Read&Write for workplace. When kids leave school, they don’t leave dyslexia behind. We’re trying to make these tools available in workplace, as well, as in school.

Don Johnston:
We’re very excited in joining forces that we’re going to work toward supporting people in every age, in lifelong learning.

Josh Anderson:
Don, you led me right into my next question. It’s almost like you really have done this before. Now that you guys are joining forces, what does this mean for the folks who rely on your different technologies in their day to day learning, and life?

Martin McKay:
The first thing is, I want everyone to really understand very clearly that we want to continue to provide all the products to all of the people. We’re not going to be merging our products, we’re going to keep all the products on the market, but really improve them. This week, in fact, the Don Johnston team have released an update to Snap&Read, which contains some Texthelp technology from EquatIO. Snap&Read, now, reads math really well. That’s the thing that people are going to see, those advantages. The products are all there, the same people that you dealt with are all going to be there. We want to grow the teams and improve the products. We just want to make everything better, and reach more people, essentially.

Don Johnston:
When we first met with Martin, he had quite a vision of reaching a billion students by 2030. We had a lower version of that. We wanted to reach a lot more students. Let me say, reach a billion people, which includes adults. During that time, really in our conversations with Martin, we really looked at what do we need to do to do that. I think there’s a couple things. We need product innovation, we need to be able to reach out and touch more people with our sales and marketing staff, and I think we have to change the attitudes of people, of what is possible for students, and build students confidence, that they can do this. Those are the important things that I think we’re coming together to accomplish.

Martin McKay:
There are so many school districts that almost have to choose between being a Texthelp district, or a Don Johnston district. That’s not helpful. We want the school districts to be able to use whichever tools they want so that, basically, that school districts don’t have to choose. They can have both. That’s really part of the reason for coming together. Also, we’re really only reaching, at the moment, about 20% of students in the US. That’s just not enough. We really want to reach them all, but we’ve got a three year goal to try to reach at least 50% of the students in the US. Also, then expand internationally. We’ve already got a really good business in the UK, and in Sweden, and in Denmark, and in Norway. To reach a billion people, we’re going to have to enter Asia and start to help people there, as well.

Josh Anderson:
That’s great. You guys said, really, exactly what I do love to hear. There is no magic bullet. One’s not better than the other. They’re different, and people learn differently. Therefore, one tool might work for some students, while another tool is going to work for others. I’m glad you’re not getting rid of anything, you’re just improving upon what is there. That’s going to be so helpful, especially, trying to reach the one billion students. Martin, I really like the idea of the school district not having to choose, being able to offer different supports to different kids. You guys know this, you’ve done it long enough, that if you meet three kids with dyslexia, you’ve met three kids with completely different needs, that learn completely differently, and might need different tools. I’m so happy to hear that you’re not taking anything away, just adding to, and actually, just making them all stronger.

Martin McKay:
There’s so many times we’ve got customers who have said, “We really like this about your product, but we would love it if we could have Don Johnston’s prediction. We’d really like to have the text leveling functionality that Don Johnston has.” I think we can provide everything together in one bundle. That way, teachers can choose the tools that they want to use, or the tools that are best fit for those students that they’re trying to help.

Josh Anderson:
For sure. Give them choice. Here, these are the things that are available. Let them try, let them see which one they can, not only excel at, but enjoy using. If they enjoy using it, they’re going to use it a whole lot more. That’s something we always say here, “If they don’t like it, it’s a really expensive paper weight, or just something taken up space on the computer. It’s not really going to help anybody.” That’s really great that you guys are doing that. You’ve both been doing this for some time, now. I always love when my guest can tell me a story about someone that’s been assisted by their technology. Do you guys have a favorite story, maybe about someone that was assisted by using your technology?

Don Johnston:
Do you want to go, Martin? I have one.

Martin McKay:
Don, go first.

Don Johnston:
We have a person, and it’s a person that we have on our… We have a free website where we have stories of people. One of the stories that we captured is a person named Patara, who used, I believe, she used actually both of our text readers. She used Co:Writer for writing. She went through undergraduate and then graduate school in law. Right now, she’s using assistive technology as an educational rights attorney in New York. She’s just a big advocate for the use of assistive technology.

Josh Anderson:
That’s just coming full circle right there, isn’t it.

Don Johnston:
Yep.

Martin McKay:
That’s fantastic, Don. It’s so good that she’s used the tools to complete her education, and is now paying it forward for everyone else. We have so many stories. Actually, we have a few employees at Texthelp who came through university, and used our Read&Write tool at university, and graduated, then went into the workplace, and ended up working at Texthelp. It’s really good to see that happening. I’m always really touched by a story. Dyslexia is a fairly hereditary thing, it tends to crop up in families. There’s a guy whose daughter actually had our software, and he was in the US Army. He was in Iraq. His daughter used to use our software to send him emails, but he couldn’t read them. He couldn’t admit that he couldn’t read. He came home from a tour, and he was sitting in front of his daughter’s computer in his study. He was using the software to read the emails that she had sent him. His wife told us this story, and he was crying. The tears were dripping off his cheeks onto his fatigues. It was the first time that he’d really been able to read the emails that his daughter had used software to write to him. Whenever you can create a human contact like that, I think it’s fantastic.

Don Johnston:
That’s a great story.

Josh Anderson:
Yeah. That is a great, great story. Like you said, it is one of those things. Some disabilities you can see, but learning disabilities don’t really show themselves. There’s a lot of folks out there that… I was talking to Don a little bit before this interview, about when you don’t know things are out there to help you, you can feel pretty lost. Like you said, try to hide those, and not let people know. Once you actually find it, it’s life changing.

Martin McKay:
Totally. Totally.

Josh Anderson:
Guys, if our listeners want to find out more about you, about the different adaptive learning programs, and everything else that you have to offer, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Martin McKay:
For Texthelp, the easiest way is to go to our website. It’s www.texthelp.com. We help people text, that’s why we call the company that. Tons of resources on the website. A lot of our software is free for teachers, if they want to have a play with it. I would just download it, and try it out.

Don Johnston:
For our products, Don Johnston, Incorporated, donjohnston.com. At some point, it think both of these will be merged together. I think the Texthelp URL would probably be the correct place to go.

Josh Anderson:
Sounds good. We’ll put all that down in the show notes, folks, so you can easily get to it. Martin, Don, thank you both so much for coming on the show today, taking time out of your busy schedules to tell us about all the great things. Especially, people get a little bit scared when they see big changes coming, especially, to the software and things that they rely on. It sounds like you’re not taking anything away, you’re just adding to and making things better.

Don Johnston:
This is going to be very excited. My son, who leads development for Don Johnston, is so excited about the collaboration. When we bring these development staffs together, you’re going to just see so much innovation. It’s going to be incredible synergy.

Martin McKay:
I think that’s the most important thing to get across. All the products are going to be there, all the people are going to be there, we’re going to grow the team, and we’re going to improve the products by collaborating and delivering innovation. This is just good for everyone.

Josh Anderson:
We’re all going to be excited to see those changes, and see all those new innovations coming out. Gentlemen, thank you, again, so much for taking time out to be on our show.

Don Johnston:
Thanks, Josh.

Martin McKay:
Thank you, Josh.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology, do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an Assistive Technology Update. If so, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a note on Twitter at INDATA Project. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation, or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com. A special thanks to Nikol Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests, and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guest are their own, and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, or supporting partners, or this host. This was your Assistive Technology Update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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