Andrew Chepaitis

RD18_N_ANDREW_1

RESIDENT
ELIA LIFE TECHNOLOGY, PBC, NEW YORK NY

Our company’s aim is to help people achieve their fullest potential by providing them with resources that are designed for their unique abilities. We are especially focused on helping people who have a visual impairment. To enable them, we use human centered design to develop literacy tools, such as a new tactile alphabet that is an alternative to braille and a printer that can print full tactile graphics. The alphabet is called ELIA Frames and it can be learned in a few minutes. It is important because 99% of the visually impaired cannot read braille. But they can learn ELIA Frames in an afternoon. The majority of these readers lost their vision after years of reading print and are otherwise fully literate. Yet they struggle needlessly against many of the same challenges as do people who have limited literacy. Our new tools can help people overcome educational, employment, and independence obstacles and live happier and healthier lives. To achieve our goals we collaborate across the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) fields – our team includes people from industrial/organizational psychology, behavioral neuroscience, engineering, industrial design, media, statistics, education, policy and health care.

HOW AND WHY DID YOU COME TO USE DESIGN TO ADVANCE SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE AND/OR SUSTAINABLE PROJECTS, CLIENTS AND CAUSES?

Design is essential for solving our most pressing problems, because it brings with it an understanding of whole systems and can identify the flaws and opportunities in the components of the system. Many of our problems, from plastic waste and transportation’s contribution to global warming, to the lack of accountability of corporations to shareholders, stem from system flaws. With system design, if we considered how our systems would function if we started from scratch, we can identify how our systems need to change. No other discipline can identify root causes and solutions with the same efficiency as design.

For the ecosystem of social impact entrepreneurs to thrive, we each need to serve our network of contacts. We help out wherever we can. Often times, that is nothing more than providing a helping hand for an afternoon to paint an office, hosting summer interns, reading a grant application to review its experimental design and flow, or supporting a Kickstarter. We do what we can.

Our in-house socially responsible activities include having reusable lunch containers that our take-out places accept, recycling bins, daily meditation, and using heat and air conditioning only when necessary, and even then at temperatures that are lower in the winter and higher in the summer. We are a for-profit public benefit corporation (PBC) and consistently access how we can do better for the environment and society. Shortly we will be moving our banking accounts to Amalgamated Bank; they are, in many ways, a model for how to do well while doing good.

From a systems design approach, I’ve always been impressed with Kiva. They do amazing work and their system perpetuates gains in society through small, measurable outcomes. In product design, I love the work that WearWorks has done in developing the WayBand — a navigation device for the blind. The technology is an impressive integration of components. Their fieldwork to test and optimize their technology has been intense, with a recent successful demonstration during the New York City Marathon.