Blog: Bright Ideas

From inspired idea to crowdfunded reality: A visionary app from a visually impaired camper

Inspiration struck on a long, uncomfortable field trip. Emmanuel Bard, 13 and both visually and hearing impaired, didn't eat all day because he couldn't see the menu displayed behind the counter. Sometimes he can use an iPad or phone to snap a photo and zoom in, but this menu (like many of its kind) was obscured by lighting and impossible to read. "After that trip," Emmanuel said, "I realized that an app could fix the problem."

He's now in the process of developing an app called EyeMenu, a searchable database of restaurant menus that the visually impaired can easily zoom in on or have read out loud to them through their devices.

Not every kid would jump right from frustrating problem to game-changing app, but Emmanuel isn't just any kid. For one thing, he grew up spending a ton of time at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, getting hands-on experience with technology exhibits. For another, he's a veteran Galileo camper, with a résumé that includes a summer at Camp Galileo and a range of classes at Summer Camps @ The Tech—most notably Mobile App Startup.

Emmanuel and his mother and brother, prototyping while @ The Tech MuseumAt camp, his instructors set him up for a successful experience, making sure he was always in the front row and close enough to the monitor to see and hear everything he needed to. The app he made in the summer of 2014 was pretty straightforward—when you pressed the word "boing" on the screen it would make a boinging sound and bounce around—but the innovation skills he took away were more profound.

"Emmanuel was blown away by how many steps went into making an app," his mom Emilie explained. "But he learned that he could do it."

At Galileo, our mission is to develop innovators who envision and create a better world. We want kids to leave camp with the belief that it's their place to turn their ideas into realities. We want to fortify them with the courage to share their creative thoughts and embrace challenges. That's why a camper like Emmanuel inspires us so deeply.

His vision for EyeMenu is certainly poised to create a better world for people with visual impairments. "I honestly thought that someone else must have made a similar app," Emilie said, "but it turns out it's a huge need that many visually impaired people have and it simply hasn't been addressed yet by technology." And so Emmanuel, with help from Emilie, a team at Ideator and a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign, has made it his place to turn EyeMenu into a reality.

The experience, according to Emilie, "has had a huge impact on Emmanuel. He is very shy and socially awkward. EyeMenu has become a source of confidence for him. When he starts talking about it, he squares his shoulders and looks people in the eye. He takes huge pride in it." In a few weeks, this shy, awkward kid is even pitching EyeMenu to a team of venture capitalists at a technology conference.

"If he had never had the experience of using technology all the time at The Tech or making an app [at Summer Camps @ The Tech]," said Emilie, "it would not have been an instant jump from we have a problem to we have a solution. [He learned that] the sky's the limit."

When we asked this innovative Galilean what his future held, Emmanuel boiled his bold vision and remarkable courage down to some very succinct—and admirable—goals: "I want to make EyeMenu. I want to help other people."

Help Emmanuel take EyeMenu from inspired idea to crowdfunded reality at gofundme.com/blindentrepreneur or watch a video about his experiences at The Tech Museum.

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