Transcript of Nation's Blind Podcast Episode: Meet the Monarch

Intro, voice over music:
Welcome to the Nation's Blind Podcast, presented by the National Federation of the Blind, the transformative membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans. Live the life you want.

Melissa Riccobono:
Hello and welcome to the Nation's Blind Podcast. I'm Melissa Riccobono and I'm here with my co-host extraordinaire.

Anil Lewis:
Look at that, co-host extraordinaire, that's the way to bring in 2023, ladies and gentlemen. This is Anil Lewis. I'm really glad to be here.

Melissa, happy New Year.

Melissa Riccobono:
Happy New Year to you. How are you?

Anil Lewis:
I'm doing quite well. Thank you. Looking forward for some wonderful stuff that's going to happen throughout this wonderful year. That's my word for the year, just in case you haven't determined, it's wonderful.

Melissa Riccobono:
Wonderful.

Anil Lewis:
And I'm looking forward to our topic today because I think it's also absolutely wonderful.

Melissa Riccobono:
I was actually saying to our guest, before we started recording, that as a parent of two blind kids, as a blind person, as a former blind student, I am so excited about what we're going to talk about today.

Anil Lewis:
Yeah.

Melissa Riccobono:
And I think this is, for want of a better word, absolutely amazing, even though I really cannot stand the word, amazing. So, if you see me using the word amazing or hear me using it-

Anil Lewis:
It truly is amazing.

Melissa Riccobono:
It truly is amazing.

Anil Lewis:
Definitely something transformative in the way that blind people can access information. So, yeah, let's get started.

Melissa Riccobono:
Do you want to introduce our guest? He's more of a friend.

Anil Lewis:
Yes, he's grown to be a friend. We've vetted him.

Melissa Riccobono:
Yeah.

Anil Lewis:
He's a good guy. Craig Meador of APH, ladies and gentlemen, American Printing House for the Blind, is a very good friend of the Federation. And we're here to talk about a collaboration between APH, HumanWare, and the National Federation of the Blind to provide … (does a fake trumpet call)

Melissa Riccobono:
The Monarch.

Anil Lewis:
A full-page tactile display that allows us to introduce graphics and print and allows dynamic interaction with the graphics. But I won't steal all the thunder. How you doing, Craig?

I'm doing really, really well. I'm-

Anil Lewis:
Have you noticed you got to get in here with me and Melissa, so if you want you...

I do. You guys are …

Anil Lewis:
... be a part of this podcast, man. You got to get in here. (Laughter)

Melissa Riccobono:
I was just going to say, before we get started, we need a special little musical Monarch theme. I hear bells ringing and trumpets blaring or something, or at the very least, a beautiful flutter of butterfly wings.

There you go.

Melissa Riccobono:
So, Will, our recording guy, why don't we get on that and figure out what we can have for our Monarch sound effect going forward. But we're so glad to have you here. And why don't we maybe just get started by explaining to our listeners, in case they don't know, what the Monarch is and about this partnership.

Yeah, that would be good, because not everybody has been embroiled in the development and discussion and the dreaming and the wishing, which I'm so happy to say we have a working prototype, so it's actually a reality that has come to be. But what the Monarch is, is a dynamic tactile device that can do both. It's multiline. If you used it at its very basic, it would be 10 lines of Braille, 33 cells per line on a single page, so it's like at its very basic, it is a Braille Kindle, but-

Anil Lewis:
Yeah, be careful now. We don't want Amazon to be trying to get us to pay them money on this.

A device to be named later, yeah, but anyhow. (Laughter) But at its fullest potential, this allows us to put Braille, multi-lines of Braille and tactile graphics on the same page. And it's not just a static device. It's a device that is designed like a regular tablet. And so, the best example I give, and having been an educator of students who are blind and low-vision, and I remember what it took to educate a student in math class. Usually, what that meant is I would check in with the teacher the day before of what page we were going to be on to make sure that we had all the right tools and tactile graphics ready to go, and the Braille was ready.

And then I would try to get with my student before class and do a quick pre-teach. "These are the concepts that are going to be covered today. These are the tactile diagrams you're going to be encountering." And then I would allow the student just to be engaged to whatever potential they could in that class, and we all know how fast math class moves. But what I found is that if my students didn't have everything laid out ahead of time, by the time my student got to the right volume or the right auxiliary volume that had the tactile graphics then the teacher was three problems down the road, because most teachers on average were spending about ninety seconds per problem. And that is introducing the problem, giving examples, working it out on the board, asking a clarifying question, and moving on to the next problem, if you were lucky.

Sometimes they're just like, "Here's the answer, next problem. Here's the answer, next problem." And of course, my students, to keep up with that pace if they didn't have everything, if they hadn't laid out everything in advance, was really at an unfair advantage. Then afterwards I would meet with that student again and say, "Okay, what did you catch? What didn't you catch?" And we would go back, and I would basically reteach that lesson.

Anil Lewis:
Okay, let me do something real quick.

Yes.

Anil Lewis:
One, let me validate that I'm just so pleased to hear that you have all that experience in the classroom. I think that makes your role as Executive Director of APH so much more important because you're actually able to really drive the organization in a way that meets real needs and can address some problems that blind students are facing in the classroom. So now, with the Monarch, what you just described, where do you see the classroom? How do you see it operating now with the Monarch in that scenario you just put out there?

So, here's where we're going. Imagine coming in that classroom, you have your tablet, you come to class like everyone else. You pull out your Monarch, which is about the size of a gaming laptop. Weighs about 4.5 pounds, so it's got some heft to it, but it will fit in a standard laptop bag. You take that out. You turn it on. You open your file menu just like you would on any Braille device, and you open your math book. And teacher says, "Turn to Page forty, Problem Number Seven." You would type that in. It would take you right to Page Forty, Problem Number Seven.

Anil Lewis:
Wow.

The Braille is there. The graphics are there. You can page ahead.

Anil Lewis:
Wow.

You can page back. You go where everybody else in the class goes at the same pace they're going. It becomes active learning, not a passive, and hopefully, will eliminate the need to do a reteach with assistance. So, I mean, this is the dream. This is the dream of compatibility to deliver education in real-time and allow everyone to have full equity within the classroom and access of materials. I get wound up and passionate about this because I'm just thinking we have the working prototypes, which is exciting.

Melissa Riccobono:
And this absolutely is the dream. And let me just say, I remember, way back when, even though it wasn't all that long ago, really. I'm twenty-five years out of high school, which I guess is a long time (laughs), but it doesn’t seem that long.

Anil Lewis:
Well, you graduated high school when you were three, so that, yeah.

Melissa Riccobono:
I did, I did. I have to tell you, I do still have anxiety dreams once in a while where I'm in a math class and I haven't been there the whole semester and it's exam time. But anyway, I digress. Math was not my favorite subject, but there you go. I didn't have a great teacher like you, maybe though. And when I did have good teachers, it actually wasn't so bad, but let me back up. Things have changed so much since the time I was in high school. I remember carrying hardcopy books around with me. They would weigh way more than, what did you say the Monarch weighs, five pounds?

Anil Lewis:
Five pounds.

Yeah.

Anil Lewis:
Doesn't the Perkins Brailler weigh more than five pounds?

Melissa Riccobono:
The Perkins Brailler is fifteen pounds. I remember carrying that around with me, too, so that's one thing.

Anil Lewis:
We're making progress.

Melissa Riccobono:
Absolutely. Second thing is I remember volumes of books, being surprised, "Oh, shoot. I need to run and grab another volume."

Anil Lewis:
Yeah.

Melissa Riccobono:
So, I remember that, too. But I also remember and know, now that I have children, that textbooks, very rarely now do students actually have textbooks. Maybe more in college, but more and more it's different curricula that are handouts or that are online. Platforms like Zearn and Freckle and different things that students use now. And I'm guessing that the Monarch would also be able to connect maybe to a whiteboard or a special projector maybe that the teacher is having in the classroom and so that things can be presented in real-time, or curricula can be loaded into it, too, not just textbooks. Is that correct?

That is the plan. We're well aware of that. Many districts have moved to learning media platforms. Most of which, again, this is one of those things that drive me crazy in this great country of ours is that districts are allowed to go out and purchase a learning media platform that has never been test-driven for most students with disabilities, for blindness.

Melissa Riccobono:
That's right.

Deaf, hard of hearing, for students with reading and other print disabilities. There aren't accessibility features within these learning media platforms, and nobody is really addressing that. So, if a listener has found ones that work, that's great, but we realize that it's a big part of the work. The Monarch is one piece, and that has been a lot of work, and it's taken a lot of energy to develop that.
The next big thing that we're working on, which is going to take help from everybody, is redesigning the entire educational ecosystem to support this. And what we mean by that is everything from the way files are developed, but the other piece, too, is figuring out those APIs, figuring out those technology connectors to learning media platforms, so that as that comes up on the smart board, it's coming up on the Monarch.

Anil Lewis:
It's very important.

Yes.

Melissa Riccobono:
Yeah.

Anil Lewis:
And the other piece I thought you were going to speak to is the other piece we have to do in parallel with this is we're creating a device that's going to make this available, we've got to also create the curriculum that teaches the students how to use the information. Because tactile literacy, tactile fluency, that's a new-wave word in our hemisphere. But it's important that we actually teach blind students how to really interpret tactile graphics.

Ann Cunningham, who's a tremendous partner of ours, works out of our Colorado Center for the Blind, does a tremendous amount of work and accessible art tactile graphics. She gave this real example of when a sighted kid learns about a giraffe, they can see a giraffe. And so, when they see a picture of a giraffe, they know it's a giraffe. How do you do that for a blind kid? You can't take a blind kid to the zoo and let them touch all of the giraffe. So, she talked about doing little models that are appropriate size and that kind of thing and transferring that understanding into that.

So, it takes a curriculum to really make sure that as we evolve the technology, which again as Melissa said is amazing, we also develop a learning processes, so that the students can take advantage of it.

Melissa Riccobono:
I think that's so important. It used to be we would say, "Oh, maybe a kid is ready for a notetaker in third or fourth grade." I would think the Monarch would be something that a child, even preschool, pre-K, especially for that graphic interface, I think that would be extremely important. And then again, those 3D models to, "Hey, this is what it feels like in real life. Here's what it feels like in picture form," so kids can get that understanding of how it's laid out on the page and that type of thing.

Let me go back though just for a second, because this is not, even though the American Printing House for the Blind is a fantastic organization, you're not alone in developing this. And this is what makes me, I think, the most excited. We do have a partnership. We have you guys, we have HumanWare, and then we have the National Federation of the Blind.
And how has talking to actual blind people made this product better? What has that brought to the table? And I guess your experiences, also, as an educator of a blind student, I'm sure, certainly help, but this is really authentic. We're bringing blind people to the table. You're asking us what we need. You're having us help you. You're partnering with the National Federation of the Blind and with HumanWare. What does that bring, and why is that so important instead of APH just tackling this alone?

Well, first of all, our field, and I'll put my hand up on that, too, is our field has been notorious. And this goes back, this isn't a new thing. I've been in this field thirty-eight years and for thirty-eight years, I've seen not only products created by APH, but products created by for-profit companies, whether it be technology or learning products, is often those things are done in a vacuum.

Anil Lewis:
"Look what we created for you. Here you go, blind guys." (Laughter)

So, good luck with that. And a good point of that, to Anil's point is you talk about tactile literacy. That is probably the weakest link. Even though we have guidelines from BANA, which are fantastic, when you look at how maps and how tactile graphics are being prepared all across the country, it is a circus.

Melissa Riccobono:
That's a good way to describe it.

Here is a shaded triangle. A shaded triangle is done this way, and that means a city, and you go to someone else's map and it's like, "Well, no, that means a bus station." (Laughter) It's almost like we've got multiple languages that we're speaking. And that is a good example of we've never developed a system because we couldn't all agree. So, when we look at products in that sense, we knew that if this was truly going to meet the need, this product, then you had to start from the beginning. You had to get the nation's largest, most active voice about blindness and living with blindness and knowledge about blindness and not just say make a seat at the table but build the table with them. And so, that's why we reached out to the NFB because, well, we knew the NFB would shoot straight. If we had something that was not going to fly, we would get that.

Anil Lewis:
That's true. We shoot straight, and you are correct. Yeah.

No mincing of words. Yes. But we knew with this partnership, the design, and it wasn't just like, "Oh, APH created this in a vacuum and here it is. What do you think?" It's like HumanWare is pulling together technology and we have another company called DOT that has created this Braille cell that has made this all possible, but it's like form, the user interface. That's the piece we needed from NFB. How should this be laid out, Braille on top, Braille on bottom, all of that. How will people use this? And I think it was a lot of work with the NFB early on that really helped us come to that aha moment. If you do not create the educational ecosystem, you have just created a very cool expensive paperweight.

Melissa Riccobono, over music:
The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards, named for the world's first physician to be born blind, seek to honor initiatives, innovations, and individuals that are a positive force in the lives of blind people and advance the ultimate goal of helping them transform their dreams into reality. Winners receive a cash award and have included entrepreneurs, volunteers, filmmakers, authors, mathematicians, technology developers, artists, teachers, nonprofit organizations, programs, partnerships, and more. Nominations for the 2023 Bolotin Awards are now being accepted and are due by no later than April 15th, 2023. The awards will be presented at the national convention from July 1st through sixth in Houston, Texas. To learn more about this prestigious award or submit a nomination, visit nfb.org/Bolotin, B-O-L-O-T-I-N.

Anil Lewis:
And I think the true value add that we offer is it's blind people across the board.

Yeah.

Anil Lewis:
I think that there's so many times people create technology, they get very sophisticated, knowledgeable blind individuals that are very tech-savvy, and that's who they benchmark against. And you create a product that they can use, but the average everyday blind person can't. I know that just participating in some of the evaluation of the tech at different milestone moments has really, really been helpful for me alone understanding the technology. And I have to believe that some of the feedback I've given has been helpful.

But even more importantly, when we hosted the focus groups at our convention, we had at least 50 or 60 of our members from across the country with a variety of different Braille reading skills, representing different populations, diversity, education, gender, age, and all of them, one, came out with a wonderful experience, really excited about the technology. And then for the most part, as I talked to different people, they all had different types of feedback that they offered during that focus group.

So, I think that the culmination of all of that information, all of that feedback, all those perspectives is really going to help develop the most outstanding product. Well, it's going to be one of a kind really for what it does, but I think it's going to come out of the box being top-shelf, so I'm really pleased about this partnership.

Melissa Riccobono:
I completely agree, and I am so excited that you actually have a real live, honest to goodness, truly working prototype. It's not a dream anymore. It's not in early prototype stage. It's actually there. And I understand you guys had a chance to show it off at the Consumer Electronics Show out in Las Vegas. What was that like, and what was the reaction to your presentation out there?

Yes, we did. And our original plan was to hold off until March at another technology conference and share there, but we really felt that the cat had been let out of the bag already, so we better show up. And so, we had an opportunity to present this to the Consumer Technology Association round table group. We had several members, prominent members of that group came to take a look. We had several blind individuals come who were either from the industry side of things or were from just the user side of things. And different folks come in and test drive it to gather their feedback as well as we had a lot of people who were in different realms, like the testing business just to different pockets of education come down and sit down and learn about the device. And we did that all by appointment only.

So, we had the device out on display at our booth. they call it under glass. We had this clear plexiglass box that sat over it, and you had to make an appointment when we would open the box and bring it out and sit down with people.

Anil Lewis:
Nice.

And so, it made it a really must-see or must-do appointment type thing. But the feedback was what we've seen everywhere else is people. And especially among Braille users, the ability for the first time in their life feel multi-line Braille and tactile graphics on the same page at the same time. I mean, the expressions on faces, the heartfelt sentiment that came out of people. I would say there are definitely moments when it would bring tears to the eyes because it's like that's when you know we're on the right track. We've connected purpose and mission and heart, and the fact that we have two working prototypes right now.

This has been a dream as an educator. I've been at APH now eight years, and this has been a dream of mine at APH for eight years. And we've been down this road several different paths and had to have retreated and abandoned efforts. And now, we have this in front of us and it looks incredibly promising. So, to be beyond the verge of seeing that dream realized is really exciting. Our plan is we are going to go into production of the first round of these units this spring.

Melissa Riccobono:
Wow.

And our goal is then to sit down. So, if everything goes according to plan, and I'm knocking wood on ninety different levels. But we'll be getting beta units out to field testers. And then we will have a good six to nine months of having people test drive these things left and right, all the while we're working on this ecosystem as well with a lot of people. And then the goal, if everything goes according to plan, then at this time next year, we are going to begin a lot of training with end users.

This is the other piece we know, too, is if we don't do intensive training with educators and with support staff and with rehab counselors or even adult end-users, if we don't have that training component, we're going to shoot ourselves in the foot. So, we want to lead out with training of the device and use of the device. And then by, let's see, we're looking at spring of '24 that this device would be released.

Anil Lewis:
Wow.

Melissa Riccobono:
Wow.

So, a little over a year from now.

Melissa Riccobono:
Let me say two things about that. First of all, as you're talking, I'm thinking about the tactile graphics and what you said way back was, yeah, this map, the triangle means a city and this map, it means a bus station. How often did that kick me in the foot when it came to reading maps on standardized tests? Because often, they looked nothing like the maps I had looked at or read at other times in my life.
And some of them were just formatted, I'll say horribly. Maybe they weren't bad. Maybe it was me that was the problem. But I remember getting horrible scores on map reading and things of that nature. And still as an adult, don't feel comfortable. I get that knot in my stomach when I'm supposed to look at a map. And I mean, aside from a map of the United States. I've got that one down. But other maps, other things that I'm supposed to get something from that is horribly hard for me still.

And I just think about if kids from the very beginning, because as much as I hate to say it, I think probably standardized tests are here to stay, and so if a kid can have the information and know how it's going to be presented in class and have that be the same way that it's presented on the test and in practice, what a huge leg up. And what a great service for blind students to really test what they really know and not how well...

Anil Lewis:
Absolutely.

Melissa Riccobono:
... they can figure out things on the fly.

Anil Lewis:
Before you move to the second thing.

Melissa Riccobono:

Anil Lewis:
The cognitive load that's placed on blind students when they test, and even, I lost my sight later, but I still had to take my graduate exam as a blind person. And they sent out this little slip back in the day that says, "Okay, this test was taken with accommodations." And then the people who are interpreting the scores are thinking, "Well, he must have had a hand up, so, of course, his score is a little more inflated." Not recognizing that no, the cognitive load for me to actually interpret the test questions in an accessible fashion because it wasn't a good rendition of the test meant that my test score would have been higher if the playing field was even.
So, I'm pleased that we're finally getting to the point where we're actually able to have our blind students really be competitive if we need to be competitive in the standardized test environment, in a way that's more realistic to their knowledge and abilities of the subject. Not just their knowledge and ability to make their own accommodations or take advantage of some jury-rigged accessibility put in place in order for them to take the test.

Melissa Riccobono:
Absolutely. And I guess my only other question or thought is that, I mean, obviously we're talking about getting this rolled out. I'm guessing this has a pretty hefty price tag. And so, what types of things are we doing, APH, HumanWare and the National Federation of the Blind, or what do you think that we will be doing in the future to really get funding to make sure we can actually put the dream into the hands of real blind students who need this device?

Yeah, and you're not wrong about the price tag, Melissa. And unfortunately, because in our field, well, this is a small, targeted population, and if you look at what the cost of Brailling, or insert name of Braille device here, what that cost. And the reality is having now been eight years on the other side of the fence. So, eight years, so many years, thirty years in education, now eight years at APH, I used to be always like, "Why are they charged so much? This is ridiculous. They're making a lot of money off the backs of blind people. Resentful."

Melissa Riccobono:
Those people.

Yes. And I'm saying this, and I'm sure most people know this, but when you sit down with the bill of materials and the cost of the build and all this stuff, the margins. For example, the average laptop that gets sold, and I'm just pulling this number out of the air here. But I would say what you're buying that laptop for and how much margin is on top of that laptop that the company is making off that is probably greater than forty percent. The margins in the field of assistive technology sometimes are as low as seven percent.

Anil Lewis:
Yeah. And they don't have the volume that other more mainstream technology has, so they're also-

Right, that's why. If you're making seven percent profit off every device that's got to go back to pay the salary of the salesperson, that's got to usually pay whatever marketing goes along with that device. And so, it gets down to what actually goes back to the company to reinvest into R&D. A lot of times is you're talking, it's less than five percent, sometimes more. It just all depends on the device. So, when you get to a device, you start talking about ten lines, thirty-three cells per line, the cost of, and I used to know what the cost of a single piezoelectric Braille cell was.

Anil Lewis:
We used $100 because that way if it's a 10-cell display, it's used to be a grand, 20-cell, two grand. Dr. Craig Meador: There you go. Yeah, I like that because that's about right. It's a hundred bucks a cell, so you start adding that up, thirty-three times ten equals 330, and then talk about the hardware and the technology. I mean, it just starts to climb up there. So, we're looking right now, if we had to, while these prototypes are developing are costing us about$16,000 apiece. Our goal is to get that down. But more importantly, what we are doing is we are having a lot of conversations with the federal government, right now, trying to secure an additional tech fund that would then allow us to put this in the hands.

So, if I focus just on students who are served by APH through the quota, which is basically preschool through high school, we would like to create this system. And this is just one idea. One idea I had is almost like if you're a student and you need this device, you're going to get that device. It may be a small chunk of the quota that goes out to you, but the idea is you have this device, if the device goes down. Because this is the other problem with technology. We've all had technology fail. If it's a Monday and your device isn't working on a Monday, if someone from that school or that teacher can get it down and they can contact us, we send them a shipping label. They take it down to UPS, FedEx, whatever, it gets shipped out at no cost to the teacher. And once that thing is in transit, we're sending a replacement out. So, the most the student would be without that device is a day or two.

But we create this revolving library, so that students always have access to this device. Now, whether we can do that at the adult level or not, that would be a restructuring. Because the funds that we receive from the federal government are very much targeted towards kids. So, we know we could create this revolving system of products going in and out and making sure students always have the right tools in their hands up through 12th grade or up through the time a student completes high school.
What do you do for adults? And that's going to be a whole another system we've got to figure out. But our goal is to figure out ways to drive costs down. A big part of that-

Anil Lewis:
Well, I'm aware of this grassroots organization of blind people that can really help you move the federal government to support that [inaudible).

Yeah, and if we had someone like that, if we had a group like that, we could move mountains, man.

Melissa Riccobono:
I think part of this, too, is, well, two things. As always, this will also breed competition, right?

Yes.

Melissa Riccobono:
And competition is not a bad thing.

No.

Melissa Riccobono:
It really isn't. It's just making things better and better and better, making the technologies better. I mean, maybe at the end of the day, because I think this machine has so much promise, maybe the Monarch always comes out on top, that would be great. If it doesn't, then that just pushes the Monarch and our partnership to make it even better and to put more into it, and maybe that eventually will get costs down. Also, if the federal government is putting funding in, maybe that helps get costs down because more and more people have it, so supply and demand. All of those things help a lot. And I would think even that-

Anil Lewis:
I love that the bar is set so high. I love that the Monarch, we've talked about Braille and graphics co-existing on the same tablet, but it's even more dynamic. I mentioned earlier, you're going to be able to zoom in and zoom out of pictures. You're going to be able to tactilely interact with the screen through touch it. Bring on the competition. But the bar is set so high with this device. I mean, I can't even imagine what the next generation is going to look like.

Melissa Riccobono:
I can't either. And it might be the go-to device for people, which means that adults will ask for it. I mean, if a kid in pre-K gets their Monarch and it has served them well all the way through high school, and especially, once we get the education system to move along with us, which might be a bigger lift, but let's say, it moves along with us, they're going to, of course want to and need to take that to college.
When I was in college, the Braillewriter was still a tool that I took with me proudly and still used in some classes. But this might be almost like that Braillewriter that you just need that to really be able to do what you need to do. And so, I think that just pushing for this more and more, I think it will be great.

And that's the beauty about, we're a company, but we're a nonprofit. And coming with an educator's heart, my hope is that, to Anil's point, this raises the bar. This says, "Here's the new product that's out there." And knowing our field, that's the other beauty that our field for all our for-profit companies that are out there. And I'm talking to all of them.

Majority of those companies, they're in the field because they believe in the mission of what they're doing. And otherwise, if you want to be a software engineer, you can go to a lot of other companies and make a lot more money and have a better lifestyle. But my hope is that this comes out and we say, "Hey, folks. This is the blueprint for what's possible. Do one better, do one better." So, I would love to see Vispero. I'd love to see HIMS. I would love to see Orbit. I'd love to see-

Anil Lewis:
Man, look at this. I love it. You're just calling them out. Good for you.

That's right. But have them rise to the occasion and either offer an add-on that would make it better or do their own thing and produce something that's better, because there should be choice. There should be choice in the marketplace where every consumer can say, "Well, I like the operating system on this company ‘s program better, so I'm buying their device or I'm buying this device."
But wouldn't that be a beautiful world if ten years from now, a dozen different Monarch type devices out there that consumers can choose from, and each one of them having their own unique strengths. And that's where we're going. And that will drive cost down. If you get enough people using the technology and developing programs and products like this, it will drive cost down.

And the other piece, and this is the shout-out to the NFB. NFB is that one organization that could pressure the US government to say these devices should be in every federal building. It should be in every state building. It should be in every library. It should be in any place. It should be in the voting booth. It should be anywhere where the public needs to engage with the federal government and literacy is involved. A device of this nature should be there.

Anil Lewis:
So, common sense, because there's economies of scale, we can reach because of all the other ways that that need is attempting to be met now. We can cut those costs and introduce this technology in a way that actually saves the government money.

At the very least you could go to the Smithsonian, and you are assigned a Monarch when you came in, and as you wander from venue to venue, "Here is the tactile representation and the history. What it is you're looking at. Here's the information in Braille. Here's the tactile representations. Here's the information about the artist or the artifact or whatever that is." If that was available as you moved through that museum, what a different experience at the museum.

Anil Lewis:
That's thinking out of the box. That's really good. Because as you were saying earlier...

Melissa Riccobono:
I was just going to say I never even thought about that.

Anil Lewis:
... we always complain about stuff being behind glass or behind those little velvet ropes and you can't touch it. But yeah, if you render tactile representation, and maybe that's the next evolution, but it'll be decades that we get something that actually renders 3D images in real-time.

Melissa Riccobono:
I was just going to say maybe eventually this has a little 3D printer hook to it. And you can push that print and pop out comes that 3D representation of your... And maybe they'll be drawing tools. Maybe blind people could draw with their fingers and/or a special pen and then see it in real-time. I mean, this is just...

Anil Lewis:
Amazing.

Melissa Riccobono:
... such exciting and amazing technology. It's wonderful, to quote my friend. And I think that having more and more blind people, and especially, the youth who are just growing up now and can think of things that we're not even thinking of because I just barely feel like I've scratched the surface of the things that I would think of to do with this. But man, you get a kid, and they'll say, "Wouldn't it be cool if we could …?" And then it starts happening.

And that's the beauty of it. And I am just so pleased that we are partners in this, that we are able to be with you on this journey. And I love the name Monarch. I think it's so transformational. I love the image of flying high, being successful. I mean, it's just a perfect name. So, congratulations on the name and on a fantastic product.

Thank you. It also has that hint of royalty to it, too. You know what I'm saying?

Melissa Riccobono:
I didn't even think about that.

Yeah. And I'm not saying that this device is a royal device or that APH is a royal company, but the end user deserves the best.

Anil Lewis:
I love it.

Melissa Riccobono:
Anything else that we need to cover? I think that we have covered a lot during this episode, and I really appreciate your time.

Anil Lewis:
Wow. This is the best, yeah.

Melissa Riccobono:
But Anil might have other questions.

Anil Lewis:
No, we could talk about it ongoing. I'll just offer Craig the opportunity to offer some final words before we close this. But again, before I do that, I said it earlier, but this is just very important. The fact that you've had that on-the-ground experience, the fact that you've worked in the classroom, I see that being so value added in this process. Not only just in the development of the Monarch, but in all the work you do there with the American Printing House. I'm so glad that we, as organizations, have been able to partner. And not just this, but other things as well. So, I want to commend you for lending your time, your talent and your tenth toward creating better educational opportunities for blind students. But I will offer you the opportunity to say whatever you need to say before we close out this particular episode.

Well, I appreciate those kind words, but I think that's a heart of every educator that is out there and every parent that is out there in the field is that same anticipation, so I know that's a shared heartfelt. I don't know what you call it, mission, passion, but it is what it is. So, to the listening audience out there, we're anxious for you to get your hands on this and see this device. Of course, we'll be showing it at the conference this year, so be sure and be there for that. But the other piece, too, is this is where the heavy work begins because we are going to create a lot of open-source opportunity for people to create apps for this thing.

Anil Lewis:
Nice.

I mean, this is where the community at large is needed. If you have an idea for an app that needs to be on this, because think of this as a tablet. You're going to be able to load it up with apps from different app stores, whether it be from the Apple Store or from the Android store, so if you have ideas for apps, whatever that might be. It might be an app for knitting. It might be an app for something else, or it might be an app for navigation, that's going to be an open-source platform to develop those apps.

And then of course, there'll be a vetting process to make sure it functions with the machine and all that. But we're going to need the people, the end users of this machine to help dictate how this ecosystem for the machine needs to develop. This can't be done in a vacuum. We can handle the textbook stuff pretty easy here at APH because we swim in that stuff all the time.

But I can't tell you what is that one tool you need to make your everyday life better. You're going to have to tell us that and inform our engineers or if you're an engineer out there and you got an idea, get in touch with us, because all of that is going to come to fruition pretty quickly as this ecosystem gets developed and we're going to need that level of support. If we don't have the ecosystem, we have a very beautiful, expensive paperweight.

Melissa Riccobono:
Absolutely. And I'm thinking three things, Braille music learning, Braille music creation or music in real time. I mean, how amazing would that be for musicians to have one device that could just produce their music right there. I mean, my goodness.
And then the other thing I'm thinking about besides drawing, which I think would be a fun and really important thing that we could do, gaming. I'm just thinking of all the cool games that sighted kids have access to, to learn to read, to learn, whatever it is. And for a long time, I thought that a lot of the games that are available right now are just not to the same level of fun as some of the other games that are out there mainstream.

So, I think that could be amazing or maybe it's just working with companies to make their games accessible with this new machine. So, if you have focus groups or any way that we can, I'm assuming there might be surveys and things, just please make sure they come to the National Federation of the Blind because I'm sure there's many other people that might have many other ideas. These are the ones that just spring into my mind, so that is so exciting. I love that the partnership that's going to continue forever. It's not just going to stop with the design of the product and be done, that we can then actually work on cool and new and interesting ways to use this forever, which is just amazing.