How we came up with Voice4u – Founder’s Story
Our founder Yumi Kubo is a mother of an autistic son who is fifteen years old and lives in San Jose, California. She has had a burning desire to have a communication application on her mobile phone for more than 10 years.
Her son, Wataru, was diagnosed with autism at the age of one. She was told that, “If his autism could be found this quickly, the possibilities of him even being able to speak are close to zero.” Upon hearing this, she took it as, “You will never be able to have a conversation with this child and never have a form of communication with him forever.” And she felt as though she was pushed off of a cliff. During that time, she cared for her son, hoping that he would say at least one word. During the time, she heard that autistic children had a much easier time communicating through pictures rather than words, so she carried around a binder full of icons, which weighed about 10-20 pounds.
We have to mention that she was only 85 pounds at that time. No time to eat. No time to sleep either. Thanks to Voice4u, she finally has time to eat. So don’t even ask about how much she gained since then. 😛
Also, she always carried around all of the clothes, toys, foods, and books her son would always want, which made it impossible to hug him when he gets into a panic in a public place, and even more impossible to even hold his hand. Her hands were always filled with all of the things Wataru needed. Yumi, as a mother, would always want to give her son a hug when he is trying to get used to a new area, like any other mother would want to hug her son. She knew her son needed the support too. But, Wataru’s icon binder was always in the way and she could never hug him because of it. But now, with the icons in her iPhone, she is able to hug and help her son anywhere at anytime. She actually feel like a real mother now!
Before Voice4u, she have bought a conventional communication device with medical insurance. But, it took the device half a year to get to her after applying for insurance. During that time, the therapists’ assessment was more than $1,000, and she needed another $1,000 to be able to get an attorney to be able to negotiate with the insurance company. It was also very troublesome to learn the system and Wataru’s school teachers and therapists told her that the device was not fit for him and would never use it.
Since the device was bulky and almost impossible to carry around with everything else her son needs, she decided to purchase a new application on the iPhone. This cost much less than Dynabox. This application had too many different (but sophisticated) functions which made it very complicated to use for her son, causing him to not want to use it. (So, she lost another $200 in a second.) His speech therapist who had 25 years of experience couldn’t use it, and her engineer who has a Ph.D. from Stanford weren’t able to use it either.
At first, she was thinking of doing this project as a weekend hobby. But the more she talks about this app, the more people strongly recommended her to make this business. It was because there were many mothers like her who have autistic children, since there is at least one autistic child out of every 110 children in America. In fact, some people asked for investing opportunities. So, she decided to incorporate this business with people from variety fields: entrepreneurs with successful experience in Silicon Valley, an expert of software engineering with Ph.D. in rocket science from Stanford.
He has tutored (as volunteer) her son for about 3 years while he was studying at Stanford. When he finished his Ph.D. this year, he had several opportunities to working toward aerospace research, but he decided to dedicate himself to support autism (and other development delays) through modern rocket science technology. According to him, “I spent a quarter of my life to study just for my interest. But now, I want to help people by applying what I’ve gained through education. There are a number of people who immediately need supports and technical solutions. I should solve problems on Earth first. (Then think about the universe.)”
So, this is how we came up with Voice4u. We are willing to improve our products and support as many people as possible. Not just autism but other problems and disorders too. We have a whole bunch of product load map in our plan.
Our product’s price can be bought at the price of $29.99. Presently, we have had autistic children ranging from the ages of 3-18 use it, and all of them have learned to use the product in less than a few minutes. Anyone can use it, and it is possible to add up to a 1,000 new icons and sentences. We believe that economic burdens for families with autistic members should be lessened. We want many people to know about this app.
Here is a news article about Wataru & Yumi’s family published in 2002.
Family finds hope in Silicon Valley, By Marian Liu, San Jose Mercury News