#disability-tech and Vortle

I’ve recently co-founded Vortle

Vortle offers anxiety management and stress relief tools designed for neurodiverse, disabled or mentally ill people.

Vortle can be considered a disability-tech company, as we consider digital accessibility to be a core value of the company and of our product.

Vortle beta is currently available on Google Play — Instant calm, no login, no signup, no fees.

Too Long Did Not Read;

  • 15% of the world [ref] population is disabled, and the majority live with non-apparent disabilities [ref]
  • People keep their non-apparent disabilities private to avoid discrimination [ref]
  • As the topic is not discussed, digital products, especially in the mental health space, often are not accessible.
  • We want Vortle to be accessible to folks who live with non-apparent disabilities, as it is the right thing to do and it will improve the product for everyone else in the world.
  • We rely on Artificial Intelligence and 3D worlds to build stress relief and anxiety management platforms.

Disability tech is a concept of growing interest and I wanted to capture my thoughts on how this flavor of technology is different from digital health tech or general startups, and describe what Vortle is doing in this space.

People who live with PTSD, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and other conditions on the spectrum of the psyche often are non-apparent in their struggles and challenges. Mental health conditions noted above, and many more — can be chronic and considered disability. Non-apparent disability is still a topic that is associated with shame, and lots of disabled people do not disclose their diagnosis and prefer to keep their life experiences extremely private.

How do we build digital products accessible to people with non-apparent mental disabilities to help manage anxiety and stress, if there is little to no conversation on how the products should behave, look and feel?

Since conditions stay private, the technological needs to manage these conditions stay private as well or within the walls of care providers. Few tools (almost none!) are developed or made available for folks with psychiatric disabilities to better address their mental health needs.

Another topic that is often skipped, hidden, and kept to private conversations is psychiatric medication such as mild tranquilizers, sedatives, mood stabilizers, anti-depressants that for the most part work in unknown [1] [2] ways and were often discovered by accident.

For example, Alprazolam is one of the most prescribed drugs in the US to treat different forms of anxiety, and quote

It is thought that it works by enhancing the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

Despite all the digital and scientific advances, we are still unsure how our psychiatric medication works, why it has so many side effects, and if there are safer digital alternatives.

The #disabilitytech for people with mental disabilities can unlock new digital experiences that can minimize symptoms and maybe even treat certain conditions, democratize access to coping tools, create more accessible data and empower researchers, engineers and scientists to tackle some of the problems with solutions that can be open-sourced and shared. We can also use the data and computational tools to get a better understanding on what is anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other conditions.

This is why I co-founded Vortle — to bring open-source, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the concepts of agile software engineering to tackle the problems in the space of psychiatric disabilities, mental health, and neurodiversity.

Vortle started small, with a multi-sensory gaming experience that helps relieve anxiety and stress. For myself, Vortle games have been a lifeline in situations that cause anxiety — flying, crowded spaces, long meetings at work, etc. We want Vortle to go a lot bigger. We are planning to open-source some of the research we did in the AI and relaxation content enhancement and generation. We have used techniques in data science and machine learning to understand our customers better.

We have created a platform where we can plug in games and audio/visual content developed by creators and professionals from all over the world. We collaborated with a practicing therapist on creating the first pass of the tools available on the platform and a few initial “vortels” for people to experience.

Now, we are actively collecting feedback from folks who live with invisible disabilities and are open to discuss their needs.

With Vortle, we want to create an inclusive, thoughtful, and accessible technology for people with psychiatric disabilities that can be used on a daily basis, available on any relevant device (phones, TVs, computers). As it happens, the tools we develop are helpful for folks who struggle with different levels of anxiety and stress as well.

We also want to raise awareness and unlock the conversations on the topics of mental illness — which often are still taboo in most of the world.

Recent developments aim to make the Vortle experience more comfortable, with simple improvements like larger fonts and dark mode, but more importantly with designs that reflect the needs of our core audience — no violence triggers, sensible levels of sound, awareness of motion, and sudden changes in lighting, etc.

For folks to have better #disabilitytech we need to be able to have open conversations, shared experiences, and mutual interest in helping the community.

#disabilitytech can not exist without shared experiences between consumers and creators — we need a tremendous increase in neurodiversity among creators such as software engineers, data scientists, researchers, and founders.

As a person who has lived with a chronic psychiatric disability since childhood I hope to develop a product with empathy and thoughtfulness behind it — this is how I would want the products in #disabilitytech to be approached and created in general. I also hope to bring more underrepresented talent into the picture, people of all abilities who can feel safe and appreciated at work.