Seeing things differently: How one YLAI Fellow made accessibility his business

rené Espinoza holding phone

By Bryce Kelly

“Anyone can get lost,” says entrepreneur René Espinoza. “We all could use a guide sometimes.”

René isn’t just talking about his app, Lazarillo, which helps make the world more accessible to people with low vision, but his own personal journey as well.  “I was trying to get into the world of health through technology, but I didn’t want to be a doctor,” he said. “Doctors do great work, but I wanted to do things that empowered people. You might not have money for a doctor or have access to a doctor. I want to make something that you can do yourself to empower yourself.”

René was going to university in his home country of Chile, where he was studying to be an electrical engineer. He was passionate about human welfare and technology. René wanted to find a way to combine the two, but he needed help figuring out just how.

Luckily, René, a 2017 YLAI Fellow, found his answer. In university, he began conducting research on a group of people with varying levels of sight who all expressed frustration at how difficult many day-to-day tasks were for them. “There was one man who needed a family member to get to the doctor’s office, or else it would take two hours,” René remembered. “I started working with him, Miguel, now our UX leader, and with his help, I started to develop different prototypes of Lazarillo. I tried it out at a shopping center, and people were very impressed,” he says. “A year later, I started developing it in earnest and started engaging with more people. That same person who took two hours to get to the doctor was now taking 30 minutes.”

For René, focusing on accessibility was a smart business decision. “Around 15% of the population have disabilities,” he told the YLAI Network team. “People with disabilities have different barriers that limit your possibilities. Most businesses don’t know how to approach the market of people with disabilities. So we are hoping to connect businesses that want to reach this market with users who want to have the same access as everyone else.”

lazarillo app graphic, man holding app on a phone

Many companies have turned to René to adapt their products to accommodate people with disabilities. “People are able to increase their opportunities, contribute to the total wealth. People with disabilities want to buy things, to experience things, and with Lazarillo, they can do those things. It’s about creating a sustainable cycle to make it more interesting for the whole population.”

Diversity and inclusion are what make Lazarillo the success it is today, and René is quick to point out that his YLAI experience played a big role in teaching him that. “I was interacting with 250 people from all around the world. … Meeting people from places you’ve never heard of before is very eye-opening. Understanding how people are very similar, but also knowing how they are different. Knowing how people see themselves is very helpful. Partnering with businesses in the United States made me understand just how big I can go with Lazarillo. It made me expand my mission, my goals, and my work.”

It was because René interacted with people of different backgrounds and identities that Lazarillo became a reality. The ideas, opportunities, and accomplishments he found are all thanks to his simple commitment to seeing things differently.

Interested in learning how else diversity and inclusion might help your mission? Visit YLAI4ll for more resources.