We’re Anthony Curran and Adam Barrett – two friends who grew up together in Leigh, Greater Manchester, and went on to start a business that combined our professions and our passions.
Our Story So Far
The business that we created together is called Access Social, but iRoam is our flagship creation.
We’re a small business with growing capacity, and though everything is overseen by the two of us at the head of the company, we’re proud to work with a small but diverse team who can support our clients in so many ways. We’re also always working with focus groups and professional colleagues to make sure that what we’re doing is genuinely useful, workable and enjoyable for those who invest their time and money into buying our creations.
Adam and I are really different in who we are and what we do within our work. What I lack in any desire to understand social media is more than balanced out by Adam’s social media prowess and people skills. I do get to shine when it comes to process and logical thinking, though. We work well together, and on the days we don’t agree, it just ends up making our offering a lot stronger.
What’s any of this got to do with iRoam?
Read on to find out more, or if you are ready to talk get in touch now!
Adam is the official carer for his younger sister, who has autism. He’s always wanted to make sure that she can live the best life that she can, given some of the limitations she faces. He’d previously trained as a teacher, so he used that experience to teach Personal Assistants in how to provide the most effective support for individuals with autism. Before taking on these noble roles, he was trained in Film and Media.
I studied Computer and Multimedia Systems at university. Nobody ever really knows what that is. Just like Adam, I trained as a teacher, too, and taught in a college in Manchester for just under a decade. As part of my role, I also worked as a teaching and learning coach to support other staff members with their own teaching, and ended my teaching career on a high as a team leader within the IT and Computing Department.
Combining both of our experiences in having suffered through site visits and risk assessments for our students and loved ones, we were sure that our film and tech backgrounds could create something that would make the whole experience easier and more attractive. It couldn’t have been any worse, after all!
We were both savvy enough to know that in creating something like iRoam, we’d need to sit down and really talk with the people who it would affect and benefit the most. This is the problem with other ‘solutions’ on the market. They’re devised by neurotypical people who simply ‘think’ they know what’s best.
We had some simple options to play with at the start, such as tours with 360-degree photos, but this essentially already existed in the estate agency world, and this just confirmed that our offer shouldn’t be about promotion for the client’s venue – it was about support for their customers and visitors (or their students, in the case of our growing number of schools). We started to look at those systems to see how they could be developed, and started to explore AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) systems to see if they could bring value to our work.
We made contact with a local CIC called True Colours, who support individuals with autism, to see if they could help us. They loved the concept of providing visual information to visitors at public venues, and could really see the benefit for their people. So, with this backing, we approached The Lowry Theatre in Salford Quays to pilot a project on a real site with real people. We ran focus groups, tested concepts, and acted on feedback. It was at this point when we realised that whilst AR was great, it only worked when the person making use of it was already on site. And, whilst we also realised that although VR was also great, it would be costly for the user and could prove to be an actual nightmare for anyone who has sensory issues. ‘Cool’ as AR and VR may seem when advertised elsewhere, we realised that they benefitted only the venue, and did nothing to improve the access or reduce the anxiety of the people who hoped to visit. What’s more, these systems were expensive, tricky to use, and were difficult for children or those with dexterity issues to manage and navigate. In summary, it all made access a lot more inaccessible!
The fact that people could also seemingly teleport through walls with this tech was impressive, but not entirely realistic…
So, with the help of yet more focus groups, we designed a new system – one that required fewer interactions or inconveniences for the user, and didn’t require fine-motor actions as part of navigation. We also wanted a system that presented more information, showed scale, and depicted real-life movement through any shape, size or configuration of venues. On top of this, we looked to create something that relied more on icons than words, to be more universally appropriate in terms of language.
Basically, we were geared up to create a more accessible system all round. We had our new approach, input from individuals with a wide range of access issues, concepts to work towards, and obstacles to overcome. We set to work making it all and trialling it out back at The Lowry. We’ll always be thankful to them for letting us film, letting us ask a million questions, and letting us make mistakes all on their site. We’re even more thankful that they kept allowing us back on site to keep trying, keep improving… and ultimately succeed in creating something life-changing.
Soon, thanks to our friends back at True Colours, we were able to secure funding through a small grant from the Department of Health’s Innovation Fund. From there, we created virtual tours for three local leisure centres to really kickstart our venture, as well as providing a great resource in the community. And, of course, we created tours for the good people at True Colours and The Lowry, too, as a ‘thank you’ for allowing us to use them as guinea pigs!
As our business has grown and iRoam has really taken off, we’ve found ourself in a position where we want to provide the most needed service possible right now, so that’s why we’re delighted to be working with a raft of education providers as they look to open their doors safely to new students, new families, and new demographics.
We can’t wait to see what doors we can open next!
Office 8, Unit 1 Platt Fold Street Business Park
Platt Fold Street