Why the Eye to Eye App Was Among Our Most Important Work

by: | Oct 10, 2017

[Editor’s Note: This is latest in a series of blog posts about our collaboration with Eye to Eye, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the life of every person with a learning disability. Our goal for the Making an App series is to help spread the word about Eye to Eye’s important work — and offer a behind-the-scenes look at how an idea becomes an app.]

Ross Buffington ArcTouch VP, OperationsWhen I began my journey to be an adoptive parent, I spent the hours waiting for my sons to arrive thinking about all of the adventures we’d have, the experiences we’d share, and the things they would achieve as they grew into adults. Little did I know that the universe had another plan for us. It turned out that both of my sons were learning disabled and would require a lot of help just to get through school. While other parents were driving their kids to soccer and little league, we visited lots of doctors and specialists on the quest to find the right tools to enable them to “survive” in school.

When you find out that your child can’t read and also has difficulty writing, a sense of panic sets in. I know that I felt it and every other parent of an LD child that I have met — and I have met hundreds — felt it, too. You feel isolated and helpless because you don’t know where to turn for help and community. Fortunately, my kids were born in the age of the internet — and within a couple of months, I had assembled a team of specialists to provide the support that they were going to need.


Press release: U.S. Students with Learning Disabilities Empowered by New Eye to Eye App: EMPOWER Different Learners

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But what I learned is that all of these well-educated, very devoted clinicians were missing one of the essential keys to unlocking my kids’ potential. While they were working with specialized modalities and systems to teach children how to read and write, they overlooked the fact that in order to continue to advance down the road of learning, the kids needed to first understand why they had difficulties in these areas.

My introduction to Eye to Eye

Thankfully, early in my journey I was introduced to Eye to Eye, a national mentoring organization whose motto is “Unlocking Greatness in the 1 in 5 Who Learn Differently.” During a parent education event, I discovered that my kids weren’t “stupid” or “lazy.” They just learn differently than other kids. And in order to learn, they first need to understand that they have a learning difference (LD) and embrace it — something Eye to Eye calls “LD and Proud To Be.”

I was eventually asked to join the board of directors for Eye to Eye, an invitation which I accepted humbly. Of all the work I’ve done in my life, paid and unpaid, this role may just be the most rewarding. The work we do really matters — not only for my sons, but for the thousands of other LD kids we help every year.

Eye to Eye app - Ross

Ross Buffington with one of Eye to Eye’s former mentors during the app launch at the Young Leader’s Organizing Institute.

Increasing the Eye to Eye footprint

With a presence in 120 schools across 20 states in the U.S., Eye to Eye’s program model builds the skills necessary for developing self-esteem, and then shows students how to turn that into academic success. Knowing how you learn and standing up for the support you need are two of the most important attributes for anyone with LD. In other words, Eye to Eye teaches students that they are not lazy or stupid — that all of us have strengths and weaknesses. By building on our strengths and seeking accommodations for our weaknesses, each of us can reach our full potential. Eye to Eye taught my sons this lesson, and they now know how to use accommodations and technology to help them in their everyday life.

This all sounds great, right? Well, the problem is much greater than the reach of Eye to Eye’s physical network of 120 school-based chapters. So, how do you reach LD children who live out of range of these schools, to help give them the skills they need for their academic career? The answer was obvious: technology. And what does almost every kid in the U.S. have in their pocket? A smart phone. Eye to Eye needed a mobile app to supplement their in-person model and extend their reach.

Turns out, I know some pretty good mobile app strategists, designers and developers — because I’m fortunate enough to go to work every day with the talented team here at ArcTouch as the chief of staff. The ArcTouch management stepped up and offered to build the app, pro bono, for Eye to Eye and a unique partnership was formed. This became a labor of love for our staff members, who contributed some of their best work while going on the user experience journey that an LD student would take. There was lots of passionate discussion about how to transform the in-person experience to a mobile UX on a phone, along with how best to address usability concerns. And, one person even stepped forward and said, “I want to work on this app because my nephew is LD.” As we do with any app we build, we did our best to understand the customer, and as parents of LD children we realized that in some cases, we were the customer.

Introducing the Eye to Eye App

The Eye to Eye – Empower Different Learners app was released at Eye to Eye’s Young Leader’s Organizing Institute at Brown University, an annual gathering of the student leaders from Eye to Eye chapters around the country. And the app was publicly announced last week with Eye to Eye’s press release. But, even before its official launch, the app garnered several 5-star reviews and was chosen by Apple to be featured in its curated Special Education collection. That’s a pretty big endorsement from a company that has a long history in the education space. The app also garnered a four-star review from the highly respected Common Sense Media.

Great expectations

My hope, shared by my colleagues at Eye to Eye and ArcTouch, is that the app will reach the millions of people who are not geographically close to an Eye to Eye chapter. This is important to all of us if we are to reverse these statistics about members of the LD community:

  • 20% drop out of high school
  • Less than 50% get jobs
  • More than 50% end up in the criminal justice system
  • The cost of these issues to the US economy is estimated at $7.5 billion

How great would it be if the app even made a dent in these numbers?

This is the kind of forward thinking that makes me proud to work for ArcTouch. There was no revenue opportunity for my company, but we were willing to make an investment in the future of our kids and our country. And, in the process, our staff had the opportunity to work on something that could really make a difference in people’s lives. Everyone involved with the project (and even those who weren’t) expressed how excited they were that ArcTouch was giving back to the community. How do you place a value on that?

All of this just goes to prove that when passionate and talented people come together with a common goal, they can do great things. This is the true spirit of Eye to Eye and the lesson that they taught the ArcTouch team. In the end, if the app makes a difference in the life of only one parent or one student, it was time well spent.

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