Unscrambling dyslexia through AR

Photo of Carra Wu
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Date Started

March / 08 / 2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project? NOTE: All applications must include a 1 minute video that answers: “I am stepping up to make change because..."

Our team (3 undergrads, 3 grads) met at a hackathon for social good in the Vatican City. Pope Francis talks a lot about how, if we truly care about disruptive innovation and tapping new sources of talent, we should be leveraging learning differences, rather than quashing them. Add to this the fact that text based communication increasingly forms the vast majority of young people's social capital. Texts, emails, posts, comments, articles, protests, petitions, you name it. Kids with dyslexia, who can't read, simply can't engage at great depth with their peers today. I came to this realization when an important relationship collapsed in part because I didn't understand that text communication was next to impossible for my friend. It's on me that I didn't extend my sympathies far enough. But the root of the problem starts earlier, in primary school, when kids are learning their capabilities.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Many of the 1 in 10 people with dyslexia never get the tools express their unique perspective. The ones that do get diagnosed are hit by another system failure: dyslexia therapies are stuck half a century in the past. They're antiquated, non-customized, expensive, have a high learning curve, and don't work for some kids. They aren't accessible to low income and marginalized communities, perpetuating illiteracy and generational poverty.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Zelixa wants to make dyslexia therapy transparent, collaborative, and custom for the first time. We're a cross platform AR dyslexia therapy that customizes morphological, audio, and visual reinforcements to improve dyslexic kids' educational outcomes. We're also a learning platforms where students, teachers, and parents can collaborate and understand the progress being made-- something traditional dyslexia therapies have never been able to make clear. We're the first in this very early industry, and we're excited to begin piloting this summer. Soon, we hope to use cutting edge AI to build each user's curriculum, real time. We even do it in a way that's fun, also something that old school therapies have struggled with, especially among the early education audience. Our first pilot will be at the Landmark School for dyslexic kids in Beverly MA, but our technology can be used by so many more kids once we get significant data that we can iterate and improve on.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Dylan has dyslexia. Every day, he uses morphology cards and hand signals to drill different word groups, the same therapies that were being used 50 years ago. It's super boring, but the worst part is, it doesn’t really work. Dylan’s mom, spends every free hour learning about reading interventions. She’s tried expensive programs, and has spent her savings on tutors certified by these monopolies. She still doesn't know whether anything is changing. She’s worried that in a few years, Dylan won’t be able to text and comment and read posts like his peers, leaving him socially isolated. Enter Zelixa: A fun, engaging AR solution for mitigating dyslexia and improving attention & focus. Dylan can use Zelixa in the classroom and receive custom audio/visual reinforcements through an AR headset or on an iPad while reading, until he doesn't need them anymore. His whole team can see what's happening.

5. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

We're the first to tackle visual dyslexia symptoms in addition to morphological & audio ones, and we do it in a gamified, collaborative way. Existing solutions are boring for kids, which ends up having disastrous consequences later on when they become discouraged in school. In addition, existing solutions are expensive, not custom (sometimes even rendering the therapy ineffective), and require massive time and resource investment from parents, something that many low income kids don't have.

6. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We're in idea-startup stage yet, and have only received theoretical validation from the UCSF Neuroscape and Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, as well as Dyslexia International and Microsoft. We are excited to receive validation from our pilot with the Landmark and Carroll schools. After significant results come back to us in these schools, we hope to penetrate public school ecosystems, many of which have demonstrated commitment to this issue with mandates put in place for kids with learning differences. It's a targeted field, but the magnitude of impact is much larger than it may appear. 1 in every 10 kids has dyslexia. Those are potential thought leaders, creatives, and visionaries even the rest of us can understand we're missing out on. That's 1 in 10 kids who are being left behind by technology. Let's change that.

7. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

We're working on alpha. We have enough to demo on, but we're planning on finishing MVP by end of June so that we can pilot in July. We'll start by partnering with the Landmark school and the Carroll school for piloting. We hope to ride the wave of private schools increasingly investing in new technology and makerspaces, creating as low of an overhead tech barrier as possible. After significant results come back to us in these markets, we hope to penetrate urban public school ecosystems, many of which have demonstrated commitment to this issue with mandates put in place for kids with learning differences. The scalability of software enables us to ensure that we beat existing dyslexia therapies on cost. We're excited to seek your input.

8. Future Support: What are the resources needed to make your vision a reality?

We desperately need funding. While we are honing in on some really great mentors, we need the financial resources to hire amazing developers, as well as the operational expertise to build lasting partnerships with schools and research organizations. We'd like to publish white papers following the results of these pilots. So far, while we've received great traction in terms of soft resources and incredible validation from even the most bearish AR junkies & dyslexia researchers, we have almost no funding due to the longer-term nature of the technology. A grant would enable us to follow through on the vision that everyone from the Prince of Liechtenstein to the dyslexic camera man at our last pitch has been captivated by.

9. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

10. Ripple Effect: Please share some ideas of how you could partner with other changemakers or involve other young people as leaders in making a difference.

We'd love to partner with people in educational technology, as well as ambassadors for after school and co-curricular programs. The more people we can get Zelixa into the hands of, the better!

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Search engine
  • T-Mobile page or contact


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kyla Guru

Way to use technology for social good!!

I especially agree when you say that gamification can help students become engaged and motivated towards academic and social success. I also think Zelixa brings a beacon of hope to these young students who believe they will have to be ostracized during their academic careers (which is also the prime time for development). Zelixa, being a democratizing, interactive solution--especially for the young students-- is a huge step in the right direction. Zelixa : the fact that this came from 4 passionate strangers at a hackathon is also incredibly inspiring! I would love to hear more about the development of this project and connect you with different school counselors that Bits N' Bytes Cybersecurity Education: Preventing the next cyber-attack before it happens is partnered with to help bring this into schools and the hands of students once it's available!


Photo of Carra Wu

Hi Kyla! Thanks so much for your comment! I would love to be connected with school counselors and educators who can bridge the academia-technology divide. In my experience, the two industries are often at odds, if not in object, then in culture. I'm excited to reach out to you again in a little bit :)

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