Our guest today: Jacob Lacourse
Jacob Lacourse is the founder of Adapt the World Labs., where a husband and wife team “see the benefit of using technology to help people with extra needs, and we aim to leverage technology to solve challenges and enhance the lives of the most vulnerable among us.”
As an element of their main mission, Jake and Beth Lacourse bring awareness and fundraising to a specific rare disease known as Usher syndrome.
“We are the parents of two beautiful children, one of which is two years old and has Usher Syndrome which is the leading cause of deaf-blindness. When we learned of our daughter’s disease, we immediately began thinking of ways to adapt the world to her needs to ultimately make it more accessible.”
Jake found me while I was on my documentary journey. Immediately after I finished the interview with Mick Ebeling, founder of Not Impossible, I received an email from Jake, Winner of the 2018 Not Impossible Limitless award.
He is the director of engineering at Onset Computer with a background in product development from concept to design and through manufacturing. However, Jake had no experience in making toys and tools for kids with special needs. On this podcast, he takes us to his beginning days of setting up Adapt the World and learning how to invent new things that didn’t look great or function well at first
“Commit first, and then figure it out.” – Mick Ebeling
Is this episode for you?
- This interview is about possibilities and solutions we can create. Yes, that’s you and those around you. We are in charge, even if we have no fancy degrees, or no “credibility”.
- Have you been wondering about the impact you could have on your own life, as well as the lives of others? This episode is proof that we all can make a big difference today, if you choose to take actions.
- We can thrive and we can limit ourselves based on our own narratives and beliefs. You may never meet Jake (our podcast guest) in person, but he will move and spark something in you. I can’t wait to hear about it.
“We are not afraid to commit to something and figure out along the way how to get it done, we have committed to adapting the world to meet our daughter’s needs and truly feel that we can help many in the process.” – Jacob Lacourse
- [05:00] Can you share the story of your daughter with us?
- [08:00] You’ve taken this journey of helping, with your engineering expertise, to help other children with Usher syndrome, not only your daughter. Could you tell us how did you start with that?
- [11:00] Do you remember how the first iteration of the toy was?
- [12:00] What was your daughter’s first reaction to the toy?
[14:00] You don’t have any degrees or training in education, psychology, toy making, or medicine, yet you are building this toys to improve the lives of thousands of kids, and figuring things out as you go. How does that feel?
- [16:00] How did you pitch your idea to other people?
- [19:00] How does it feel to be able to help other people in the same situation?
- [20:00] What’s your current relationship with Not Impossible Labs?
- [22:00] How did it feel to connect with Mick and get some appreciation for what you were building?
[25:00] What is your engineering background?
- [27:00] How do you think about marketing and what are some of the strategies you are using to get your word out?
- [29:00] What are the next steps for this project?
How are you? This is a show for everyone else. Instead of going after top 1% of the world, we dedicate this podcast to celebrate the lives of the unsung heroes and self made artists.
So that was a little bit of an interesting experience for us. And we knew that at that point that that was her normal as a person. And that’s something that we had to adapt to meet what she was going to need, some of the challenges that she was going to face. And not that our devices alone are going to change the world for anyone, but it’s the whole idea that you can make something, help one person and then see that sort of spread. Because I’m in engineering, everything’s very methodical and planned out, and we have to do things in a certain order. But with this, I threw all that out the window, and I had to, just because that was the only way that I could approach it. We want to show the world that there are solutions, that very simple solutions sometimes that can really change the world for someone with extra needs. And if we can, again, keep doing that and sharing our story and sharing the stories of some of these projects and how they help, other people might get inspired and they might do the same thing.
Hello there. This is Fay Wu, and I’m so glad you are here listening to the Feisworld podcast. This week, we’re bringing forward a regular interview episode with Jacob Lacorse, who is the founder of Adapt the World Labs. Their mission statement is this at Adapt the World Labs, we see the benefit of using technology to help people with extra needs. And we aimed to leverage technology to solve challenges and enhance the lives of the most vulnerable among us. Jake found me while I was still on my documentary journey. Immediately after I finished interviewing Mick Ebling, who is an inventor and philanthropist, jake reached out to me. Check this out. Mick is someone I’ve admired and listened to for years and the founder of Not Impossible Labs. And Jake was the winner of the 2018 not Impossible Limitless Award. What exactly is adapt the world? It’s a result of a very personal experience from Jake and why he and his wife are on a mission to adapt the world. Here’s a letter they wrote together, and I would really like to take this opportunity to read it to you, my listener. We are the parents of two beautiful children, one of which is our two year old, who has Usher Syndrome, which is the leading cause of death blindness.
When we learned of our daughter’s disease, we immediately began thinking of ways to adapt the world to her needs, to ultimately make it more accessible. We quickly realized that this would be no small task, but if we were to be successful, it would mean that we were not only adapting the world for her, but also for anyone else that had similar accessibility needs. Our world is full of challenges for people with disabilities. We see it now more clearly than we have ever seen before. But what we also see are the possibilities to make it more adaptable. I Jake. I’m the Director of Engineering at a company on the East Coast and have extensive background in product development, from concept to design and through manufacturing. I’m able to take many years of experience in this field and use it to develop low cost, innovative solutions to help reach many underserved people with extra needs. We’re not afraid to commit to something and then figure it out along the way on how to get it done. We have committed to adapting the world to meet our daughter’s needs and truly feel that we can help many in the process.
Hey, this interview is about possibilities and solutions we can create. We are in charge once again. No fancy degree, no credibility. People are already out there doing all kinds of things that inspire and help others. You, too, have a superpower. Don’t underestimate it. So, without further ado, I’d love to welcome our hero of the week, Jacob Lacorse, from adapt the world labs to the Faith world podcast.
US. Jake, what connected us is serendipity. And you proactively reached out to me and I stumbled upon a website called Adapt The World Labs. Sounded very interesting to me, but could you tell us a little bit about the origin story? And I just love the story of your daughter. If you could tell us about what this is and why you started that.
Sure. Ten years ago, my first daughter was born. Her name is Reagan. We’re just having a great time as a family and trying to figure out what it all meant. We’re new parents, and eight years later, we decided we were going to have another child. And we had all the experience of being a parent and understanding what that meant. And it was something that we totally had under control. And when we had our second child, we figured, yeah, no big deal, we’re just going to raise her just like our first child. But come to find out, when she was born, she was born deaf, so that was a bit of a shock to us. So that was a little bit of an interesting experience for us. And we knew that at that point that that was her normal as a person, and that’s something that we had to adapt to meet what she was going to need, some of the challenges that she was going to face. So the first eight months of her life, we’re just trying to figure out what that meant. So as a family, we started to learn sign language. After a while, we got really comfortable with the situation and we said, you know what?
We got this. It was this awesome community of deaf people that were just reaching out to us and helping us. And it is an amazing deaf culture that I never knew existed and my wife Beth never knew existed. So we were finally feeling like, yeah, we got this. Then it was about she was eight months old, and my wife Beth started to notice that she had what’s called headlag, where her head was kind of clocked to the side at eight months, and she should have had better motor function at that point. So she noticed it and she started to look online. And of course, you go on Facebook and all these other social media sites and people start talking about these diseases that might come along with being deaf. And she learned of Asher syndrome. That was really, really when first, of course, no way, that’s not going to happen. It’s such a rare disease. But Beth kind of knew. She knew that something was there, and so she started contacting doctors. We got some genetic testing, and that’s when we found out that she did have Usher Syndrome. And Usher Syndrome is actually the leading cause of deaf blindness.
So we were just faced with her being deaf for the last eight months, and then all of a sudden this new reality that eventually the vision would go as well. So it kind of was a little bit of a blow to the family, for sure.
Yeah. What surprised me, Jake, is when you first told me, I don’t have children yet, but just being a woman, just hearing that story, like, actually, you couldn’t see me, but I needed some time to recover from that. And part of me realize that somehow you’ve gained you and Beth and your family gain a superpower to be able to talk about this, not only calmly, but you’ve taken an initiative above and beyond based on your experience. Your background, your expertise that you’ve really taken us on not just to help your own daughter, but other children with Usher syndrome as well. Could you talk about that as well?
Yeah, I’m an engineer. And when she was born deaf, we realized that there are going to be some challenges for her. And one of the things that we recognize, like something as simple as a child sitting in the backseat of a car, which is where they’re supposed to sit and they’re supposed to be facing backwards, that being completely deaf. It’d be really hard for us to communicate with her and console or if she was crying or something like that. So I said, Well, I’ve got this background. I’m just a technologist. I love technology. And I said, we’ll create a little smartwatch for her and just started to think of these different ideas, ways that we could sort of interact with her outside of what typically what you would do with a hearing child. So that was always sort of what I felt I needed to do. I needed to create these solutions for her. When the blindness equation came into the equation, then I realized that life was going to be quite difficult for the deafness. Easily she could have navigated the world. There’s cochlear implants that were a possibility for us. Sign language certainly was high on a list of possibilities, but with blindness, it was really hard for us to figure out how she was going to be independent and sort of included in society.
So I decided what ended up happening. We saw the solutions that were currently out on the market, and they were sort of antiquated, not really that appealing. So I saw these solutions and I thought that they were there and the world kind of felt we’re good enough, but I didn’t really see it that way. I wanted her to have the best of everything. So one of those devices that they had was braille toys. They have these little older style blocks with maybe some bumps on them or dots on them, and that’s to help teach a child how to learn braille. That’s great. But my older daughter, Reagan, had all these really fun interactive toys that she could play with and that taught her how to read. So I saw this as just something missing for children. And so I created what’s called the Beck dot, which is a pre braille sort of toy where she can interact with it, put little toys on it, and then it pops up the corresponding word, and there’s all kinds of lights and sound that come along with it as well. And that was just something that I wanted her to have, a special toy.
And then I realized, oh, wow, this could actually help a lot of people. We’re making it low cost, enough so families could afford it. And that was the start of sort of adaptive world labs.
Do you remember the first iteration of the toy? What did it look like? Felt like, how raw was it and was it not even functional to start?
Yeah, it was actually amazing. So it’s literally like 200 in the morning. I’m sitting there and I’m trying to get this little actuator to lift this braille cell. And I had to do it in such a way. The ways that they do it today are very complex, and that’s what drives the cost of these braille readers way up. I mean, they’re five or $10,000 for these systems. So I was trying to invent a solution for this and I came up with this little mechanism that would lift the braille cell. And it was something that wasn’t really done before. And it was like around two in the morning, and I had this contraption on my table and I just remember taking a picture of it and just totally frustrated, and I kept going. And then it was like four in the morning, and then all of a sudden I got at work and so I’m posting it all over social media. Just so happy to get the thing finally up and running. And it was crude. It was, I mean, bubblegum and duct tape holding this thing together. But I knew at that point when I got it working that I was on to something and that I could actually make this thing happen.
Wow. What was Rebecca like when she first saw the toy? She was one of the first user, primary user at the time. What was the interaction like?
So it was good. We’ve had a bunch of folks come in and videotape and interview us, especially when there’s a camera around. For some reason, she gets this strong reaction. Her eyes light up and huge open mouth. This is the coolest thing in the world. She’s two and a half now, and the idea wasn’t to teach her necessarily how to read and braille. It was more to get her to show that, hey, when I put this toy on this device and these little dots pop up, it must mean something. So the coolest thing for me to see and for us to see was that her just trying to mash the dots back down. She’s interacting with it and seeing. And of course, she still has her vision today with Usher Syndrome. It degrades over time. But that whole interaction and her understanding that now, when her brain is still so plastic and still has the ability to learn, is really super important. That was a super proud moment for all of us when she really started to play with it.
Yeah. I have a feeling with a dad like you and how supportive all the family and friends are because of all the things that you’re trying to do without even being a professional toy maker or professional scientist with a degree in education, you’re figuring things out, and she’s figuring out all these things along the way. There’s something very collaborative and very innovative about the process. I don’t know whether you had a moment to even think about that.
Yeah. With any toy maker or anyone that makes a product, one of the things that is one of the biggest challenges is to get the what they call the voice of the customer, understanding what your customer needs. And I got my customer living with me, so it’s really easy to get that. I’ve got this constant feedback loop of if she’s not interested in it, then I did something wrong so I can adjust it and tweak it until she’s happy with it. And I’ve actually had really a bunch of opportunities now to show it to other blind children, and that’s been really exciting, too. It’s not just seeing her reaction, it’s seeing reaction of some of the other blind children and even blind adults that have played with it as well.
What was that like?
There was one gentleman that visited us while we were showing it at a show, and he came up and he had his seeing eye dog with him and someone that was guiding him. And I was explaining to him, I would say he’s about 30 years old, and he actually worked for a device manufacturer for blind people. He was playing with it. He’s messing with the device. And he said, oh man, if only I had this when I was a child. And that was like a very validating moment for us. And that was really cool to hear him say that.
Hi there. You’re listening to the Faith World podcast. Today on the show, I’m joined by Jacob Lacourse, who is the founder of Adapt the World Labs. Their mission at Adapt the World Labs is to see the benefit of using technology to help people with extra needs. And their aim is to enhance the lives of the most vulnerable. Amanas.
What was it like for you? I want to call you an inventor from this point on of interacting with people who you may or may not be able to verbalize these instructions. How do you communicate and convey this thing?
Yeah. So with Ashley’s Syndrome, you have three things that affect the body, which is your vision, your hearing, and your balance. But the devices that we’re creating our solutions for, maybe one of those at a time. So, like, the back dot is specifically for learning for blind people. There’s not a lot of deafblind people in the world. So it’s not necessarily just for deaf blind, it’s for just blind as well. So obviously, speaking verbally with a blind person is just as normal as I would speak to you. If I am communicating with a deaf person, I do know enough sign to get by. It gives us a little bit of ability to communicate, even though it’s a little bit shaky.
Yeah. It’s something very interesting about this because I think we live in a world where we’re trying to be understood and we want to be accepted. But yet you as an adult, Jake, you are kind of tapped into a world where I would say you didn’t quite used to belong, but now you’re breaking in. And to me, it’s not instead of, it’s in addition to. And that’s why I think it’s a superpower. Now you have your community and the community you’re helping with. It’s not just your family, but all these families. You’re benefiting from your invention. What does it feel like for you to internalize that?
It’s interesting. It’s always been this whole idea of trying to help and trying to do good in the world is just a part of who I am. This is just really sort of brought that to the forefront. I mean, it can be powerful. And not that our devices alone are going to change the change the world for anyone, but it’s the whole idea that you can make something, help one person and then see that sort of spread for years and years. And this is back before Rebecca was born. But I drive down to the office. I’ve been driving to my office for 20 years, same route, and I drive through this little village and this woman for the past 15 years has been out in the morning picking up trash along the road. And I’ve always thought, I’m like, wow, this is amazing. This one woman’s out here, and she’s making the community better for everyone. And then all of a sudden, three years go by and I see another person, and then there’s another person, and now I drive through that village and there are five people on any given day with their trash bags picking up trash.
And I sort of see this. What we’re doing is sort of a similar thing where if we can show that you can spend use your skill set to solve a problem, then maybe other people will see that and then do something good for society.
So I want to talk a little bit about your relationship with a Not Impossible Lab and also make Ebbed the founder of that lab. What’s your relationship with that company?
Yeah. So this goes back. It was last year when I actually learned, if not impossible, what ended up happening again. I mentioned I had always sort of had this idea that I certainly knew about Rebecca’s diagnosis before I learned about not impossible. But I knew that, hey, if I could take my skill set and apply it to create solutions. But I still didn’t really understand what that meant. And I was at a medical sensors conference and a gentleman by the name of David Petrino, who is a neuroscientist, he was talking to a group of people and, you know, you think of a neuroscientist like this, very super polished. Not that he isn’t, but he’s up there on the podium and he’s up there, and he’s got these funny slides up there and talking about how he kind of just didn’t really know what he was doing at sometimes. And then he mentioned this group, Not Impossible. He mentioned Mickey E. Lang and how he was doing some work with a boy in Daniel, and he was printing an arm for Daniel. And he mentioned the book. I grabbed the book. I read the book in the fastest I’ve ever read a book.
It takes me about months. It takes me months to read a book. But I read that book in about two days, and I started following the group, and I started following on Impossible, and I hooked up with their social media and connected with them, and they had a contest going on, the Not Impossible Award, they were calling it. And I shared that with my network. And actually, a cousin of mine said, hey, I really hope you’re going to go after that. So it was around the time when I mentioned that I was just getting the backdrop going and sort of going through those challenges of getting it running and I submitted to the project, and a couple of weeks later, I got a call from their crew and, I mean, just met these amazing people over the phone. And during the discussion, I didn’t think that I really had a shot because I figured just thousands of people applying for this thing and with all kinds of better ideas than I had. But then at the end of the conversation, they started to talk about next steps, and I’m going, oh, wait a minute. Maybe I have a chance.
But they still didn’t tell me that I was a winner of one of the awards until about two weeks later, and Mick himself gave me a call.
Yeah, it was just really cool because he said something to the effect of, you’re the quintessential idea of what we’re trying to do. And that was just a really cool moment for Beth and I were sitting in the car on the speakerphone with Mick, so it was cool. But then once we won the award, I realized that I had a lot of work to do. So it was the next two months just really working on finishing up the back.
Dot, how would you describe the connection? I love what you said about connecting with Mick or people like Nick. And you went from this engineer in the basement to meeting someone to say, well, I don’t know, maybe what you’re doing isn’t crazy or weird or what does that feel like to you?
Well, yeah, and that’s the thing. Exactly what you said I did for a while, think that this is nuts. I’m never going to be able to get this thing or anyone to even see it, let alone actually want it. And now I get people emailing me constantly and saying, when is it going to be done? Because they want it for their children. So to see Mick and his whole idea around just not knowing what the hell he’s doing and then figuring out as he goes along was exactly what I was doing. I had no idea. I mean, we had no idea how to live with a deaf person, how to live with a blind person, but we’re kind of figuring it all out because I’m in engineering, everything’s very methodical and planned out, and we have to do things in a certain order. But with this, I threw all that out the window, and I had to, just because that was the only way that I could approach it. So that whole sort of commit and figured out later was something that really resonated with me, and that’s sort of one of their whole mindsets.
Hi there. You’re listening to the Faded World Podcast. Today on the show, I’m joined by Jacob Lacourse, who is the founder of Adapt the World Labs. Their mission at Adapt the World Labs is to see the benefit of using technology to help people with extra needs, and their aim is to enhance the lives of the most vulnerable. Amanas.
Could you tell us?
We still haven’t talked about what type.
Of engineer are you?
It’s interesting. So you know the whole maker movement, right? The idea of trying to use tools and technology that’s out there and sort of hack it and make your own thing. I was a maker when I was probably five years old. I started to take everything apart. And my parents, thankfully, they were supportive, and they’d always find my toys ripped apart in a million pieces, and I was always just tinkering with things. And I ended up, when I was about 16, I started with this company onto the computer, and they’re down on the cape. We were about 25 people at the time, and I was in high school, and I was sort of doing a co op thing. And I started to realize that this is the type of place where problems are solved. And I really enjoyed solving problems, and I enjoyed technology, and they were making these little environmental data loggers, and I really grew with a company. So I was in production, manufacturing, product development, and eventually started in electrical engineering. I did some mechanical engineering. I got some school behind me. They were super supportive. I had numerous mentors throughout the year, and ultimately I became the director of engineering.
And between myself and my current part, there’s 40 engineers that on our team. So I’m a hardware engineer or product development engineer is really where I focus.
So I want to move on to the marketing side of things. A lot of people who are listening to the podcast have ideas bubbling. A lot of them are actually creators themselves, being artists and performing arts or podcasters. So the biggest challenge a lot of people say or facing are how to get their message out to the world. And I think for you to join a competition, make ebbling endorse you, your brand, your family story, that is amazing. But yet there’s always that on a dayto, day basis. Like, how do you think about marketing and how do you get the message out so more people will find out?
With the brand and what we’re trying to do, that’s really a vehicle for us to not only bring these solutions to market, but also tell the world about Usher Syndrome. And what ended up happening is I found the maker community, and I was able to share the projects that I was doing. And it’s not just the backdot. There’s the backdoor, I have a visual acuity puzzle. There’s an interactive visual acuity puzzle, some smart lighting solutions for visually impaired people. And to share those projects in those platforms, I mean, there’s millions of people that see this. So it’s connecting with those communities and leveraging the people that want to help you in those communities and also providing help to people that are trying to come up in those communities. Those projects get shared within the communities and then they actually expand outside of the communities as well. So that’s really where the marketing piece is, sharing. It’s really about sharing the ideas, not holding them close to my vest. And I know a lot of inventors just they try to hold it close and don’t want to tell. And that’s important in some cases. But in this case it’s the opposite.
You want to share, you want to show people some of the challenges that you’re facing as you’re trying to create these solutions and just kind of getting out there to the world.
It reminded me what you just said with my experience looking at all the Not Impossible Labs first iterations of the Eye Rider, I just remember them lined up there’s like and also with the 3D arms, there are like six of them and they had more and be able to see so many iterations. And today the Korean company, Chinese companies, all these companies from all parts of the world are trying to because it’s open source and trying to make these products better and help more people along the way. So just like you said, if Mick or yourself help these products so closely that other people will not be engaged and later on maybe this thing will go beyond yourself. Maybe it is about who knows, like Phillips or you know, like Siemens or something to pick it up and make it better.
You mentioned Phillips and I created the Smart Light solution and I used a Phillips product and I reached out to him and I shot them an email and I said, hey, look at this cool thing I did with your product. And then they started to send me equipment that I could use. So that’s another way to get your ideas to move forward is to get the support of the companies of the components that you’re using and showing some of those marketing teams, which are marketing teams of 5000, that their products are being used for sort of a better society a little bit and they latch on to that. They like those types of stories so that they’re willing to help.
Yeah. So I guess what is next for you Jake? It seems like you’re juggling still a lot of balls in the air. You got two kids, you got a family, lovely wife, you work full time and how do you balance of this? Where do you go next?
We want to take it at the World Labs and we want to start contributing to the movement. I don’t want to say creative movement because it’s already there, but we want to contribute to it. We want to show the world that there are solutions, that very simple solutions sometimes that can really change the world for someone with extra needs. And if we can again keep doing that and sharing our story and sharing the stories of some of these projects and how they help other. People might get inspired and they might do the same thing. When we think of adapting the world, it’s thinking of creating an environment where a child can feel a little bit more included because they have a cool toy to play with, like a braille toy, and bring other people in. It’s about sharing our story so people in our community can learn about Rebecca and some of the challenges that she might face and they may be in their everyday lives thinking about, hey, maybe we should paint the stairs so that she could see a little bit better, or people in general can see a little bit better. So that’s what we mean by adapting the world.
It’s just the little things that can make such a huge difference.
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much, Jake. I really appreciate your time. This was a fantastic interview. Thank you.
Yeah, no, thank you. I really appreciate it and thank you for the time and love to be able to share our story.
Hi there, it’s me again. I want to thank you very much for listening to this episode and I hope you were able to learn a few things. If you enjoyed what you heard, it will be hugely helpful if you could subscribe to the Phase Role Podcast. It literally takes seconds. If you are on your mobile phone, just search for Phase Role Podcast in the Podcast app on iPhone or an Android app such as Podcast Addict and click subscribe. All new episodes will be delivered to you automatically. Thanks so much for your support.
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