Inclusive Tech: The E-Commerce Startup Catering To The Visually Impaired

Yousif Alneamy’s startup Dakakenna has already made news in Mosul given its successful home delivery model that promises delivery within 24 hours. Dakakenna, with revenues growing at a steady pace, has now done something remarkable in the Iraqi startup sector. Something not many commercial tech startups have the bandwidth to discuss, let alone implement – making their tech accessible to specially-abled customers. 

Dakakenna is the first home-grown e-commerce platform in Iraq that is accessible by people with visual impairments. Their story has added another star to its name with this heartwarming initiative in the midst of a country rebuilding itself and struggling to cater for its people.

About Dakakenna

Inclusive tech Dakakenna app
Dakakenna app

Dakakenna was founded in August 2018 by Yousif and his friend Abdul Rahman Nabeel. Their idea was to launch an online store in Mosul, a city that had been through destruction and occupation by ISIS. 

Dakakenna has managed to secure over 30 Mosul-based suppliers who offer goods such as kitchen appliances, and watches. This is key to fulfilling the same-day-delivery model. They now offer more than 7000 products on their platform.

Yousif describes Dakakenna as “an e-commerce platform that provides its customers with high-quality products from authorised suppliers in a fast and convenient way.” It spells out not just the vision of the company but also the simple and direct philosophy of the founders. 

Challenges in Mosul

Mosul has been slowly rebuilding post-ISIS, but challenges are many: 

  • Damaged and destroyed infrastructure: An assessment in 2017 by the U.N. Human Settlements Program estimated that 5,390 of the 8,400 housing sites were destroyed or severely damaged in Mosul’s Old City.
  • Mosul’s bridges: Bridges are a defining feature of Mosul. The city boasts five bridges that stretch across the Tigris River, connecting the eastern part of the city to its western side. This vital part of the city’s machinery stands violated and the recovery is painfully slow, bringing misery and frustration to people’s daily lives and disrupting efforts to reconstruct the city and return it to business as usual.
  • Customer issues:
    • Regular customers are difficult to acquire as Mosul residents are moving back to the city after years of displacement, or moving out to Baghdad or Turkey due to daily frustrations. 
    • Minor and major incidents can scare people off and cause depressive sentiments that may hit businesses hard. This was shown recently in the devastating boat tragedy in 2019 during Nowruz celebrations. 
    • Residents are losing patience with the rebuilding efforts. There is a feeling that the changes are too slow.

Yousif has courageously invested his time, money and especially youth in standing ground to keep the startup space in Iraq vibrant and buoyant. Dakakenna was born from the idea that people who cannot travel within the city get the ease of delivery of essential goods and other items.

It was in the midst of this that Dakakenna did what many well-established e-tailers fail to do. Dakakenna realised the need for accessibility where possible.

Online Shopping for the Visually Impaired

“I was at a job fair at Mosul University in March 2019 when I met Mohammed Moder, an attendee at the event. He told me that the Dakakenna app was good but there was an issue with the text to speech compatibility for screen reading (known as VoiceOver on iOS and TalkBack on Android). I realised two things that day – one, we were not catering to all our customers and second, the app itself was mixing too many technologies. We decided to work towards making the app friendly for visually impaired customers and simultaneously taking a fresh approach for the app itself to make it more flexible. We needed to make lots of changes, quickly.” says Yousif.  

Iraq has one of the largest populations of persons with disabilities in the world.

According to Preemptive Love, in 2016 the Iraqi Ministry of Health indicated that there are more than one million disabled Iraqis. ‘Of this number, approximately 43,600 are disabled because of injuries suffered during the wars that the country has been involved in almost continuously since 1980. There are close to 100,000 amputees, over 100,000 blind people and around 205,000 are at risk of blindness or suffer visual impairment of some kind.’

Yousif and team decided to use the Flutter Framework to rebuild a robust yet flexible app for both iOS and Android. The method yielded results but wasn’t completely satisfactory for the team. “Visually impaired customers need a lot of detail and easy access to a shopping platform. Like any e-commerce platform, there are many things on the screen that give a lot of information to the user – like discounts, offers and so on. Since this issue was close to my heart I needed to make sure that the ease-of-use of the app was excellent.” Says Yousif.

Technical Difficulties

Facing troubles with the screen reader compatibility, the Dakakenna team met Yousif Alazow, a first-year English translation student at the University of Mosul. Alazow helped fix many of the screen reader issues and app crashes for Dakakenna. Yousif Alazow is blind. 

I was impacted by stories about the visually impaired from the YouTube channel Iraqi Blind Network. I have always been interested in new technology and felt that I could combine my interest with the feeling to help the visually impaired to create something worthwhile.

Yousif Alazow

“I realised Dakakenna is an app that is reaching out to customers in need in Mosul and can also reach the visually impaired better. Thereafter, I was in constant touch with Yousif Alneamy to work on issues with the app’s compatibility with screen readers. We finally hit some success and now the app is functioning properly, but we keep adjusting it regularly.” Alazow wants to become a full-time computer programmer and make accessibility easy for specially-abled people in Iraq using new technologies.

Yousif Alazow was instrumental in testing the Dakakenna app to ensure compatibility for the visually impaired. “When I tell people that he helped me and he can’t see, people are surprised. They find it hard to believe that a blind person could even use an app like Dakakenna” says Yousif Alneamy.

Dakakenna still faces some minor issues when it comes to supporting visually impaired customers. Most challenging is the lack of data on customers and very rightly, Yousif points out that, “if we find out who is specially-abled and who is not then we would be invading the privacy of our customers. We don’t want to do that. We want to make our app accessible to all customers irrespective of their disability or lack thereof”. 

Yousif also explains the difficulty that a visually impaired customer faces when offline shopping and how Dakakenna mediates this challenge. “If a regular customer goes to a supermarket, he or she can see the products and decide what to buy. That’s not the case for visually impaired customers. They must know what they need in advance. However, with Dakakenna they can browse the products and have the power to decide whilst using the app.”

The Future of Inclusive Tech in Iraq

Many people with disabilities have limited or no access to health care, skills training, education and employment opportunities. People with disabilities generally have lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities, poorer health and higher rates of poverty. This also causes them to be excluded from their community.

By adapting technology to cater to the visually impaired, the Dakakenna platform has helped to start the conversation on inclusive tech in Iraq. This will hopefully pave the way for other tech-enabled businesses to create innovative products that enable all customers to communicate, learn and play.

People with disabilities face the greatest of challenges but can have access to groundbreaking, innovative and life-changing products. Not only can Iraqi youth pioneer in creating these solutions, but they can also fill a much-needed gap to support this underserved part of the population.

Prateek Rao

Prateek holds a Computer Engineering degree from the National Institute of Technology Surathkal and an MBA from IIM Calcutta. He has previously worked in credit rating, software development and research consultancies within the tech, creative, marketing and social development space. He is currently pursuing a civil services career in India. Prateek is an avid reader and tries to write about his general observations. He likes to indulge in interdisciplinary writing that merges various fields.

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