Meet the Innovation Connect grant recipients: The Easy Read Toolbox

With the next round of Innovation Connect grant funding now open for expressions of interest, we thought you might like to meet some of the most recent recipients. This week we spoke to Karen Hedley, Founder of The Easy Read Toolbox, to find out what sparked her great idea and how the company got to where it is now. 

Congratulations on being awarded an ICON grant! Can you tell us a bit more about what the Easy Read Toolbox is? 

It’s not always easy to explain complex information in an easy-to-understand way, but The Easy Read Toolbox will be a one-stop site to help you learn and create communication that’s easy for everyone to understand.

Easy Read is a form of writing that is simplified but not simple. The Easy Read Toolbox helps you to not only learn to write, but also to find all the tools you’ll need to write it – including self-paced education, templates and images.

So, how did it all begin?

I’ve been working in the disability sector for 30 years, and started taking an interest in easy-to-read communication around 10 years ago when it first arrived in Australia. Having my 3 children diagnosed with autism and then acquiring my own disabilities added to my passion to make our community more inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities. I love Easy Read because, with a few tweaks, it’s perfect for the community generally, not just disabled people! After working on accessibility and inclusion at the Disability Royal Commission, I started working in my new business Next Level Inclusion, but realised really quickly that I couldn’t help as many people as I wanted to, and then I came up with the idea of The Easy Read Toolbox!

It sounds like the idea was born out of so much passion! What were you doing before you started your company?

I was working on projects to do with disability inclusion, accessibility, and rights in the Disability Royal Commission, various ACT-based community organisations, and then in Next Level Inclusion. My first ongoing client was the NDRP (National Disability Research Partnership), as their Accessibility Lead which was an exciting challenge. I signed up to do the GRIST business accelerator with The Mill House Ventures in 2021 which really help me solidify my ideas and values regarding the Toolbox.

What is your big ambitious goal?

I have 3 that go hand in hand. The long-term goal is for The Easy Read Toolbox to be my legacy – to be the ongoing difference I make in the world. (I get shivers every time I say it!) The other is that the Toolbox becomes popular enough that I can hire a team to work on it, with my oversight, so I can continue to work with clients directly through Next Level Inclusion. Of course, my overall goal is to influence the communication our community uses, so more people can understand and feel in control of their own lives.

Have you had any big wins so far? Can you tell us about them?

So many! Being a winner of a pitch competition with EPICORP in late 2021 led me to an amazing mentor, who encouraged me to apply for an ICON grant with CBRIN. Winning an ICON grant was so exciting and allowed me to hire a project officer who believes in the magic of the Toolbox as much as I do!

We all know it’s not always smooth sailing, what lessons have you learned along the way?

It’s a bit of a cliche, but who you know is so important. I have many relationships in the disability community and none in the business community. Being disabled can make networking tricky, but I’ve been actively meeting people, and looking to build a supportive community for myself and the Toolbox. Then you need to remember that no questions are stupid and that people love to help! Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask those questions to your community.
I always see failure as a chance to grow. I’ve had small failures in Next Level Inclusion over the past few years, but they become learning experiences for both businesses. The biggest lesson is that you will never be everything for everyone, so I’m working hard at making my businesses totally me, so I attract the right people. I try to communicate in writing in the casual way I do in person, to be honest about my values and capabilities, and find flexible ways to support everyone to learn.

What does innovation mean to you?

Finding new ways to do something. By new I also mean better, more flexible, more inclusive. How can you do something in a different way that will allow more people to participate? How can you make it easier for those who want to participate?

For all the aspiring startups out there – what’s your one piece of advice?

Dream big and let your passion shine through.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, Karen! It’s been a pleasure getting to know you and we can’t wait to see what’s next in your business venture.

Book an intro meeting to find out more about the Innovation Connect grant, and how to apply.