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Julia Franklin, SLP

Feb 15, 2024

In this episode we talk about technology accessibility with the Chief Learning Officer at Cephable.  Julia uses her speech language pathology background to innovate and expand the way we interact with technology.  Her positive spirit and strengths based outlook is contagious.  

Brennan Barber  0:31  

Welcome to the Theralinq podcast where we dive into the inspiring stories of individuals dedicated to reshaping the disability ecosystem. Join us as we explore the triumphs, challenges, and innovative solutions crafted by changemakers, striving to create a more inclusive world, from passionate advocates and trailblazing entrepreneurs, to the resilient individuals breaking down barriers. Each episode shines a light on the progress being made, and the work still to be done to create a more equitable society that enables every individual the chance to reach their full potential, get ready to be inspired, informed and uplifted as we hear from those who are reshaping the narrative around disability.

Bethany Darragh  1:21  

Today, I am very excited to share with you our interview with Julia Franklin. She has a wide variety of experiences to share with us. She is a speech language pathologist. She has been a clinic owner, she's developed continuing education courses. And now she is the chief learning officer at Cephable. So let's jump in. All right, Julia, thank you so much for coming and talking to us. Will you just start by telling us about Cephabel and your role with Cephable? 

Julia Franklin  2:02  

So a little background on the name Cephable comes from the idea of a cephalopod. So as you would explore our website or our app, you'll see an octopus, we love this idea of the intelligence of an octopus, how adaptable that it is. And that's what we want to bring to our software program, which is an assistive technology platform that you can use on a Mac, or Windows based computer. And we hope to move digital interaction beyond a keyboard and a mouse. So anything that an individual can do with a keyboard or a mouse, we can assign adaptive voice controls, face expressions, head movements, virtual buttons, so that people can, you know, use computers in the ways that work best for them beyond the keyboard and the mouse, and we just want to not only improve independence, but we want to maximize the independence that anybody can have in terms of how they interact with their computers. 

Bethany Darragh  3:03  

That's great. Can you tell us what your role is with Cephable? 

Julia Franklin  3:06  

Absolutely. So my title is Chief Learning Officer. But I came into the company with a background and I'm still a licensed speech language pathologist.

But I think one thing that kind of speaks to my role is what makes us unique as a company. So our go to market as a company is we kind of have two arms of the business, we have a community side and we have our revenue side. And I come as a therapist as a person on the community side. So I get to work with community based organizations like state level assistive technology programs, vocational training programs, and we get to my favorite part of it is that we get to provide our software, the full platform for free to individuals who need it. And that has been just just a joy. As a therapist, I'm not a salesperson. And we find that there's this idea of the disability tax that anytime you know, a person with a disability gets a computer, but they have difficulty using a keyboard and a mouse. There's often that additional expense that comes with buying new hardware, new switches, new controllers, new joysticks, just to be able to access the computer in the same way, as somebody who can use a keyboard and a mouse. And so we on the community side get to provide that not only to the individual, but to organizations who are serving people with disabilities who need these adaptive controls. And as a therapist, I love this idea that the folks get to bring their abilities to the tech and not just their disabilities. So we get to problem solve together. I get to work directly with the users and help them kind of maximize what they can do. We are a platform, I guess there's a lot more facets to this to my role than I even thought until I started talking about it out loud. So community partnerships, working directly with our users, and that other side of the business that I mentioned earlier, so I'm on the community side. And then people go, Well, how do you how do you keep the lights on in the business? Right? How do you build a business revenue side of our business, we are able to license our software, and integrate customized controls to organizations to bring, you know, more adaptive inputs to their employees to open up additional user base, just to help companies not just check a box of compliance, but just allow folks to, you know, approach the services like health care records, or be able to bank more independently, or play a video game more independently through these like customized platforms and streaming services that are available.

Brennan Barber  6:03  

You mentioned video game playing, that's actually a challenge that we've encountered currently. So with my son, we got him a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. And there were some adaptive controls that came with it. We've also had to modify in a number of ways and find some other, like, switches and adaptive controls for him to use. And there was a level of frustration that goes into that, as we're exploring and like any other six year old, he wants to play and play now. So absolutely, it's been a little bit of a journey. But yeah, I can totally relate. Now. The other question for you, I guess. So you mentioned your background as an SLP. And just curious what motivated you to transition from the traditional therapist setting into a role with a technology startup? And how's that experience been so far?

Julia Franklin  6:54  

Yeah, I think that's a great question, I actually want to loop back to what you were saying a little bit about your son. So as a therapist, I love to do things that are functional, I love to do things that promote connection that promote community that promote people being together, and being able to be their full self. And we can't deny that video gaming is a way that kids and students and adults of all ages, right that that they can come together. And that's a big part of the origin story of you know, our founder created this, so that he could play with his brother who had some dexterity challenges. So I just want to encourage you Brennan to keep pushing those video games and problem solving. So although we're not integrated directly with the console of Nintendo Switch, a lot of our inputs can be used with games on a computer. So browser based games, a lot of you know, like Minecraft can be used on a computer too. So always a fun thing to explore what our users find. So, back to your question, how, as an SLP, how does that played into moving into a tech company? I get that question all the time. You're an SLP. What are you doing in technology. I have always loved movement. I've always loved motor planning, I've always loved functional activities. And it's just provided a way for me, as a therapist, I think I mentioned before, for an individual to bring their ability to an interaction with me. And I got kind of frustrated as a therapist, even early on, it just didn't sit right with me that I had to justify a deficit in order for a student or a client to be able to receive my services. So I had to say a present a percentage of, you know, deficit. And it always just bothered me that there was so much compliance based deficit based language associated with even just getting somebody you know, into my room from an insurance company or an IEP. And moving into this role in a tech company has just opened up that strengths based perspective that I've really loved. Just as a therapist, I've always, you know, leaned into those approaches that have been very strengths based. And so it's been exciting to have that as the guiding factor in this new role. Can

Bethany Darragh  9:27  

Can you share with us a real life personal story of how Cephable has impacted somebody?

Julia Franklin  9:33  

Absolutely. I can't pick just one. I have a couple of stories that pop in my mind. So we were demoing Cephable at an expo and we had an open your mouth to be able to hit the spacebar so that people could shoot a basketball in this really simple browser game. You just hit the spacebar are open your mouth. And so people would walk or roll up to our table and be able to play this game. And this individual came up at the Expo, and he wasn't able to on volition open his mouth. His ability was he could vocalize, but he wasn't. You know, it was a different vowel sounds, it wasn't a full word. And so as a speech therapist, and I was there with my founder, we were able to modify Cephable, in that moment, to then listen to any vocal sound, any vowel sound. So the fact that he could just vocalize, to hit the spacebar instead of opening his mouth, was the very first time that he'd ever played a video game at all. And I will never forget that moment to where that truly made me see that the ability like whatever you can bring to the table in terms of volitional movement, we can map that to something on a keyboard and a mouse that's going to unlock an experience, hopefully, that that you haven't had with a computer. And that it's been really exciting. Another example that I that I think of is one of our users, she's a lawyer, a disability advocate, just absolutely brilliant. She has put together this extraordinary suite of you know, I think like 10, or 12 different types of assistive technology, software programs, different types of hardware, to support her ability to do her, you know, highly demanding job. And she found our platform, and she has been one of our biggest champions, because she's been able to decrease the number of the software programs, because we have so many different types of 80 in the app, she could could do a lot of our different inputs that would somewhat replace and augment some of the other things that she was using. 

Brennan Barber  11:58  

You mentioned conferences. Was that CES this year? Correct? Yeah. And I'd be interested to hear your perspective, because I would say outside looking in from what I had seen within my own network was that it seemed like there was more, more technology, more companies this year that was geared towards individuals with disabilities, because traditionally, it's more of a consumer electronics conference. I'm interested to hear what your experience was like there and your take.

Julia Franklin  12:30  

Yeah, so I didn't go we kind of divide and conquer at expos. But just the report back, Brennan was exactly what you just said that there was so much synergy, among other companies that were not only the companies that were focused on disability tech, but the number of companies that walked by and came up to the booth, who were open and excited to not just, you know, building more accessibility, but realizing their consumer market, having you know, more options and can grow it, if we just make things equitable and accessible. For everyone. It's good for business, it's good for the individual. And so it was just really exciting to hear the synergy and a lot of know, creativity of the way that our engineers can, you know, you help integrate separable even with some other existing hardware. And they wouldn't, you know, we could work together with hardware software, and we're not trying to replace and become, you know, the most, you know, if you have separable doesn't mean that you're fully accessible. We want to be a company that can work alongside existing hardware, existing other programs to augment to, you know, work in tandem beside other things, too. And that's definitely what they felt at CES through that community.

Brennan Barber  13:54  

That's great. I guess to build on that a little bit more, can you give us some insight as to how you work with employers or government organizations or you know, nonprofits, etc, in advance of onboarding your platform and making sure that I guess as an organization, they're prepared for launch?

Julia Franklin  14:17  

Yeah. So again, we have, again, that kind of two sides of our business. So I work with organizations that are preparing individuals with disabilities to go into corporations. So we provide trainings, we provide tutorials and resources for those folks to make sure that the individuals that they're working with and preparing for the workforce can maximize and identify the profiles that they need and the inputs that are going to work best with them. And so they can understand their options. Because humans are dynamic, right? We have different contexts we have days or energies higher or our pain is different or disability may look different and so really trying to help our organizations on the community side, understand how to help their users maximize their autonomy with the platform. 

Bethany Darragh  15:08  

I know when I work with families who are, you know, I work with pediatrics. And so when I work with families whose child is going to enter into more of a general education setting versus being in their special education setting, there can be a lot of apprehension that the classroom of children is not prepared for the students. Is there any sort of preparation that you have to do like that to the company, just socially, to know how to kind of have this open arms for someone that looks different or works different?

Julia Franklin  15:46  

I love that example and Bethany, that actually reminds me a little bit of some of the research that I've been looking at in the world of AAC, augmentative and alternative communication that we not only have to teach an individual how to use an AAC system or alternative inputs on a computer, we have to provide opportunities socially from peers, or from parents, from siblings of everybody using alternative inputs. Because no matter if we have a disability or not, there are times you know, a temporary disability or a time that you would rather lay in your bed and use voice controls than type on a keyboard. And so I think having parents and teachers and siblings, kind of normalizing the options of different ways that we can interact with our technology will support the students with disabilities who are making that transition. Just seeing that options are, what everyone should have, and not just a person with a disability.

Brennan Barber  16:55  

It's interesting how some technologies that initially started off for individuals with disabilities have become ubiquitous in so many ways. Yeah. You know, for instance, closed captioning, you know, many of us use closed captioning, just watching TV in general. I know I do often times. Yeah. You know, and, and it's mainly for purposes of convenience, a lot of ways and voice-to-text and, you know, other technologies in similar vein, and I think, to your point of utilizing technologies, you know, initially for individuals with disabilities will ultimately find their those technologies ultimately find their ways in everyday society. And it becomes more normalized, if you will, for others. You mentioned that, you know, with AAC, one of the things that with Eliot, we talk about a lot because he uses an AAC device is that, you know, for him, it's just another mode of communication. And actually, a lot of his classmates seem to understand that it's adults that have greater challenges in understanding that, you know, this is his mode of communication and how he navigates the board and how that all works. It seems like it's almost more intuitive for some of the children in his class. So yeah,  it's really a unique time that we're living in, I feel like and that more and more visibility around these technologies, is making them more, more mainstreamed. And I think that that certainly bodes well for future generations.

Julia Franklin  18:39  

Yeah, I think you bring up a couple really good points of like how kids just intuitively understand multimodal communication, and that we as adults have to intellectualize this idea that, yeah, there's times you don't want to order your pizza by calling so you text it or you order it online, because you're preferring a written form of communication, or you're laying in bed by a partner, and you use closed captions, because you don't want to wake them up. Or it's just fascinating and even gestural communication, and there's so many different modes of communication that when you actually break it down, you realize, you know, we all need different forms of communication. And so, AAC is just another great form of communication. And you also made me think of like true access, true accessibility is contextual, like we have to have the tools work for us in different contexts. And they have to change over time. They have to be fluid, we have to be able to take them with us we have to be able to know for them to modify and grow with us as our bodies change or we break an arm even for somebody who doesn't have generally have a mobility disability. It's just amazing how you don't think about it. Accessibility until you think about accessibility because you need it or a loved one needs, you know, a new way to access something. Yes.

Brennan Barber  20:09  

I want to say read it in a book somewhere. So I read a book recently called Disability Visibility. Alice Wong, I believe is the author? Yeah, great book. But just the fact that, you know, disability is the one minority group that any one of us can join at a given moment, it takes one accident, it takes a stroke. So, you know, having a society and it's more accessible in advance, you know, and not just when we need it is certainly where we need to be going.

Julia Franklin  20:43  

Yeah, I also read that book, Brennan, and also her other book Year of the Tiger is her individual story. So she showcases, you know, stories of others and Disability Visibility, but her story also is reliant.

Bethany Darragh  20:57  

So do you have any advice for parents who are kind of at this beginning journey with augmentative communication or different ways of accessing technology.  You're seeing kind of the point where people are getting to start to work or start to interact with school, but that when the parents are at that beginning point, and it can feel very frustrating and discouraging, I'm looking for like, practical, like focus, you know, focus on their strengths, or even like, just emotional like, it's, they will communicate, you know, what do you have for those parents?

Julia Franklin  21:34  

Yeah, absolutely. I love I love this question. And I think, whenever frustration and comes into a conversation, it makes me always go back to nervous system and go back to connection, go back to safety. And if we've pushed to a place of frustration, our nervous systems aren't in a place of feeling safe and connected. So we're not going to access language and problem solving, and all of these higher level academic tasks, so we have to go back. And no matter if you're working on a new AAC device, no matter if you're working on, you know, trying to have alternative inputs on a computer to do online school or homework, we have to create those moments that are safe and connected, and an appropriate level of challenge within that window of tolerance for the student. And sometimes that means lowering our expectation in that moment of how much we need to take to get through or what our true goal is in that moment. And I think we don't talk about play often enough, especially for students and education, but also, for adults in the workplace, that if something is fun, if we're enjoying what we're doing, if we have autonomy, we have independence, and it's ultimately something that we're interested in that idea of play, and curiosity is going to drive us our nervous systems back into that safe and connected interaction so that we can get to some of those higher level academic and cognitive goals. I have one website, I am not affiliated with them whatsoever. But I am an absolute, like fan girl, for this website. It's called  And this developer has made some of the most beautiful games and engaging activities as an adult, as a therapist, as a parent. I've used them with my own kids, I've used them in therapy sessions, I've used them in training adults with cerebral and just some of these interesting things with like facts about space where you can just scroll with an arrow key like up to see different parts of space, or you can go diving in the sea, or you can look up the year of your birth and read facts about, you know, what happened in that year, and just these really interesting activities. So finding things like that finding tools that are just motivating for you and the student client or yourself. We're all learning. And if we're not, we need to be so even at fun when we can.

Brennan Barber  24:14  

That's great. So Cephable, what's on the horizon for you at this point?

Julia Franklin  24:19  

Yeah, so exciting. Well, we are just continuing to build our user base continuing to build out different relationships with companies to integrate and license with. And one thing I didn't mention before, when we talked about my role that is going to always be on the horizon for us, is this program that I co run with our Director of Engineering, his name is John Campbell. He and I run this we call it the Consortium, which a consortium is a group of octopuses. And I told you before, we love cephalopods, and octopuses, and so this consortium is our user feedback program. And it's also what we want to we call kind of the heartbeat of our community. So we bring in cohorts of individuals, right now, adults with disabilities, visible, invisible, episodic, and we bring them in for user feedback sessions, and they find bugs for us. They give us feature requests, and our users have given us some of the absolute best ideas. And we find that truly building out this program is keeping us grounded is keeping us you know, solving problems for real people and you solve one person's problem, then that's going to help, you know, many more people in the process. And so although it's something that we're doing currently, that's always going to be on our horizon, no matter, you know, how much we scale in terms of our user base.

Brennan Barber  25:49  

Do you ever partner with other organizations that are focused on inclusive culture at work? Like consulting agencies?

Julia Franklin  26:01  

Give me an Can you give me an example? Sure. 

Brennan Barber  26:04  

There's a company based in Raleigh that I'm familiar with. It's called The Diversity Movement, and they're very much focused on inclusion in workplaces. It's what brings them to mind is actually they were one of the first groups that I was aware of that was actually focused on disability in the workplace, as part of their DEI initiatives. 

Julia Franklin  26:30  

Absolutely. No, I think I mentioned before, you know, 80 programs or vocational programs, but we've partnered with a variety of different community organizations that are aligned with our mission. And when we find that synergy with a group, we don't have a single way that we partner with organizations, we like to find, you know, there's certain ways that different organizations like to reach their communities. And so sometimes we'll do webinars, or we can co write, you know, thought leadership articles, we can include each other in newsletters and that sort of thing. So there's not really a one size fits all approach to partnering with groups. We've had journalists come in from specific organizations that are focused on a single disability and, you know, write articles and interview our users. So we're always looking for folks who are like minded in terms of inclusion and independence.

Bethany Darragh  27:27  

I have a question for some of the therapists out there, do you find yourself using your SLP skills on a day to day basis? This is kind of surprising to you or, or not surprising, but what skills do you find from that clinical background that you find yourself using now?

Julia Franklin  27:47  

It's always that problem solving of how do I look at this from a different angle? How do I think about the functional application, and I had the most invigorating conversation with an ATP and assistive technology professional, and she was working with a client, and she just called to pick my brain about how what inputs would be best for this client. Here's what's going on with their work, what would you suggest, and I got off that call and just felt like, wow, like, that's exactly the intersection of technology and my clinical brain, and then being able to provide real resources to be able to support that client for some roadblocks that she was having, that she could just take into her session.

Brennan Barber  28:41  

So with all that said, how can folks get in touch with Cephable? And where can they find you?

Julia Franklin  28:47  

That's an awesome question. So our website has direct links for as I mentioned, before, anybody can download the software onto a PC or a Mac, and play with it. We don't have ads. It's not a lite version, you just get the whole thing and you can play with it. We have a pretty active discord community where we people can bring ideas people can bring support our teams on there are consortium members are on there. We have Facebook communities, and the greatest area is just really educating your communities that this tool is available because we're still new, you know, we're new to the market. And a lot of people find out about us and why haven't I heard of this? And we could really it's just great when people can share it with their communities and get it into the hands of the folks who are looking for it and don't know that it's here.

Brennan Barber  29:39  

That's great. Thank you

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