This is Youth 2023 recognises and celebrates the amazing stories behind the DofE – showcasing young people and the adults who support them to rise above challenges and make their mark on the world.
The DofE charity received hundreds of This is Youth nominations from across the UK in eight categories, with the final winners chosen by panels including DofE Youth Ambassadors and celebrity supporters.
Theo, who is 16 and from Cambridge, beat off stiff competition to win Innovator of the Year, scooping the top prize for his talking scales. Theo did his DofE through The Stephen Perse Foundation Senior School.
Theo uses braille, but was struggling to access his science lessons because he couldn’t weigh anything. He discovered that accessible scientific scales do not exist, and even the leading schools for the blind use in house tech from the Eighties that are not readily available to mainstream schools. So Theo set about solving the problem, and asked his LOOK mentor Ben Mustill-Rose to help.
Together Theo and Ben, who is also blind, developed Talking Balance – a computer programme that can be run on any laptop and connects to scientific scales to enable the weight to be read out. Talking Balance will revolutionise science lessons for fellow blind students, and all it needs for schools to use it is two wires! Theo and Ben were paired together through our Mentoring Programme Mentorship Scheme where Ben was able to offer support and guidance following his career working as a software engineer for the BBC. Finding he was unable to fully participate in his science classes without being able to read the scales, Theo came up with an innovative solution and reached out to Ben to work on the project together. After many Zoom calls developing the software, designing the app and ironing out various bugs along the way, they had a working set of scales that could give audible feedback to the user.
Theo says: “It felt amazing to win Innovator of the Year. Not being able to weigh something may seem like a small thing, but it’s just one more way that blind people are excluded. Plus, it felt like it came at the price of my independence, because at A-Level you need to be able to do practicals totally independently.”
“I think Talking Balance will make a difference for blind people around the world. It was an incredible feeling to use it for the first time and be able to weigh things in science like everybody else. I realised that I’d overcome the roadblocks and did something that nobody else has done or even thought to do.”
The scales themselves, ‘Talking Balance’ will be launched for free to enable visually impaired students to participate fully in their science classes, and hopefully empower them to get involved in science as a career.
Broadcaster Jay Blades MBE, who judged the Innovator of the Year category said: “What Theo has done with Talking Balance is truly revolutionary. Now, blind students all over the world will be able to fully participate in science experiments simply by purchasing two wires and downloading Theo’s computer programme. This invention simply didn’t exist before, and it has implications for future scientists too, drastically improving accessibility. The innovation and determination that Theo has shown to overcome the obstacles he faced as a blind student – not just for himself, but for others – is extraordinary.”
LOOK CEO, Charlotte Carson, says: “We are so proud of Theo for his incredible achievement, and delighted that The Duke of Edinburgh Charity have crowned him Innovator of the Year. Theo’s success sums up the essence of our Mentoring project. We match the talents and skills of our mentees with mentors who have similar interests. We matched Theo with Ben because of their shared passion for tech and coding, and knowing that Ben was the perfect mentor to help Theo’s talents to grow.”
A massive well done to both Theo and Ben, we are so proud of you and your accomplishments!
Watch the video on the project below and read more about the Theo and the Innovator Of The Year Award on the Duke of Edinburgh website here.
Talking Balance can be downloaded by schools for free on the website Theo and Ben developed here