For most people, being dyslexic means missing out on opportunity. Mary Tsiana did the exact opposite. She used her dyslexia as an opportunity to create a tool that would benefit herself – and millions of others. It’s no wonder that the tool’s name itself would be a challenge to read, unless you are dyslexic: 3asyR, which means ‘Easy Reader’, is an online plug-in currently applicable to Google Chrome that helps dyslexics and people with learning disabilities read easier online. Once installed, it allows the reader, just by clicking on a text, to mark it and, dragging the mouse to the right, select a text part of any size (increasing its font size), much the way a fluorescent text marker is used.
“This is the experience we wanted to transfer to online reading; having a text-marker at hand to highlight parts of a text,” says Mary Tsiana, explaining how her own experience with dyslexia led to becoming the head of a promising start-up.
“I was looking for a tool like that and, not being able to find it, I decided to create it,” she says, attributing this go-getter attitude to dyslexia.
“Dyslexia is hard,” she explains, “especially in school, when you are facing heaps of challenges; reading, writing, copying, understanding words, meanings. You have to learn to live with this. It is not something that goes away with time, you just come up with ways to cope with challenges. But because you have to do this from an early age, you learn to adapt, to be flexible, to overcome obstacles and keep on. It makes you creative and inventive.
“For me, being dyslexic meant that I was facing trouble reading, both print and electronic texts. I would skip words, lines, even whole paragraphs. Since I got my first PC, I realised that reading was less trouble – just by left-clicking on the mouse, I would mark the area I wanted to read. This helped my eyes focus and so, I started reading slowly, one paragraph after another. It was not very practical, of course; a clumsy move would mean that I’d mark the whole text, instead of the paragraph I was aiming for, for example. This is how 3asyR came to be, it is a tool that minimises the possibility of skipping a word or a line you want to read.”
A GREEK BUSINESS BASED IN IRELAND
Mary was diagnosed as dyslectic at the age of 22, after she had studied accounting at a technical school. She then went on to study journalism in Thessaloniki (where she passed by taking oral exams), but it was neither Thessaloniki, nor her hometown, Volos, which defined her professional path. This came last year, where she spent some months in Dublin, taking part in an EU-funded ‘Erasmus’ exchange program for young entrepreneurs.
“It was there that I learned how startups work,” she says, describing Dublin as a nurturing environment for new business development.
“This was a very important experience for the project, as well as for my personal development. The process itself, of leaving a protected environment and starting from scratch somewhere else, where you know practically nobody, is very important. You have to work and communicate with people from another culture, which opens your mind and benefits your creativity. In Dublin there’s a startup event each week. I tried to attend as many workshops and conventions as I could, which helped me connect, meet a lot of important people, and move forward.”
Although Mary herself has returned to Greece, 3asyR is a Dublin-based company. It would not be possible otherwise.
“Compared to Ireland, Greece lags in the business sector,” she explains, stating bureaucracy and the high cost of setting up business as key factors, “not to mention high taxation and zero motivation. I really don’t know what potential a startup has in Greece. The state needs to offer young entrepreneurs some kind of motivation, either in funding or in making the system more flexible, for instance providing tax breaks for the first years of the business,” she says.
Asked about the biggest challenge she has had to face so far, she says “during development you always come up with things that need to be fixed and strategic decisions to be made, which can all be resolved by teamwork. So the biggest challenge was finding the right team, in order to make it happen. Our software developer Alexandros Binopoulos was the first who believed in it, then came Martin I. Petrov, who is our communications manager and our graphic designer, Vasiliki Chrisovitsioti. We recently added another programmer to the team, Zahos Zaharodimos, and we’re expanding.
“After getting a team together, the main focus has been on developing and communicating the project, in order to get a pool of users and test the product. At the moment, we’re frantically working on the business versions, which we can sell to corporations or private users. Our market research had a very positive outcome. We have potential buyers and a great sample of users, but we’re still in development”.
So far, reviews have been favourable. “Although it is an application made for people with learning difficulties, we have people who don’t fit this description, saying that they find it relaxing. So, it could be a tool for anybody,” she says, describing the high hopes she has for her brain-child.
“The ideal would be for 3asyR to be installed in any PC and e-reader in the world,” she says. “I know it is a big dream, but, whatever the outcome, this experience has been worth it.”
Having said that, what advice would she give to her teenage self, struggling in school? “Don’t worry about your grades, they don’t determine your future. Keep going and don’t give up. You’ll find your way.”