Team wins $5,000 in DMZ ‘Hack-cessibility’ competition

The winning team behind a networking site connecting school boards with experts who have physical disabilities won $5,000 in a Ryerson DMZ competition.

The team “Abil” walked away with the top prize last Friday at Hack-cessibility. The week-long competition, sponsored by Ryerson’s Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, allowed teams to attend workshops to fine-tune their projects before they were pitched to a panel of judges — Dragons’ Den-style — at the DMZ.

Team member Misha Mykitiuk, a high school student, professional drummer and Paralympic swimmer, said he was disheartened seeing only conventionally abled “experts” come to his school, unless they were speaking specifically about their disability. He said he wants to see school boards set a better example for children with disabilities.

First-place winners Abil won $5,000 from the DMZ. Left to right: Abid Virani, Misha Mykitiuk, Alwar Pillai, and Graham McLaughlin. (Courtesy Laura Rossi/Ryerson)

First-place winning team Abil won $5,000 from the DMZ. Left to right: Abid Virani, Misha Mykitiuk, Alwar Pillai, and Graham McLaughlin. (Courtesy Laura Rossi/Ryerson)

Abid Virani, who is completing a master’s degree in inclusive design at OCAD University, said their project “targets assumptions people have of disabled people and the level of success they can achieve.”

The competition comes at the right time because the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disability Act (AODA), which passed in 2005, is now exactly halfway through its timeline for making Ontario a “fully accessible province” by 2025.

The legislation lays out regulations for cities and companies to accommodate citizens with disabilities in areas such as transit, employment, customer service and design of public spaces.

However, many common barriers fall outside the act, or are not required to be addressed until closer to 2025, something Hack-cessibility wanted to address creatively.

“We landed on the topic of accessibility because we had interest from the branch of provincial government that wants to make Ontario more accessible,” said Sean Mullin, Brookfield Institute’s executive director.

“We felt it was something where we could bring people from different backgrounds — including people from the accessibility community — together.”

The eight teams pitched a wide range of projects: a GPS-like app that maps out accessible routes in real time, a network that connects high school students with disabilities to co-op placements, and a virtual reality software program that simulates the experience of navigating the city in a wheelchair.

The judging panel included Abdullah Snobar, Ryerson’s DMZ director, David Onley, former lieutenant-governor of Ontario and Maayan Ziv, an award-winning photographer, disability activist and Ryerson alumna.

Onley addressed the teams and praised their efforts before announcing the results.

“Each of you addressed a crucial problem and brought a significant element of the solution,” he said. “And wherever you place, don’t consider it the end, please consider it the beginning.”

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 11, 2015.

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