READERS PLEASE NOTE: This article was published
By: Holly Walker and Bianca Zanotti
With new technology comes new challenges, most of which often affect people living with disabilities. The Accessibility Project is trying to change that with its vision to support the development of ideas, projects and solutions relating to accessibility.
Ryerson’s Chang School, the DMZ, and Sandbox by DMZ teamed up in 2017 to create the Accessibility Project. The initiative offers up to $25,000 for innovations and ideas dedicated to supporting those with disabilities.
We spoke with the developers of three innovations from the project. Here’s what they had to say:
Tecla-e is an assistive device for those with upper-body mobility impairments. The device connects to a wheelchair and works with accessibility features already developed in smart technology, such as the Switch Control or Switch Access options found in iPhones and Android products.
You can see how the tecla-e works in the video below.
The article will continue after the multimedia.
Megan Stangl, tecla’s marketing and communications officer, said that an innovation like tecla-e is essential for accessibility because it comes from products already found in mass markets. Rather than segregating those with disabilities, tecla-e allows users to navigate independently. The device costs $500.
“It’s all about connecting them and allowing them to leverage the technology that we use to connect with the digital world.”
Wheelhouse,formerly known as BoxTalk, is a media player app that aims to make interfaces more inclusive. Still in its development phase, the app assists those with dyslexia and various levels of vision impairment.
Bezayit Menker, the app’s development and research lead, said Wheelhouse would operate a lot like iTunes. Instead of text, the app can be navigated with gestures or icons, and you can access all your materials by swiping or using voice commands.
Menker said the idea for Wheelhouse evolved in a master’s program at Ryerson. Specializing in digital media, Menker’s thesis focused on using digital media to give students in rural areas access to the same education one would get in an urban centre.
“In examining that, I saw how many opportunities there are to teach digital media in a more practical way and to reach people who aren’t necessarily being targeted by larger producers and creators because they don’t perceive that there’s a market for them or an opportunity to profit there.”
She says entrepreneurs should develop projects that create avenues for everybody to participate in, rather than targeting to one disability.
AccessNow, a mobile app and website created by Ryerson graduate Maayan Ziv, allows people to navigate the city and determine if places have accessible features. Through the power of community and crowdsourcing, AccessNow rates locations across Toronto. Once rated, they are added to a map that users can then use as an information point.
Ziv, founder and chief executive officer of AccessNow, created the platform after noticing there wasn’t a lot of technology catered to those with disabilities. As a wheelchair user herself, Ziv recalled a time in her master’s program when she was unsure of whether a bar was accessible for her. This lack of information deterred her from going out with friends.
As a result, Ziv began to consider the technology available to people with disabilities.
“It is the really, unfortunately, typical thing that happens in my life all the time,” she said. “Where I want to go places, but I don’t know if I can actually get in, or if they’re going to have elevators or accessible washrooms or whatever, because I’m using a wheelchair I don’t always have that information on me and I kind of need it.”
According to Ziv, 15 per cent of the population lives with disabilities. This, she said, is why AccessNow and technology are important in making the city more accessible. Without accessible technology, more barriers are created and those living with disabilities are alienated.
“AccessNow, as a community, helps people understand that accessibility in general, is an asset to their lives, or their businesses.”
To read more about the innovations out of the Accessibility Project and see the 2017 finalists, click here.