This Canadian app uses crowdsourcing to create a more accessible world

May 27 2021, 2:00 pm

The Friendly News is a collaboration between TELUS and Daily Hive. Together, we’re creating a space for important, feel-good community stories to be told, where Canadians can immerse themselves in uplifting news and articles featuring community leaders giving back during a time when we all need it most.

Written for Daily Hive by Caleigh Alleyne, a Toronto-based journalist and media consultant. 

Despite the changes in infrastructure and urban planning initiatives, for Maayan Ziv, and countless others around the world still question if the destination or route is accessible.

“The reality is that the world is still very inaccessible to people with disabilities,” shared Ziv, “figuring out which spaces are accessible from ones that aren’t can honestly sometimes feel like a full-time job in new spaces.” 

To solve that problem, Ziv developed AccessNow — a mobile-friendly app that shares crowd-sourced accessibility information around the world.

“I’d say that, on average, it takes someone with a disability who needs a form of accessibility, at least twice, if not more time to find the answers that they’re looking for. If I’m going to plan a trip, before this app, it would have taken me hours, upon hours upon hours, just to find basic information, which might not be accurate,” Ziv told us.

But since the launch of AccessNow, the time it takes to live in an accessible way has been reduced. 

To date, the virtual community has currently shared information in over 30 countries accessibly information providing information and marking non-accessible places with red pins, and accessible locations with green. Use and contribution to the app have spread through word of mouth, with “the community rallying together to solve our own problem on here,” remarked Ziv. 

Maayan Ziv, founder of AccessNow (Max Kopanygin)

“It has become easier to go and do things, instead of spending all of my time researching and planning,” shared Ziv.

“Now, I can pick up the app, find the place to go and not have to think about it too much. As a person who loves to be independent, loves to be spontaneous, the app has been helpful to have the ability to make decisions quickly or share information so that someone else can have the same experience.”

“I was introduced to AccessNow before I became disabled, and she opened my eyes to the accessibility problems that disabled face daily,” shared Kelcie Miller-Anderson, who met Ziv at an acceleration program in Toronto geared towards start-ups.

“Meeting Maayan turned out to be the greatest unexpected gift as just a few years later I became a wheelchair user myself and now not only had this completely changed view on what disability was and a role model who made the transition less scary, but I also had the knowledge and tools that AccessNow provided which made my first trips out in my chair so much easier.”

Ziv hopes to create an awareness of accessibility beyond the disability community through the AccessNow app.

“One of the biggest challenges has been getting to that level of awareness where people realize that actually accessibility benefits everyone. And that when you watch a video, and there are captions on it, that’s a form of accessibility, or the ability to work from home, and join a meeting virtually, that’s a form of accessibility.”

Ziv has also noticed that some of the health and safety precautions put into place because of the pandemic have had a positive impact on improving accessibility in public spaces.

“There’s been a big push lately to convert automatic buttons to a touchless option where you wave your hand as contactless motion detection is an increased form of accessibility.”

Maayan Ziv (AccessNow)

One of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences for Ziv is when she visits someone new, opens the app and realizes that someone else has already shared information.

Before the pandemic, Ziv was in Tel Aviv when she came across an accessible restaurant on the beach that had already been rated.

“For me, it was like one of those like, wow, moments. I have been building this platform and spending all my waking hours rallying the community and trying to build awareness about the importance of accessibility. And suddenly, here I was halfway around the world seeing information sharing happening on a platform that I came up with on my own. That was really amazing.”

This summer, working in partnership with the Trans Canada Trail and the Canadian Paralympic Committee, AccessNow has helped to map out 13 sections on the Great Trail that are accessible from coast to coast.

Accessible trails on that list include parts of the Waterfront Trail in Toronto, the Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver, and the Bow River Pathway in Calgary.

Alexa Fernando/AccessNow

This project has sparked Ziv’s curiosity in exploring Canada further and has Banff National Park high on her travel list when it is safe to do so.

“I can’t wait to explore, map, and share accessible trails this summer,” shared AccessNow app user Miller-Anderson, “and who knows maybe one day I’ll tackle the entire trail!”

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