Startup Solutions For a More Accessible Toronto
There are now more than 3.8 million Canadians living with disabilities. For many of these individuals, accessibility can be an everyday challenge, and it is one that many of us take for granted all too often. Fortunately, evolving technology has the potential to help disabled Canadians reclaim their independence and move towards a barrier-free lifestyle.

In a collaborative effort, University of Toronto students, faculty, and alumni are working together to develop technologies that will improve quality of life for individuals with a variety of disabilities. The University of Toronto’s inaugural Accessibil-UT showcase, held in honor of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, recently featured twelve exciting startups dedicated to providing accessibility solutions.

A ‘Commitment To Improve The State Of The City’

University of Toronto President Meric Gestler recently announced three priorities to “leverage our urban location(s) more fully ... strengthen and deepen key international partnerships ... [and] reimagine and reinvent undergraduate education.”

Many of the startups featured at the recent showcase presented solutions directly related to the President’s priorities. More specifically, these solutions seek to improve navigation and digital interaction in the city.

For example, one wearable technology called BuzzClip is a discreet device targeted towards blind and partially sighted individuals. The device, which was developed through iMerciv, assists the wearer in safely navigating around obstacles.

BreqLabs, another featured startup, presented a plan for commercializing a wearable hand sensor that replicates the user’s hand in virtual reality. In terms of functionality, the sensor will allow gesture based computer access for all, but it may prove especially useful for individuals with mobility impairments.

In the education sector, Linda Ledohowski, University of Toronto alumna and former instructor at University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), presented an interactive web-app that provides students with pre-structured essay outlines. Ledohowski’s startup, EssayJack, has already piloted the platform in five schools and universities.

They also recently secured an agreement with an assistive technology learning centre located in Thornhill to offer high school students with learning disabilities the opportunity to utilize EssayJack to assist with certain assignments.

Empowered Accessibility

As a whole, the startups featured in the Accessibil-UT showcase are largely working towards the collective goal of empowering a large group of Canadians that may otherwise find many aspects of daily life to be an unnecessary struggle.

“I have long been concerned with issues of equity and diversity as both an educator and scholar,” says Ledohowski. “To me, education is about empowerment, empowerment for all different kinds of learners, whatever their different abilities and needs.”

The progress being made to improve accessibility in Toronto is undeniable, but Angela Hildyard, vice-president of Human resources and equity, believes there is still much work to be done. “Since 2005, we have collectively made great strides in addressing barriers for persons with disabilities and creating a society that aims to be inclusive of all persons,” said Hildyard.

“However, we are only halfway there,” she continued. “It’s innovations and products like those who exhibited at Accessibil-UT that can move us forward and make Ontario and U of T the most accessible province and university by 2025.”

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Posted by: DSR
Monday, February 1, 2016
Tag: Business Start Ups
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