The Accessibility Project funds startups to help create an accessible future

Image courtesy of Camila Sanchez.

A Ryerson cross-campus collaboration is helping students with disabilities launch their own businesses by offering up to $25,000 in funding.

In its first year, the Accessibility Project is a community grant program started by The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education in partnership with the DMZ and Sandbox.

The launch event took place at the Student Learning Centre (SLC) on Nov. 11, where the chosen winners showcased their submissions.

Team AUT consists of biomedical engineering students Camila Sanchez and Abdelrahman Abdou, who entered the project with their Wireless Emergency Response System. Their project was started under Tetra Ryerson, an organization that works with students to create customizable devices for the differently abled.

“The idea started with the South Asian Autistic Awareness Centre (SAAAC) reaching out for a device to help teachers communicate with emergency personnel in an easy and subtle way. So, we took on the task to create an affordable wireless emergency response system for the SAAAC,” said Sanchez via email.  

The project is currently in the product development stage. The team is planning to use the grant funding to improve their prototype and scale it to a fully implemented system.

“We saw that this idea can be further developed for retirement homes and hospitals, which shows how a simple system like this is needed in large care settings,” said Abdou via email.

As its name implies, the ideas and startups that entered the Accessibility Project focused on enhancing any type of accessibility for those in need.

“There’s a two-fold effect at play here, where we can help students and Ryerson community members who’ve had difficulties and some form of disability take their ideas and make a success out of it, which can then improve the lives of other people with disabilities,” says Marie Bountrogianni, the dean of the Chang School.

As different disabilities can affect people in different ways, so too have the ideas and startups that have been considered by the project’s selection committee. Some of the ideas were high-tech, creating solutions to problems that those with impairments face with activities that others wouldn’t think much of.

“One team has an app that tells travellers in wheelchairs where to get the wheelchairs at airports. What we don’t realize is there’s actually a waiting list at [Toronto Pearson International Airport] for wheelchairs, so this is just making that process much easier. Another one is looking at helping young, unique learners on learning how to read,” Bountrogianni says.

As Ontario’s first lieutenant-governor to use a wheelchair, David C. Onley spoke at the event, highlighting his personal experiences including issues of being accommodated at restaurant outings with his family.

With that being an all too common problem for many in the disabled community, Onley praised the app AccessNow, which was one of this year’s applicants, as holding the solution by showing updated maps that highlight which businesses are accessible.

“This is why I’m so pleased to be here supporting the finalists who in their own ways have developed processes, apps and techniques that enhance the independence and freedom of persons with disabilities. Now that we all carry devices which hold features that can transform a disabled person’s life, entrepreneurs need to step up. Because while the government can legislate and regulate — which is very important — they can’t do it all,” he says.

Seventeen out of 20 applications were chosen at the showcase to receive funding.

Bountrogianni, along with the other members of the project’s committee, will meet with each winning team in the coming weeks to discuss how much of the maximum grant prize money they will receive.