Let’s Build Access

Conversation is such a beautiful thing, though it seems as though marketed conversation runs out of words. No matter what the conversation is about, it fizzles out, it always does. Last month, there was a day devoted to Bell Let’s Talk. I’m not sure if you noticed that every year Bell Let’s Talk seems to break the previous record in tweets and retweets, yet the conversation about mental health is almost nonexistent the next day. The day after that it’s like it never happened. The Access Code strives to keep the conversation of accessibility building.

I am an able-bodied person and I want to devote my time to something I am passionate about, something that is incredibly important, and that is accessibility. Maayan Ziv explained it beautifully:

“it shouldn’t be the girl in front of the room with a wheelchair talking about accessibility, it should be everyone.”

I strongly think that we have to work together as a team, as a community, to better the lives for every one of us. I believe it is important for us to educate ourselves to look at things from another’s perspective and build accessibility by teaching our minds to be inclusive. I think when you are not a person who requires assistive technology to do every day things it is easy to overlook the inaccessibility that exists in our world.

You can learn more in Maayan Ziv’s speech about the Benefits of Accessibility:

You’re probably wondering who I am and what encouraged me to create The Access Code. My name is Laurén, I moved to Mississauga from Nova Scotia in September 2015. What a change of pace that was! Transitioning to this whole other world within Canada (and that is just what it was) was challenging! It took adapting my basic communication. I remember walking down the street smiling and greeting people as we passed by each other. Well, I am sure I looked like an aimless pigeon, waddling over this way to say hello, then waddling over that way to say hi. I remember the dumbfounded look on peoples faces as they shook their heads wondering what is wrong with me. It did not take me long to realize you just don’t do that (nevermind acknowledging how exhausting it would be greeting everyone on the street in this population). I had to learn the geographical area, and understand that 7 kilometers can take the better part of an hour. I had to adapt from driving my big red SUV to commuting via transit. It took a lot patience and resilience to compete in the job market (especially when you do not have a network!). Moving to Toronto (GTA) the largest multi-cultural city in Canada was a lot like what I imagine moving to another country is like. It was a risk, and fortunately, it is becoming an opportunity. But enough about that!

It was during my first time taking transit that November that I began to notice accessibility features. I was waiting for the bus, and it was when it came to a complete stop that I heard a very unusual sound. I could hear an aggressive hissing sound of hydraulics resounding through the air, and a frantic beeping alerted my attention to the source. I swear I just saw the bus kneel like a bowing horse. While on my transfer bus, I watched as the bus flipped out a ramp for wheel chair access. Well, I was absolutely floored. The level of accessibility, the technological advancements on Miway transit warmed my heart and I felt encouraged by the inclusion.

It is now 17 months later and I hear the familiar sound of hissing hydraulics and watch the bus kneel, and I realized that everyone uses assistive technology: people with strollers, the elderly, me.  But I wondered if people could see that during their daily commute. I think it is very common for us to disregard accessibility because we do not think that the cellphone, or the announcement system on transit, are assistive devices.  I think one hurdle we have to leap is teaching our minds to think about inclusion and access, instead of thinking about accessibility as someone else’s dilemma. Unfortunately, access is something that is always on someone’s mind: having to call ahead to make sure there is access for you to get into that little restaurant downtown that your friends are so excited to go to; or you’re going to a job interview and realize there is no elevator. This is a challenge that persons with disabilities face. But it wasn’t the revelation from the quality of access from MiWay that makes me write today.

I was sliding through the news that randomly pops up on my phone, and I read “Building an app that empowers people” and met Maayan Ziv, the founder of AccessNow through the story by The Star. If you have not heard of this app, or read this article, I strongly recommend that you do. It is insightful, inspiring, empowering and innovative. Maayan Ziv is self-motivated to meet the need that her life demands- that of knowledge of accessibility, the empowering ability to wake up in the morning, check the AccessNow App for level of accessibility that has been pinned, and discover in a matter of seconds that you can go somewhere without having to worry about that step, or if there are accessible washrooms.

After I read the article about Maayan Ziv’s endeavour, I was intrigued to educate myself further on accessibility, which inspired me to do my part to keep the conversation going. I hope The Access Code encourages others to consider accessibility in their innovations, to identify accessibility requirements and take that effort to make those changes happen to build an accessible world for all of us.

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