Access Now uses crowdsourcing to pinpoint accessible businesses

An app made in Toronto uses crowdsourcing to determine which buildings and businesses are accessible to people with disabilities — and it's taking off around the world.

'The idea is to be able to crowdsource accessibility information worldwide'

Maayan Ziv, founder of Access Now remembers Arruda for his warmth but also his contrasting sharp jokes about living with a visible disability. (CBC)

Imagine planning a night out with friends, calling ahead to a restaurant to make sure you have a reservation, and then finding out you can't get through the front door.

It's a situation countless people with disabilities regularly find themselves facing — one a new app aims to make sure anyone with accessibility issues can avoid.

The Access Now app was created in Toronto by Maayan Ziv, who says making sure she can access places in her wheelchair has become her life's work.

"Recently, I went to a place and there were three steps at the entrance, and I was told it was accessible. I get to the entrance, and there are those steps and then I'm stuck in the middle of the street without any options," she told CBC News.

With Access Now, Maayan Ziv built her own solution to the problem of not having enough information about accessible businesses. (CBC)

With Access Now — which crowdsources information about accessibility in cities all over the world — Ziv aims to prevent that situation from happening  to her or anyone else. 

"I don't want to be in those kinds of situations anymore, where I'm stuck in the middle of the street not knowing what I can do. I want a tool that can let me know, 'Where do I have access?'

Anyone can add information to a location on Access Now. Users can choose to give a building one of four designations: accessible, partially accessible, patio access only, or not accessible. They can also add descriptions. 

"The idea is to be able to crowdsource accessibility information worldwide, bringing together a community of people who understand the needs of people with disabilities or anybody who would need accessibility information."

Catching on in other cities

She created the app at Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone, a business incubator for tech startups, and launched it during last summer's Parapan Am Games. 

"I wanted to make sure that when people came to Toronto they had a tool that they could access. A lot of people were in Toronto for the first time," she said.

Since then, the app has grown to list more than 2,500 locations in more than 100 cities.

The Coalition of Persons with Disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador (CODNL) has recently discovered the app and is singing its praises.

"Spreading the information about what it means to be accessible is always good as well, and getting people informed about what they can do to make locations — and broader society — more accessible for people," Kim White, CODNL's executive director told CBC News.

Right now, there's not much data about the province on Access Now, and that's something she's hoping to change.

Good for business 

Next, Ziv hopes that Access Now can partner with businesses to expand accessibility across Toronto.

"When you create accessibility at your business you open your doors to a much larger population of people that you might not have been able to cater to before," she said. "And that's not just on a humanitarian level; that's just good business."

In the meantime, she's happy it's helping.

"When I get messages from people who say, 'Hey, I used your app today and I was able to find an accessible pizza place,' or whatever, that's the most rewarding part for me."

With files from Marivel Taruc