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U of T startups build a more inclusive and accessible Toronto

Inaugural accessibility event showcases U of T’s accessibility-related solutions

Braze Mobility is building a low-cost navigation assistance system that can be installed on any commercial powered wheelchair to prevent collisions and provide feedback to the driver (all photos by Olivia Tomic)

Rapidly evolving technology is a tool that 3.8 million Canadians living with a disability can leverage to reclaim their independence and live an increasingly barrier-free life. 

University of Toronto students, faculty and alumni are among the innovators who have been developing technologies designed to improve the lives of people of all different abilities. In honour of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, twelve accessibility-related startups were featured this week at Accessibil-UT, U of T’s inaugural innovation showcase.

Many of the startups provided solutions for navigating and interacting within the city, aligning with President Meric Gertler’s commitment to improving the state of the city (read about the president’s three priorities).

That included 3D printers creating prosthetic limbs and wearable technology, such as BuzzClip. This small and discreet wearable device for blind and partially sighted people, developed through iMerciv, allows the wearer to safely navigate around obstacles. 

Another featured startup, BreqLabs, is commercializing a wearable hand sensor capable of replicating the user’s hand in the virtual world. This sensor opens up the possibilities for gesture based computer access for all, including persons with mobility impairments.

Lindy Ledohowski, U of T alumna and former instructor at UTSC, was showcasing her startup EssayJack, an interactive web-application that offers pre-structured essay outlines to help students excel in their assignments. The platform is already being piloted in five schools and universities, and recently closed a license with an assistive technology learning centre in Thornhill, where EssayJack will be used to help high school students with learning disabilities.

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

Accessibil-UT also celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), legislation that’s in place to ensure Ontario’s workplaces, homes and schools are accessible for all (learn more about the AODA).

“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 Angela Hildyard, vice-president of Human Resources and Equity. “However, we are only halfway there. 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.”

Hosted jointly by the AODA Office, the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (BBCIE), Government, Institution and Community Relations, and the Innovations & Partnerships Office (IPO), the event was inspired by the provincially run Accessibility Innovation Showcase at MaRS in August 2015. It was the first event of its kind at the university and likely not the last.

“Events like this are important because they highlight some of the incredible startups that are coming out of the university’s ecosystem of nine accelerators and incubators,” said Karen Sievewright, managing director of the BBCIE. “We have so many talented entrepreneurs who are working to improve the lives of those around them and we’re proud to provide them with a platform to showcase their innovations.”

Interested in startups? Visit the Banting & Best Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship