On Tuesday, March 28, 2023 Maayan Ziv, founder and CEO of AccessNow, presented at the EDGE Event: Inclusive Tourism: Creating Barrier-Free Environments & Experiences. AccessNow, an app that allows people to rate and review the accessibility of locations worldwide, empowers people to find information about the spaces that are welcoming, the spaces that are accessible, and the spaces where people with disabilities feel included.
Maayan discussed the positive impact of investing in inclusion for both individuals and the tourism industry, and explored how barrier-free environments and human-centred design can serve this large and dynamic group of people with disabilities and untapped buying power.
Following the presentation, Maayan led a panel discussion with Cathy Gordon, Festival & Community Engagement Manager, Luminato, Emily Maxwell, Artistic Director & Founder, The Disability Collective, Caleb van Esch, CEO, Urban Ability and Peter George, COO, CN Tower. They discussed their accessibility journeys, access to systems and funding support, along with their key learnings and plans for ongoing work to provide accessible and inclusive spaces and experiences.
Maayan began the presentation by providing a self-description, allowing access to the same information while ensuring an equitable experience for everyone involved, particularly for the benefit of blind or visually impaired individuals. At the beginning of meetings, presentations or when speaking at a conference, individuals usually introduce themselves. Non-blind people in these situations automatically absorb a lot of visual information about one another. Providing descriptions of physical characteristics can assist in recalling individuals and identifying them in subsequent meetings. When self-describing, be prepared and be brief. Keep it to one or two sentences at most, and to important information. Name yourself, and repeat your name every time you speak.
Two Models of Disability
Leaders in the disability rights movement have constructed two distinct models of how society views disabilities: the Medical Model and the Social Model. The Medical Model of disability views people by their impairments or differences. These impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments. The Social Model of disability views the environment and the way society is organized around that person as the disabling factor rather than the person’s impairment or difference. It seeks to eliminate physical and attitudinal barriers and the limiting assumptions, and increase independence and equality for disabled individuals.
Accessibility: Different things to Different People
Maayan, who is a power wheelchair user, emphasized that accessibility can mean different things depending on an individual's lived experience and their physical environment. The importance of accessibility in buildings goes beyond just providing ramps for wheelchair users, as it benefits other groups of people with various access needs such as those with dementia, vision problems, neurodivergence or even a concussion. It includes tactile surfaces, lighting, sound levels, and audio announcements for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Accessibility is also important in the digital world where the use of assistive technology requires accessible digital environments. Currently, only about 10% of the internet is accessible, indicating the need for more work to achieve equity in the digital world. Websites, apps, and on site technology should be accessible in design for people with different abilities and assistive technologies.
When speaking about disability, there are two recommended approaches: identity-first language and person-first language. The safest and most respectful way to start a conversation is to use person-first language, such as "person with a disability." However, it is important to respect an individual's choice of language and use what makes them comfortable. Referring back to the social model, a disabled person may not necessarily identify as disabled because of their impairment, but instead because of the world around them. Therefore, when someone identifies themselves as disabled, it is a personal choice to do so. In general, person-first language is a neutral space and can be a safe choice in marketing materials and communications.
Representation - Nothing About Us Without Us
Language and representation are crucial for disability inclusion. The phrase "nothing about us without us" emphasizes the importance of including people with disabilities. Not just in marketing materials, but in decision-making processes, on staff and around the board table. Without their representation, it's difficult to create accessible and inclusive experiences, products, and services. People with disabilities possess resilience, creativity, and problem-solving skills, which are valuable assets for building inclusive tourism strategies.
People with disabilities have significant buying power, spending over 58 billion dollars a year. Investing in accessibility, proper language, and representation can open up businesses to a much larger and more accessible audience. Investing in access can lead to gaining new customers for life and a loyal community; businesses that provide accessible spaces are more likely to have returning customers who recommend them to friends.
Be an Ally. Seven actions you can take TODAY:
- Educate yourself. Be curious and ask questions. Don’t worry about not knowing everything, as long as you are willing to be on the journey of learning. There are various resources available, such as blogs, books, documentaries, films, and talks, that can help people to explore different ways of thinking, doing, and living.
- Make your experiences accessible. Your materials, events, products and experiences. Make sure that the way in which you either create that content, even an experience within, is increasingly accessible. Use audio guides or include sensory friendly hours at your venue or business, or deliver relaxed performances at your theatre.
- Communicate online in an accessible way. It is important to communicate online in an accessible way. E.g, Ensure that videos have captions and that colour contrast is present.
- Hire content creators with different perspectives. To broaden your perspective, hire accessibility content creators with different perspectives. This can help in familiarizing oneself with different views and ways of thinking. There are many content creators, bloggers, vloggers, and advocates on social media who share their experiences and insights. Explore with the hashtag disability on Tik Tok or Instagram. And explore these disabled travel Influencers.
- Be proactive about accessibility. Engage with the community and ask questions in advance. This will not only reduce barriers for customers but also position your business as a leader in accessibility within the tourism industry. Waiting for people to ask for accessibility is not a good strategy.
- Show up imperfectly. Do not wait until everything is perfect before taking action towards creating more inclusive and accessible experiences for all people. It's important to show up imperfectly, stay curious and humble, and be willing to make mistakes and learn from them in order to progress and innovate towards greater accessibility. Investing in access not only benefits people with disabilities but also opens doors to new opportunities and experiences.
- Verify Your Business. Claim or create your business listing on AcessNow to highlight your accessibility and engage with valuable new customers with accessibility needs.
If you didn’t have a chance to make the event ‘in-person’, the recording above provides a deeper dive on EDGE Event: Inclusive Tourism: Creating Barrier-Free Environments & Experiences. You can also find Maayan’s presentation HERE.
Maayan Ziv is an activist, photographer and entrepreneur. In 2015, she launched AccessNow, a mobile app and website that collects and shares information about the accessibility status of places worldwide. What began as a response to her frustration when trying to navigate inaccessible places, AccessNow soon grew to become a mission-oriented social start-up. Within just a couple years AccessNow has vocalized a movement for inclusion, inviting people of all abilities to contribute to the platform. As CEO of AccessNow, Maayan has created a powerful shift in thinking about the importance of accessibility in our world, from accessible technologies to infrastructure, public policy, media and communications. To date, AccessNow has shared accessibility information about over 1 million places in 107 countries around the world.
AccessNow works with business owners and to share information, and invites the community, people with disabilities, friends, families, and others to contribute to their own experiences on the platform, and share it for insights on places that are or are not accessible. People share directly from lived experiences and AccessNow then uses that information to learn what's working, and where the barriers are. There are now over a 1 million locations shared on the app in over 107 countries, all with one mission to change the conversation about accessibility.
To learn more and continue your education, we have provided a sampling of some useful resources.
- The Business of Accessibility Handbook
- Business Benefits of Accessible Workplaces
- Accessibility Plan Example
- Canadians with Disabilities Act
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) (Ontario)
- Advancing Accessibility Ontario
- Ontario Building Code – Section 3.8 (Ontario)
- Ontario Human Rights Code (Ontario)
- Canadian Human Rights Act
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Web and Design
- Clear Print Guidelines (CNIB)
- AccessAbility: A Practical Handbook of Accessible Graphic Design
- AccessAbility: A Practical Handbook of Accessible Web Design
- Inclusive Design
- Microsoft Inclusive Design
- Designing for Accessibility
- WebAIM Contrast Checker
- WebAIM Articles
- PAC 2021- PDF Accessibility Checker
Events, Meetings & Festivals
- Zero Project Conference Accessibility Guidelines
- Guide to Festivals and Outdoor Events (Ontario)
- Planning Accessible Events (Ontario)
- Self Description
- How to create a sensory friendly event
- Accessibility in Video Conferences and Remote Meetings
- Supporting blind and visually impaired patrons
- Descriptive directions and information for blind or partially sighted visitors to venues
- Audio Descriptive Guide for your Attraction
- Tangled Arts - Relaxed Performances
- More about Relaxed Performances
Content and Marketing