For the final interview of the year, our founder Maayan Ziv has a candid discussion with Douglas Soltys, Editor in Chief at Betakit, and Rob Kenedi, Entreprenur in Residence at TWG, about the “perils of bad design” and how we are building our world to be both inclusive and yet still riddled with barriers.
Original content produced by Betakit, we’ve gone ahead and made it that much more accessible by sharing the full transcript of the podcast episode below.
“One of the deepest pieces of why AccessNow exists is to find the thing that shifts a culture into wanting access for everyone. Our bet is that we can use tech to do that.” AccessNow founder & CEO Maayan Ziv joins to discuss why modern tech is still not designed with all users in mind, and what can be done to fix it. Produced with support from TWG.
COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Douglas: We’ve all experienced it at some point in the pandemic. COVID-19 has forced us to change our way of doing things and that involves some new piece of tech and that tech doesn’t work so good. Is that because it was poorly designed or not designed for you at all?
The Canadian Tech ecosystem is facing a Black Swan event extremely rare and extremely severe. BetaKit knew it had to produce a new type of podcast to help the ecosystems stay connected in isolation, to provide resources and insights that could help see them through, and to ensure that somebody was talking about Canadian tech and COVID-19 from a Canadian perspective. That’s what you’re listening to now. A limited-run series released weekly. For as long as it needs to be. This is Black Swan.
Welcome to Episode 34 Black Swan, a BetaKit podcast. I’m Douglas Soltys, editor-in-chief of BetaKit, and my co-host as always is Rob Kenedi, entrepreneur and residence at TWG.
Today we’re speaking to Maayan Ziv, Founder and CEO of Access Now. Maayan and AccessNow just recently won a Governor General’s Award for Innovation and we’re going to talk about that. But what we really end up talking about was design. What constitutes good design? What is bad design? How can empathy and shame be powerful tools for the people designing our daily experiences to ensure they’re good experiences for everyone, not just people like them? And importantly, how has the COVID-19 pandemic shown us just how little good design goes into the tech we use every day?
Maayan, for the benefit of our audience, can we maybe start off with you defining what you mean and what we mean when we’re talking about accessibility broadly?
Maayan: Yeah, so for me, accessibility is really a design tool and a concept that is so much broader than what usually people think about which is like a grab bar and a washroom or some kind of special thing for some kind of unique person. I actually try to define it quite broadly which is that accessibility is a concept that enables people to be included. And usually that comes down to design: design principles that allow people to do the things that they want to do in a way that actually supports them. So inclusive design would be a really great example of good accessibility. But in general, it’s just a process of ensuring that people’s needs are met and making sure that they’re included in the experience of the product or the service whatever it is.
Rob: I like the use of the word “design” because I think that leads us to good design can be innovative. You and your company just happened to win a Governor General’s Award for Innovation. So why don’t you talk a little bit about what AccessNow does and what it meant to be federally recognized at that level for innovation?
Maayan: Sure. So I started AccessNow in 2015. I started it out of just sheer frustration really of being a wheelchair user and trying to get around Toronto and constantly just coming up against barriers. I go somewhere to an event or a meeting, or I just even want to grab a cup of coffee and there’d be steps or broken elevators or whatever barrier, and that’s kind of just like an obvious constant in my life to the point where I just expect it. But what was really frustrating to me is that it couldn’t even find information about it online. So AccessNow came out of my need to be able to answer my own question: Is it going to be accessible? And that was it. I just wanted to have some kind of tech platform that could give me that answer because I could go online and find out if things were gluten-free, or you know, if somebody had a great experience somewhere halfway around the world, but I couldn’t find out if that place that I wanted to go to in my own backyard even was going to be accessible for me.
Host: So the information was more like indexed along consumer interest and details that didn’t necessarily relate to inclusiveness?
Maayan: It really just started with the very, most simple embarrassing version was actually just a Google map that I created–like a my map version–and sent it to a few friends of mine and said would you just write information about places that you go to? And I just wanted to see you know if I could get a few of my friends to do it. What would it look like? And then you know for the first time I saw a map that actually showed me where in the city there were accessible things that I could go and do without me having to like pick up the phone or call someone or do my own research. And it really grew from there. So I always wanted it to be map-based because it’s really about going places and doing things. But yeah, it really started with me and my own experience, and my own selfish need to solve my own problem and really grew from there
Host: Okay, and flash forward five years later you’re winning an award from the government.
Maayan: (in a high-pitched British accent) Winning awards from the Governor General.
Host: You know, you also raised funding from Next36 and other spots. I think you’ve gotten some federal funding as well. So like where’s the state of..
Maayan: ...where are we at?
Host: Yeah. How do you progress beyond the Google Map?
Maayan: Okay, so flash forward to today we raise so far over 3 million. We announced last year a partnership with federal government to focus on AccessNow as a resource for people with disabilities to navigate their own communities or across Canada. The award for me is a unique opportunity because I think usually people assume that accessibility kind of stays in its lane, and you know, it is connected with and working for people with disabilities and we’re all kind of this community. Often it is that way but it’s really hard to kind of break into mainstream and to reach communities that don’t totally understand that the work that we’re doing at AccessNow isn’t just something that is nice and good and helpful, but is also innovative. And it’s really, you know, for us the next steps are really talking about data which is kind of a new step.
Host: The first question I have for you at least is, did everyone give you money have a high-pitched British accent? That’s the first and most important thing because that was a pretty good impression.
Maayan: *laughs* I’ve been watching “The Crown”.
Host: There you go! But I’m curious. First of all, to me it’s kind of fucked up that it’s 2015 and there are these such egregious problems. It’s not like we’re in 1945 and you have to wind the car up. These are well-known problems. The internet’s been around for a long time, physical locations have been around for a long time–that is a tautology. What I’m curious about is, have you noticed from inception–obviously like the impact gross with your company–but what did you notice about society and digital and physical over the last five years? Have you noticed recognition and change or are they giving you awards and you’re like, “Oh dudes, like what the hell.”
Maayan: Totally. It’s a good question and I ask myself often, is there a change happening because I’m just swimming in waters that people just know and speak this language and understand? Or is there actual impact that’s reaching people beyond kind-of just the converted? When I started pitching AccessNow like straight out of school, a lot of the first responses were, “Wow, I can’t believe nobody’s done this yet.” Which was good but also bad because it was hard to get people to think beyond “that’s a nice passion project”. I did do a lot of work–and we still do–to educate and convince people that accessibility is something worth investing in, that there is a competitive advantage to doing it well, that there’s a market here that people don’t really often think about. And so, often you know, in any work that I’m doing whether it’s an interview or I’m talking to a potential partner or doesn’t really matter, I’m often having to first educate them before we can even get into the conversation about what we could maybe do together.
Host: And it’s like, to be clear, you’re not running a not-for-profit. You’re running a business.
Maayan: Yeah, and a lot of people often assume that AccessNow is not-for-profit or a charity, I really love that we aren’t because it’s one more way to advocate. People assume, and why is that assumption there? Is it because people with disabilities need handouts or because there’s no profit in investing in accessibility that’s worthwhile? What’s the reason that people assume that AccessNow should be a charity? So the business model of AccessNow kind of happened organically where when I started I had no idea what I was building. I created something, put it out into the world, and then aside from just getting response from community–people who are actually using the platform–I started hearing from business owners who were like, “Listen, I spent a lot of money making my business accessible. I don’t know how to reach communities that would actually benefit from this.” So we [AccessNow] have become a really natural channel for accessible companies to reach consumers that benefit from their services.
Host: That’s cool. It’s interesting that we’re talking about, kind of like, the evolution of the perception of this and whether or not you’re being welcomed in and recognized because the awareness is changing or if it’s like a tokenization. Because I think in this year, if more than anything, there has been a huge moment wherein society’s just paying attention to all these things that I was very happy to not pay attention to before. And when we started this conversation we were talking about accessibility being more than like a ramp or an armbar or something like that, and from the perspective of this podcast we can take it to the digital tech realm and certainly the way that the pandemic has forced social isolation, like accessing important services from home, reliance upon tech to connect has been prompting. I think a lot more people to care about the design of the things that they’re now being forced to use because they don’t have the luxury or the privilege to go around them. So have you seen a sudden like, “Oh my god, I didn’t until I was forced to sit in my house every day. I never thought…” Or when we were doing the prep call for this one of the examples we were talking about on the production meeting was that there’s a lot more people using voice to text now or navigating complex video communication tools that they could have reasonably ignored and picked up a phone or things like that. Have you seen that conversation happening? Is that part of this or is it something separate?
Maayan: So even at AccessNow we had to have this conversation because our platform is primarily designed to help people get out of the house and do things. And so even for us, you know, when lockdown hit we had to have a conversation about: what do we do, what are we here to do now, and how are we still helpful if at all or are we just going to sit out and wait. What became really obvious is that in some ways people now, as you kind-of talked about, are understanding for the first time in their lives maybe what it’s like to not have access. So can we leverage that newfound understanding as a moment to generate genuine empathy? Like maybe that’s all that we need to do is just start with educating people on what does it feel like. And if you come from there, if now you understand for the first time in your life, do you want to help us build something that could actually empower more people everywhere and for always? And the second part of it was also looking at what else can we do to help our own community, people with disabilities, or anyone who needs access to do more. And we realized that we had been totally neglecting this opportunity which was basically what we now call “Access From Home”. So delivery services are going online, or working from home, or whatever it is that you are doing in your pandemic bubble is actually a form of accessibility and we should call it that because if we don’t we’ve missed the opportunity to bring people into this world with us, and it’ll have happened and people just go back to their lives and never make the connection that what they were benefiting from was something that people had disabilities have been advocating for for years before a pandemic ever happened.
Host: It takes me back to the point you made about accessibility. It’s sort of like this weirdly loaded term, right? It has connotations of charity and “dis” -ability. But if you think about it, I guess there are a couple of interesting things, just some anecdotes. One, when we had my son we had a stroller and I never paid attention where I was living in Toronto. Living in New York we had a stroller and man, oh man, was it hard to find… “Can I get on the subway? Is there an elevator here? Oh, what’s that? The elevator’s broken and you have to go to the next subway stop which is like two kilometers away.” Just shit like that, and there was not an ability issue, this was the context of the life that you happen to have, you know what I mean? So the continuum of what accessibility “looks like” in the physical realm is more than just people with “disabilities”. Then also in the digital realm, what I find interesting to your point, the screen readers and all that stuff. There are entire companies like Gong and stuff that rely on speech-to-text for their business model. There’s no charitable anything, that’s quite the opposite. We have all benefited from those multimodal technologies that allow us… like I’m a keyboard guy and I grew up with black screen. To anybody who’s listened to the old podcast we used to have, I was typing in everything. I’m a keyboard shortcut guy. I don’t want to use the mouse but you’re in a graphical world so you have to use them out. So all of these affordances that are in the physical world and are in the digital world are there and can be used for helping people be more able-bodied but also kind of fomenting new ways of interacting with the world and because they are there you can do those things. Have you seen an acceleration of that kind of interaction or are you finding it is still a slog to say “No no no, this is more than just accessibility in the altruistic or charitable sense.”?
Maayan: Yeah, it’s a mixed bag. You know, I think with tech we have this opportunity to kind of bridge this divide. The built environment is a lot harder because a lot of stuff has already built and then now we have to kind of chase after things and retrofit, and you know… lawsuits sometimes, and whatever it takes to just make something accessible. But tech is malleable and flexible and you can change it, and you can make something new with pretty low cost. But if you don’t know that it needs to be accessible itself you also can create a similar barrier in the digital world. Like I read a stat that–I think it’s something like–ten percent of websites are actually accessible, right?
Host: Yeah, yeah.
Maayan: So that means that all of the rest of the whole internet is actually still the same as a building with a step at the front for someone like me or if you’re blind, right? So I think there are these little moments of opportunity and we see these amazing innovations, but they’re kind of still.. they’re siloed to their own little bubbles. Then when they’re done so well then it’s the flip that’s like the opposite extreme. Like nobody thinks of text messaging as an accessible technology, but it was designed for and with someone with a disability first and now we all use it. We don’t talk about it like an accessibility anything, which is awesome, but then also means that we don’t have that awareness that there’s power from inclusive design so it’s kind of both.
Douglas: Yeah. I think Rob’s example was really great there because of his age because he’s super old. He has an awareness of technical interfaces that pre-date and are a layer below the current graphical interface. On top of that, you have additional things like voice commands, swipe gestures, and things like that. What I want to ask you is, how much of this is adding new things and a new design that really is focused on accessibility, and how much is it just that the current design for most interfaces is crappy? It’s like, it’s one thing if you don’t have to use voice-to-text or other commands or responsive websites but if that is the accessibility mode that you need it’s a real frustration. How much of it is like “Oh, we don’t have a way to solve this.” and more just like, “There’s just a lot of bad design out there and the stuff doesn’t work.”? And for some people during a pandemic or whatever it’s an annoyance, but for others, it’s like they need this thing to work. They need the social networks to provide the proper metadata so that their page reader can inform them of what’s happening on the screen visually. Is it missing design or is it really bad design that people are running up against?
Maayan: I like the example of the iPhone as being the best assistive tech that ever was, and maybe that’s a bit of like an exaggeration but I also feel confident to say it because I’m just gonna say.. so now it’s true.
Host: Cool, that’s how we roll on this podcast.
Maayan: That’s how it is. The majority of people who own an iPhone do not think about it as a form of assistive tech and yet everything inside, all the secret menus that most people never talk about, use, or you know, make any kind of use of, are there to empower people with disabilities to do things. Now actually, like I saw in one of the recent updates, there’s this cool thing where you can have your phone just like listen for stuff so you can have like a visual command that lets you know, “Oh, you know, there’s someone knocking or there’s a barking dog.” or like, there are different kinds of commands, and if you’re deaf that’s an amazing tool that your phone just comes with. You don’t have to go to the store and buy some fancy expensive specially designed thing for your special designed life. You could just have it there if you wanted or if you don’t, and I think for me that’s what I would love for people to understand [That] if you build something responsive the best tech out there is gonna make use of that and allow people to do what they want to do. You shouldn’t have to design a special gadget. It should just be flexible and inclusive enough that it integrates within your life the way you want it to.
Host: Yeah, just today I was notified by my iPhone that in iOS 14, they’re like, hey, you know there’s a setting where if you turn this on we’ll just let you know if your volume is too loud, or if you’ve been listening for at a too high of a decibels, like this is amazing. But again, beyond this the setting to do that isn’t much, but the system designed to look out for all the different use cases in which someone might need digital welcoming, like making sure that they don’t have to opt in or say, “Hey, I need help,” but that they’re just kind of like on ramps to whatever it is that they wanted to do anyways… I think is, requires a bit more of a push, just more proactive than a “pull request” thing, right? Like you don’t want to go to websites and have to turn on like reader mode or something like that.
Maayan: Exactly. It just requires education and awareness. That’s really all it is. Because once you’re actually coding you can do it to be accessible or not. It’s really that simple. It just takes time to understand that that’s what’s required. But it’s just like, if you’re gonna build a building, you need to make sure that there are certain fire safety protocols and if you don’t do that you don’t get to build the building. But yet we still have these like secret shortcuts where, “Oh well, I was never taught in school that inclusive design is a good thing that helps people, and by the way, my building will be more successful so I won’t do that and no one’s gonna come and knock on my door. If they do, then we’ll fix it.”
Host: So who’s deciding… what buildings to code from like a digital accessibility standpoint and like what is the code? We’re doing this over an internet that was never designed to do what we’re doing right now because we don’t work for DARPA and we’re not shooting rockets at people.
Maayan: *That we know of.*
Douglas: That we know. That’s weird that my eye keeps switching every time someone is..
So I’m wondering, correlated to this is, if you are a developer right now who 1) didn’t know that there’s keyboard shortcuts that Rob made you feel bad but 2) you’re like I don’t actually know of the react-native thing that I built the other day is actually accessible in the way that Maayan’s saying, where would you recommend that they kind of educate themselves on this?
Maayan: So the best place to start is the Google. And when you go to the “Googs” you, honestly like I actually was this person, I didn’t really know anything about accessible tech when I started building my company. People assumed that I would because I have a disability but I only knew *my* experience so I had to learn too, and I’m still learning, and all of us are because there are always better ways. But you just start with kind of the WCAG standards, you know, and there’s different levels of compliance so whether you’re a like a AA or AAA, and there’s like all these technical things that you can get into. But if you just start by just understanding… you know, honestly what my favorite example is there’s this–I don’t have an idea how you would find it–but I tweeted it so you could just go back on my Twitter and eventually find it. Because that’s very technical, maybe if you are a developer it works for you to start there, but I find that the human examples work the best. So for example, there’s this woman and she tweeted a video of herself using her iPhone and she basically was just using the screen reader to go through an app. You could see how there were parts of the app that were not accessible and it just didn’t compute. She couldn’t do the things she wanted. Seeing an actual example of that play out, I find so much more rewarding and illuminating than reading a bunch of standards off a page because it gives you a human example of what it actually feels like–and that’s the same with disability-anything. So with accessibility work, what I try to do when people are “What is it like?”. [I tell them] come with me somewhere and let’s try and do something. And we actually do that now–well before COVID, that was part of the training–like if you join the company you have to go on a Map Mission. You have to go out and do something and come across a barrier and see what it’s like.
BetaKit’s Black Swan podcasts is brought to you by TWG, a modern application development and data engineering consultancy. TWG helped BetaKit launch it’s very first podcast back in 2016 and they’re stepping up to the plate now to help us from the Canadian innovation ecosystem needs the most. We couldn’t be more grateful for the support and Rob’s history lessons on poor design from the 80s. If you want to learn more about what TWG can build, check them out at twg.io.
Host: I’m going back to your previous point about the digital-physical thing. There’s so much from a physical perspective. Now you’re looking at the digital stuff and thinking about that, and that’s a how long is a piece of string kind of problem. How do you know how to focus your time one versus the other?
Maayan: Well, I guess it depends on what you do. If you build websites that do the digital stuff…
Host: No, you. You as a business, as AccessNow.
Maayan: Oh, me! Not like the general you.
Host: No, no. Not the one but the you. Not the royal you, I know you’re used to the royal kind.
Host: We’ve all been watching too much crap…
Maayan: What do we focus on? Okay. It’s a good question, and for me there are so many problems when it comes to the accessibility space. It is a field that has been neglected. It’s a market that hasn’t really experienced a lot of innovation until recently, and there’s really just opportunity everywhere, like everywhere. It’s so cool to me that I get on a call and every day it’s like, “Oh, that’s a huge problem. Someone should go build a business and solve that problem.” No one’s thinking about it unless you live the world of disability so it’s just everywhere, and that again leads to education and the need for awareness. But for me what it started with was asking myself first, and then I asked a whole bunch of other people, what would be most impactful for my own life. What it came down to is visibility and the ability to actually do the things I want with less static, less frustration, less friction.
Maayan: Yeah, that’s the word I was looking for. For example, there’s a couple companies focused on navigation and route planning. That’s cool. I think that’s amazing. I hope we meet in the middle. What I wanted to do, and the reason we didn’t start there, is because I could get on a bus and go around all day long, but if I can’t get off and do anything, then I’m not super motivated to even engage in the first place. I wanted to start with the destination and work backwards, and that’s really what we’re doing.
Host: But the point of navigation I think is a really interesting one because I just had this experience this past weekend actually where we were traveling in a vehicle which we had rented to a place that I’d ever been before. We, with a relatively new driver, and we needed navigation to get there. “Where are we going to?” “We’re going to Google Maps.” At a certain point, I don’t know if you ever use a Google Maps navigator, it’s pretty robust like they know how to handle things, you can connect to the audio speakers of the car so that it’s playing so you’re not looking at a screen. It’s doing all these different things. Then at one point, it was getting to be later in the evening because we had taken more time than we thought we’re going to, and the screen on my phone just switched from, you know, that classic Google completely white screen to an inverted dark mode so that it was way easier to visually see. It was just stark contrast. You could, even without a light on in the vehicle, really dark on the QEW, you could see that navigation even if you couldn’t connect to the car. And I was like, wow, one, I didn’t know when they had that feature. I don’t drive; we’re not driving people. So I don’t know how long it’s been in there, certainly it wasn’t in there from the beginning. But then also, I was like, “This is easier to see all the time not just in the darkness. Why isn’t it this way all the time? Why did they have to wait to add a thing to time it to the internal clock that knows that the sun is setting to do this? Why didn’t they just make it?” If they know enough to change it and kind of be helpful in one certain mode, why isn’t it like that all the time. And I think it relates to this question that we have where we have to deal with, whether it’s iPhone for the device or the OS and the app interface, or Google when it comes to web services, these major platform providers because we don’t deal with technology anymore that is open standard space. So to what extent are you seeing these major platform providers enable support allow for accessibility development and to what extent are they limiting? I’m not just like hating someone’s updating an app, this feature can’t be read on with a screen reader anymore, but more like, we can’t even use those kind of things because Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, Amazon, don’t support it and they’re actually our access to digital, connected services now.
Maayan: It was a few weeks or months ago or days ago, who knows anymore, Twitter announced they released their audio notes. And when they did that they actually faced a lot of backlash because they didn’t release it in an accessible format. There was no captioning associated with that release which meant that they alienated a lot of their community because Twitter is actually quite an accessible tool. It’s just tech space, it’s pretty simple to work with and it’s pretty flexible that way. But this new kind of announcement really hurt the community that was quite strongly favoring Twitter as a tool. The thing that I think we forget is that… we talked about it a little bit earlier about accessibility as good design or human-centered design requires people’s perspectives to inform those decisions. One of the next big problems that we’re not really focused on today, but it’s still very much part of the ecosystem is employment for people with disabilities. There’s a lot of stigma, there’s a lot of stereotype. It’s really not cool, and I’ll just say it like that, that we live in a world where people with disabilities are traumatically underemployed and yet this is exactly where people with disabilities have so much insight. Specifically in tech if we bring those skill sets to the table in the design phases, there’s no way that a company like Twitter could announce a new tool that is not accessible if there are people on the team that understands that from a lived experience perspective. And so one thing that I constantly push for, doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest company or the smallest company, is not neglecting to see the value in that voice and how much it can contribute to your own product or your company or literally anything you do.
Rob: Yeah. I mean, that’s true diversity, isn’t it? A bit of how this is juxtaposed in the real world… but you know on the internet, Google searches the web as a blind person. So if you’re website is accessible that’s how Google sees the internet. Back when, I always date myself on these things…
Douglas: It’s okay, Rob. It’s educational, buddy.
Rob: When mobile phones first came out..
Douglas: …in the 1920s when they had the wind up…
Rob: Yes, you had to wind it with a finger… There was a different web language for mobile phones. It was called WML. Not HTML but WML. But if you’d built it, if you’d architected it where the data was sort of separate and thoughtfully designed you could actually reconstruct that into HTML, the regular language of the web. But again this is good business. This isn’t just like altruism. This actually powers your business. So if you designed it with some concept or some sort of, you don’t have to be empathetic you can be completely capitalistic… so I’m curious, you know we’re in 2021 almost, have you seen something like that manifesting in its real world? Are we still band-aiding things or are you actually seeing, when we’re designing structures and people are opening new businesses it’s not the city coming in bludgeoning them with bylaws but they’re like actually this allows moms with prams to come in and wheelchairs and dogs.. because again it’s also like there’s this black and white thing where you’re in a wheelchair or you’re not.
Maayan: Yeah totally. Or also like there’s this weird relationship where people feel guilty for using a ramp or an elevator like, “Oh, first this is for the person who uses a wheelchair, it’s not for me.” “Oh, I’m so sorry.” They don’t feel that guilty on a subway, I’ll say, when there’s only one, they don’t feel guilty then but everywhere else they feel guilty. And I find like, imagine that every door was the accessible door we wouldn’t feel guilty, we would just be happier. Things would just work a little bit better for everyone.
Douglas: The connection that I would like to make to what Rob was saying before and what you had mentioned with text. So SMS is a standard. WML is a standard. HTML is a standard. Those are very different than platforms like Twitter or a closed OS like iOS or Android. So to what extent should we, instead of putting the burden, you know, it’s the burden on every company, to what they would adhere to this but instead of having them try to rebuild or patch the problems that we looked more, building more accessible standards that people can plug into and the way that they do for like, it’s what made video accessible, it’s what made captioning accessible, it’s what’s made copyright accessible, like all of these things don’t come from companies. Even, you know, Bluetooth comes from organizations that set standards that then the world could adopt and we have that kind of network effect… is that?
Maayan: Yeah, the only piece that I think is missing in that thinking is that when we talk about standards there’s this slippery slope to compliance and then people build to compliance, and that’s something that they do to check off a box somewhere and say that we did the thing and now we’re compliant to the standard. If you design something to be flexible and responsive to human needs, it’s a much more open conversation. Use the standards as your starting place to build off of but don’t stop there. I think that the accessibility space is really rapidly evolving right now and also because there’s this overall tone of like that’s not acceptable anymore, but you can’t just kind of be ignorant and get away with it. I think the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s really helped other communities find a slightly different tone to how we push for progress on a larger amplified scale. I find that… someone was telling me this story the other day… but like, if you’re waiting at a bus stop and there’s a woman at the bus stop and the bus passes that woman and doesn’t let it on the bus that’d be on the front page of the news. You could say because she was a woman she wasn’t allowed on the bus, not acceptable. If you were of any other minority group and you were standing at the bus stop and you weren’t allowed on the bus because you were black or because you were gay or because whatever, that would probably also make the news. Literally, people with disabilities are waiting at bus stops every single day and it’s not making the news. So we’re still missing the community that’s loud enough to make that awareness so apparent that you… I actually don’t care if you do it because you are running after money, or you’re running after a good cause, or you’re trying to do the right thing, or you’re following compliance and you’re following laws. Whether it’s an economic incentive, or a human rights incentive, or a legal incentive, the point of it is that what I hope that we get to and we’re not there yet is that we find the reasons that people want to make things accessible and they chase that.
Host: Yeah, and it’s two things. So you’re I think you’re really talking about like the extent to which intersectional accessibility applies to a lot of different types of access like physical, social, technological like just across full-spectrum, but then… before you’re talking about empathy is being a great tool to get people to understand and see this, certainly, there have been a lot of people being forced to sit in front of their digital screen whatever way and learning some real truths about how easy it is to do things through now constrained or dedicated matter when they might have had a multitude of options before. I actually think that to your point of you don’t really care what convinces people to adopt this and care. I think empathy gets a lot of people and it’s a great tool. We should have empathy generation machines in society because we learn more right on a process of good design as a process of learning of how to make things better. But I think the other one is shame. I think there are developers right now listening to this and be like, “No, no. Ours is good. It’s blah blah. Like oh, it’s too much work blah blah.” and if you were to run their product in front of them on a demo down Friday and walk them through all the ways that this stuff breaks and how a person who needs to use the thing that they care about building every day doesn’t work, it would change way faster. In the Twitter case, they were operating from a position of like, “Well, we can launch the thing, and then we’ll work to make it all these other things.” even though they already have the captioning tech and other parts of their website there are open standards for that stuff. But it is the shame that gets them to realize, “Oh, that can’t actually be an afterthought.” Maybe there’s a closed alpha, you stack technology on top of each other but you don’t release that to the general public anymore because the general public can include a lot of different types of people who need that. Are we all team shame here?
Maayan: Yes and no. I do both. So AccesNow has a little bit has that built-in. Like we didn’t just go around celebrating. We also, fully great places that are not accessible make that publicly known, create that transparency, put it on social media. we’ve done a lot of kind of grassroots gorilla style media campaign work where we actually flag places that are not accessible, create conversations about how that’s not okay, bring the business into that conversation and see where and how we can create progress. But the challenge is that if you just focus on shame you create fear. We are already dealing with the topic that people are afraid of disability because they don’t understand it. So if we create a conversation that is just driven by fear and shame, it alienates people as opposed to what I want to do, and really one of the deepest pieces of why AccessNow exists is to find the reason, find the thing that shifts a culture into wanting access for everyone. There’s got to be something, and our bet is that we can use tech to do that.
Rob: That’s actually the perfect segway to our last question. I think we’re you know, this will be going out “airwaves” right before the end of 2020 going to a “How could it be worse 2021” right? What gets you out of bed for 2021 in the morning? What are you excited about that you’re like, “I see something here”?
Maayan: 2021 for us is really really active in the data space. In the first five years or so we spent a lot of time educating. We started really really scrappy, bootstrapped our way up the beginning, and raised enough money to build out a proper team. Now we’re really focused on data-driven insights, creating indexes that help people understand that these are the most successful cities in the world. Not based on what some politicians said to appeal to the right audience but based on facts, based on data. Yeah, and driven by people’s kind of micro sets of data from their own lives. For me that’s really what we’re focused on next and we’re moving into more outdoor spaces as well so that we understand that accessibility is not just the place with the front door. We’re expanding a little bit of that definition, but yeah, it’s really focused on finding different and experimental ways to use tech to understand those insights. People think that we’re just a crowdsourcing platform, we’re not. But I haven’t shared much about that publicly yet.
Douglas: Okay, well, we love breaking news on this podcast so win for us to close at the year. But then also a second when we would love to have you, you know, I love the idea of “Hey, it’s human-centered design and successful design but informed by data.” So when you have that data ready to share, we would love to have you back on hopefully not this podcast because it’s pandemic-focused so like a regular standard happy-go-lucky BetaKit podcast on how we can not just forget about all the important things that 2020 reminded us of because of the pandemic, right? So we’d love to have you back and share some data.
Maayan: Sounds good.
The Black Swan podcast is produced by BetaKit with support from TWG. Our editor is Katie Laura, our hosts are Rob Kenedi, and me, Douglas Soltys.