AccessNow’s Maayan Ziv: Accessibility is the key to tech innovation
Maayan Ziv is a photographer turned entrepreneur who found her passion by working to solve the accessibility challenges she faces in everyday life. Now, she’s an advocate for accessibility in tech through her company, AccessNow. Read on to see her global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I got involved in tech when I started my Master’s degree in Digital Media at Ryerson University in September 2014. I’m a two-time Ryerson University graduate, having done my undergrad in Radio and Television Arts (RTA).
After my undergrad, I was a photographer working in Toronto, but realized I needed a new creative challenge. I had been entrepreneurial in my life as a photographer, and the digital media program felt like a fit because you learn by doing.
In the first week of the program, I had an “aha moment” about a personal struggle.
Some friends wanted to go get drinks after class, and we agreed quickly on a location. However, I use a wheelchair, and was left trying to figure out for myself if the bar my friends had suggested was an accessible space.
The reality of needing accessible spaces follows me everywhere I go.
I thought that if I was having this problem, I couldn’t be alone. There were no resources to provide these kinds of answers, so if I could come up with a solution I would be able to help a lot of people.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
I’d start in Kensington Market on a ‘pedestrian Sunday’. Kensington has become more accessible recently, which has changed my outlook. In particular, we’d stop at Wanda’s and get a pie.
Then I’d take them on the ferry to Ward’s Island, with both the ferry ride and the island being the focus.
On the ferry, you get to see Toronto from a macro-level, and it’s beautiful. There’s also this glow-effect that happens while you’re on the ferry as the sunlight refracts through the slightly curved glass of the ferry windows. It’s magical and I fall in love with Toronto every time I see it.
Once on the island, we’d go for a stroll on the boardwalk.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
This is tough because each one resonates.
#DiversityIsOurStrength is something i have been living and breathing since AccessNow began. We talk about this a lot in Toronto and Canada, but sometimes people forget what diversity means and what it actually looks like.
Diversity being our strength is not about metrics and checkboxes to say you have XYZ represented. It’s about the support systems in place to amplify diversity so that it brings the most that it can. It’s not just about having a seat at the table, but being able to speak at the table. This is when we truly see the strength in diversity.
We also need to recognize that people contribute in different ways.
#DiversityIsOurStrength, to me, is about encouraging people to say, “this is what I can bring to the table,” and working from there, instead of using a cookie cutter mold of what someone else expects of a certain type of person.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is to make every product, event, and outlet for talking about tech accessible so we can enable every individual to be part of, and contribute to, the ecosystem.
People still have the idea that accessibility is only for a minority group, but when I speak about accessibility I mean making sure that anyone can use a piece of technology or attend an event. It’s not just about accommodating a wheelchair, it’s thinking about what other people can bring to the table and then making sure they are able to do so.
For example, I was asked recently about great coding camps by a friend who uses a wheelchair. There are so many amazing ones in Toronto, but the vast majority are in older buildings or otherwise inaccessible. This is a big problem and we need be thinking of those issues as we build the future of tech.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
The world needs to know that we not only have amazing talent in Toronto, but we’re willing to help and support each other.
When I started my business, I was able to network and connect with others who were willing to help me. People in Toronto and Canada are so giving of their time and advice, but the best part is that these people were from all backgrounds – government, startups, working parents, recent immigrants, etc. – meaning that I got great advice from all types of people.
Every type of background is here and it’s one of the most cool things about the city.