An announcement late last week involving builder and developer The Daniels Corporation and accessibility technology company AccessNow marks a major step forward in determining how the advancement of smart cities can help people with disabilities live comfortably and prosperously.
AccessNow, a mobile app that provides “a pan-disability lens on the accessibility of physical spaces around the world,” partners with Daniels to map the accessibility of businesses and public spaces in Toronto’s Regent Park, Canada’s largest social network , to rate and rank. residential community.
Daniels and Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) are currently redeveloping a 69-acre site that will include not only new housing developments, but also the recently completed World Urban Pavilion at 660 Dundas St. E.
A multi-year partnership between the Urban Economy Forum (UEF), UN-Habitat, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and Daniels, the pavilion is “designed as a knowledge-sharing hub where stakeholders from around the world can come together to share lessons and best practices in sustainable urban development.” according to the press release†
Jake Cohen, Chief Operating Officer of Daniels, said that “one of the social development goals set out by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” . This pavilion where we are now is a step toward achieving those goals.
“For all of us at Daniels, smart is more than just a buzzword. It is more than a reference to technological progress when it comes to housing or home automation. Smart also means intelligent and perceptive practices that address the needs of what really makes communities thrive: people.”
The key to making that possible is AccessNow, developed in 2015 by Maayan Ziv, the founder and CEO, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a form of Muscular Dystrophy.
It came out in time for the ParaPan Am Games being held in Toronto, and then, as it does now, it focused on how accessible buildings were. What started as a website with content based on crowdsourced reviews and people sharing information has grown into something much bigger.
That said, the human factor is crucial. For example, in late May, the AccessNow team, Daniels and local residents of Regent Park, participated in an event called MapMission that explored the “accessibility of places nearby.”
“A total of 500 accessibility features were observed across the community, including automatic doors, accessible parking and elevators, digital menus, Braille, lowered counters and gender-neutral toilets,” said a press release outlining the collaboration.
“The aim of the collaboration is to map, assess and rank the accessibility of businesses and public spaces in Regent Park. The results of the evaluation and mapping processes will highlight both the successes and the barriers that currently exist for people with disabilities in the way they live, work and play within the community.”
But now, instead of what Ziv described as a “low-tech approach” used seven years ago, AccessNow is building “a connected ecosystem – empowering people with disabilities worldwide by connecting consumers, businesses, governments, engineers and entrepreneurs with our intelligent, anonymized data source.”
The company says its “patent-pending technology uses AI and machine learning to understand and predict how accessible the world really is, based on a variety of sensor data.
“We are working closely with our community to train our models to learn accurately from the experiences of people with disabilities to develop ethical and inclusive AI.”
Meanwhile, Ziv says the “accessibility insights we’re mapping and highlighting in the AccessNow app are the collective voices of the disability community that will inspire the future of inclusive smart urbanism.”
People who share information “remain the heart and soul of what we do, but we can now use that information – that data – to actually train our AI models to understand the world from the perspective of people with disabilities. We have image models; we have sensor data models; and we train them to be able to look at spaces without having to be there every time.”
The company, says Dr. Moshe Levin, the chief technology officer, “stands at the incredible intersection between advanced technology and social impact. We are on the edge of computer vision, sound analysis, kinematic signal processing and text comprehension, all to provide real value and insight to our community. ”