Toronto-based AccessNow recently won the Novartis Prize for Assistive Tech for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) beating over 150 submissions. AccessNow plans to use the funding to help further develop its accessibility platform.
Global pharmaceutical company Novartis launched the $250,000 USD prize in late 2019 to identify and encourage technology and “beyond-the-pill solutions” with the potential to improve mobility, accessibility, and daily life for people living with MS.
“Accessibility is a critical component of establishing a welcoming and barrier-free world for people with disabilities.”
“As a Canadian entrepreneur, it’s an honour to be awarded the Novartis Innovation Prize,” said Maayan Ziv, AccessNow’s founder and CEO. “Accessibility is a critical component of establishing a welcoming and barrier-free world for people with disabilities. MS touches the lives of Canadians at one of the highest rates in the world and this community has acted as an integral voice in our movement.”
MS is an autoimmune disease that disrupts the normal function of the brain, optic nerves, and spinal cord, often hampering mobility. According to the MS Society of Canada, MS affects over 77,000 Canadians. Innovations that improve accessibility can make life more manageable for those living with MS.
AccessNow’s online platform, available via mobile app or web, crowdsources information on the accessibility of public spaces and venues like restaurants and businesses, offering a TripAdvisor-like user experience. Its platform makes it easier for people living with disabilities to move around.
“It is our hope that through this Innovation Prize, we have been able to help reimagine care for people living with MS by encouraging new technologies addressing some of the challenges people with MS face every day,” said Andrea Marazzi, general manager of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada.
The competition was initially supposed to take place at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, but since the event was cancelled due to COVID-19, it took place virtually.
“The Novartis Innovation Prize represents a great opportunity to help the world understand the impact of living with multiple sclerosis, but also to explore how technology and innovation facilitates mobility and fosters connection for the MS community,” said Tim Coetzee, prize judge and chief advocacy, services and research officer at the National MS Society in the United States.
“It is inspiring to see the patient community, innovators, venture capital, large tech companies, and high impact technology come together and showcase the potential to improve the daily lives of those living with MS or other disabilities,” he added. “Sustained collaboration and innovation in these diverse sectors are vital to ensure that the needs of these communities are being met.”
Ziv founded AccessNow in 2015. Barring a $20,000 investment from Next 36, the company was bootstrapped until it received a $2.7 million grant in August 2019 from the federal government’s Accessible Technology Program.
Last year, Ziv told BetaKit that the startup began with her own experience. “I’ve used the wheelchair throughout my entire life, trying to figure out which places were actually accessible to me. Before AccessNow, there wasn’t really any platform that could answer the question: is this place going to be accessible?”
In light of COVID-19, AccessNow recently launched Access From Home, a directory that helps people connect to businesses, like food delivery, supplies, virtual experiences, and online banking, from home, and hopes to increase awareness of the importance of inclusive business practices.
AccessNow claims that, to date, its platform has 26,299 places pinned across 34 countries.
Image source AccessNow.