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August 2019

Innovative app enables accessible buildings

At a glance
The interns

Ishita Saraswat from Dayalbagh Educational Institute Dayalbagh, Agra (India) and Aymen Brahim from University of Sfax (Tunisia)

Hosted by

Professor Christo El Morr, York University

Associate Professor of Health Informatics
Health Informatics Certificate Coordinator

School of Health Policy and Management

The research

Ensuring accessibility regulations are met through an app that identifies non-compliance.

Institutions, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses across Ontario are frequently caught off-guard and are at risk of non-compliance with the recent Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); the Act requires improved accessibility in buildings. Without a clear inventory of problem areas, organizations are often unknowingly at risk for penalties.

Ishita Saraswat, a senior undergraduate student from Dayalbagh Educational Institute Dayalbagh, Agra in India and her Tunisian peer, Aymen Brahim from the University of Sfax’s National School of Electronics and Telecommunication (ENET’COM)are Mitacs Globalink Interns who have discovered that the best approach is to identify the problem and implement the solution at the same time via an online app.

Together with Professor Christo El Morr at York University, they are spending the summer developing an Android app that identifies and records inaccessibility issues in public areas and buildings through a platform that connects with users. These records can then be brought to the attention of the building administration to be rapidly resolved.

Visualization and accurate locations

Unfortunately, due to a lack of inventory of buildings with accessibility barriers, the AODA regulations aren’t having their intended impact.

The app is the first of its kind to record issues and consult with community in parallel to develop potential solutions. No other app has been developed to ensure the AODA regulations.

The agility of a smart phone means issues can be identified and logged in real time. The app not only provides a list, it is kept up-to-date through collaborative efforts by its users. It allows the user to photograph an issue, and use a map-visualization tool that quickly and accurately identifies locations.

Community-minded

Professor El Morr says, “The idea emerged in a discussion I had with my partner in this project, Prof. Nancy Davis Halifax, at the end of a meeting in the Critical Disability program at the School of Health Policy and Management. Nancy was eager to help York University students report accessibility deficiencies on campus.

“She suggested the use of information technology to address this issue, particularly an app. I suggested designing the app to link to a virtual community platform that allows online community members to collaborate actively to report accessibility issues and request solutions.

“Thus, the app keeps an inventory of accessibility issues that can be used by people in charge of providing accessibility solutions to address those requests. The hope is that the app can be a catalyst for advocacy and collaboration; it may foster a community spirit as well. The interdisciplinary nature of the School of Health Policy and Management (SHPM) and our engagement in the disability field stimulated the first ‘spark’ of the project.”

The breakthrough

This research will inform processes in place for all public buildings to fulfil the AODA regulations. For Ishita, she found from working in a foreign university that the work culture is inclusive and open towards new ideas.

She says, “I learned the importance of teamwork and how important it is to communicate with each member of the team equally. Working in a team is great as one gets to learn a lot from their colleagues.”

For Aymen, working in Canada means including values into the work, “The diversity of the people and the ideas they generate reflect the core values in this country. They include treating all people with respect, dignity and fairness, with engagement and inclusion being the building blocks of a healthy workplace.”

Ishita is also improving her technical skills, saying, “Our search for a perfect database for this app leads us in many different directions. We finally agreed that MySQL would be the best fit as the database.”  

But collegiality was the greatest skill she developed.

“The major benefit of working in Canada is I feel my peers and supervisors are very encouraging. They encourage new ideas and provide a flexible work environment so that I can give my one-hundred percent.”

The students’ work was well received.

Professor El Morr says, “This particular project provides a way to explore virtual communities in the activism realm. Technical problems often arise during the development of an app; however, both students — Ishita Saraswat and Aymen Brahim — showed a great deal of intellectual curiosity, determination and hard work to solve them.

“I think that this app is proof that interdisciplinary research work is innovative and can lead to positive impact. The concept is versatile and extendible to other fields where electronic collaboration is needed.”

Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada, along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of Manitoba, and the Government of Quebec for their support of the Globalink Research Internship program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with the following international partners to support Globalink: Universities Australia; Brazil’s Universidade de São Paulo; China Scholarship Council; Campus France; German Academic Exchange Service; Mexico’s Government of the State of Guanajuato, EDUCAFIN, and Tecnológico de Monterrey; Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche scientifique, des Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication de la Tunisie and Mission universitaire de Tunisie en Amérique du Nord; and Ukrainian-Canadian Foundation of Taras Shevchenko.


Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: BD@mitacs.ca