As a leader in accessibility with a growing global impact, Verbit was honored to once again be selected to join Access Israel and the Israeli delegation at the Zero Project Conference at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. Verbit joined Access Israel in years past after connecting to its mission to promote accessibility and inclusion to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities, among others.
Amit Paz, Corporate Development Associate at Verbit, represented the company on February 22-24th to connect with accessibility leaders and representatives from the 42 countries that attended.
The Zero Project Conference brings together researchers, innovators, policymakers, people with disabilities and other stakeholders to form partnerships that will help create “a world with zero barriers,” a concept that Verbit and its leadership are committed to seeing through to fruition.
This year’s event covered topics related to civic education, voting rights, early childhood intervention, self-employment and more. The event marked an opportunity for Verbit to showcase the strides it’s making in developing technology that supports worldwide inclusivity and accessibility. It also gave Paz and Verbit an opportunity to forge relationships with tech companies using their innovations for good.
Paz said he was honored that Verbit is being recognized on a global scale by leaders in the accessibility world. He returned from the event with three key takeaways, which Verbit’s leadership plans to focus on while progressing on its mission to use technology to make the world more accessible.
1. Centering our mission on the ‘why’ factor
While technology plays a pivotal role in many efforts to break down barriers, the methods themselves shouldn’t always be the primary focus, Paz said.
“Attending the conference emphasized for me the importance of the cultural element of inclusivity in the accessibility space. The emphasis is on the why. The mission, more than anything else, is key,” said Paz.
There was also great talk about looking at not just accessibility but how to implement its solutions to promote the benefits of inclusivity.
For example, Megan Lawrence, Global Director of Accessibility at Nike USA, illustrated this concept during an interview about the company’s inclusivity efforts. She discussed how Nike creates FlyEase shoes that are accessible versions of their existing models. However, Lawrence pointed out that the company is now incorporating the technology Nike created for FlyEase shoes into their other models as well.
“We have the FlyEase label to indicate to people in the disability community that the shoe is built to be accessible, but we do not want to stop there because we have seen the power of making it easy to get sneakers on,” said Lawrence.
This example resonated with Paz and the Verbit team for its close ties to discussions about the added benefits of captioning content for everyone. This emphasis on ‘Universal Design Principles,’ in which the focus shifts from responding to specific requests for accommodations and instead incorporates accessibility and inclusive practices into the original design, is growing. Making the world more inclusive through the power of accessibility solutions to enhance the experiences of everyone are core missions of Verbit. We were thrilled to see companies as iconic as Nike approach access and inclusion today by embracing the reasons behind these efforts.
2. The stakes are high and personal
Paz happily reported that accessibility and inclusion are much more than business pursuits for the leaders who attended the conference.
“The overwhelming majority of people working in this space have a personal reason for their involvement in accessibility. Either they have a disability themselves, or a close family member has a disability. This drove them to be part of the community or to innovate new products to help them or their relatives better integrate into their surroundings,” said Paz.
Ravit Dadon, CEO of ASAT (As Simple As That), an Israeli startup, spoke and showcased this mentality during Let’s Talk: Zero Barriers. Dadon co-founded the organization after becoming the caregiver for a family member with dementia. Her personal experiences influenced the development of ASAT’s technology.
Aleksander Helmersberg, CEO and founder of Milla Says, who participated in the Zero Project’s pitch event, named his company after his daughter. Milla Says is a platform and digital community that helps sign language users learn to communicate better. Helmersberg developed the idea while working with his young daughter, who uses sign language and often became frustrated trying to communicate with others.
It’s exciting to see that the leaders and entrepreneurs who joined Verbit at the conference have personal commitments to the cause. The backstories also serve as indicators that progress will continue as these individuals have a clear stake in the accessibility game.
3. Full inclusion in society is the ultimate goal
As Verbit works with 3,000 customers globally, our team often sees that accessibility laws and regulations tend to create the main drivers for accessibility adoption and standards. However, Paz said it was clear that the Zero Project Conference participants are working toward a loftier goal, which Verbit’s team shares: full inclusion.
“The most distinct trend I detected at the conference was the desire for accessibility technology and initiatives to enable the full integration of people with disabilities into every aspect of regular social interactions. For example, there was a heavy emphasis on accessibility and political participation, or accessibility and patient-specific healthcare, on making art and public spaces more accessible,” Paz said.
In one session, human rights lawyer, Oliver Lewis, discussed the right to vote and the barriers that people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities face related to political participation. In another session, Kaloyan Kamenov, a technical officer with the World Health Organization (WHO), explained the barriers that people with disabilities face related to telehealth.
Although the sessions often highlighted areas in need of more work, these challenges also offer clear opportunities for progress. The many startups that joined Paz and Verbit at the event demonstrated that creative thinkers are committing themselves and their goals to coming up with ways to make all aspects of life more accessible.
“Entrepreneurship is realizing the weakness of a system, and then developing an innovation to solve that very problem,” said Irene Fialka, the CEO of INiTS, one of Vienna’s high-tech incubators. According to Fialka, “accessibility is a great chance for innovators,” as it presents opportunities to develop useful solutions.
How Verbit will continue its work in driving greater inclusivity
Verbit is proud to employ a team of creative thinkers, emotionally connected teammates and true supporters of accessibility initiatives worldwide as it continues to create impact. We’d like to offer a warm thank you to Access Israel for continuing to believe in our ability to lead Israel and the world to become more inclusive. From hosting company hackathons to attending conferences like this one to expand on our ideas and solutions, we’re only just beginning. To learn more about accessibility and inclusivity initiatives and solutions that Verbit is developing, feel free to reach out to us.