Innovation helping bring accessibility to online world

November 20
By Sean Meyer
Ryan Kelly remembers growing up with a friend who was living with cerebral palsy and witnessing first-hand what she’d go through every day just to have the same opportunities he did. 
That experience – along with a mom who worked in human resource and would share the problems she dealt with around accessibility — helped put Ryan on a path to help address barriers in the online world.
About eight months ago, Ryan founded Ascend Applications with the intention of leveling the virtual playing field.
“I started researching what was involved with that, especially around web development and that sort of thing,” he explains. “I noticed there were a lot of things that were reoccurring on various websites and I wanted to build, essentially, the software patch that could fix a lot of those issues that I found.”
Ryan started programming and creating small games in Grade 7 before developing his first app when in Grade 9. 
After one year at Fanshawe College, Ryan decided to drop out of school to begin developing the initial concept for what his plug-in would look like, building to where he could start growing his venture into a viable company.
“It just felt like the right time, especially with the guidelines for AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), which come into play in 2021,” he said. “I felt there was a big need for what I was doing.”
When it comes to making websites accessible, Ryan said there is a list of 60 guidelines developers need to check off when building out a website to get to AAA compliance — the highest level — with the AODA. 
One of the most obvious examples of inaccessibility, Ryan explains, might sound like a simple fix, but it can be a real problem for some.
When Ryan looks at the text on a lot of websites today, and compares it to the background colour (for example, light grey text on a white background, which he said “is really common”), it can be quite difficult for someone with low vison to actually read it. 
“I find a lot of developers don’t think about online barriers because they themselves don’t have a disability in that way,” he said. “You are trying to get people who haven’t thought about this for a long time, to get them all of the sudden to take these things into consideration . . . it can take time to change their thinking.”
To help bring about that shift — and to help get his business off the ground — Ryan participated in a pitch competition at LEAP Junction, through Fanshawe College. Unfortunately — at least it seemed that way at the time —  he “completely bombed it.”
Still, Ryan had the opportunity to speak with Pillar Nonprofit Network social enterprise coach Julie Forrester, who suggested he look to Innovation Works.
After being accepted into the Libro Credit Union social enterprise incubator, he moved into Innovation Works and has found that opportunity has significantly pushed his business forward.
Ryan is quick to laud the opportunities at Innovation Works, in particular meeting with entrepreneurs facing the same challenges he is and getting their advice — and even assistance — along the way.
“Coming onboard . . . meeting new people and really getting out there, it’s been really helpful,” he said. “The Libro program has amazing mentorship opportunities. I’ve been able to speak with Julie about business stuff. I’ve been talking a bit with Nick (Nick van der Velde) about capital and finance. Helping me understand that stuff has been a big deal.”
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