Sunday, August 12, 2018

Crowd-sourcing information on accessible products and services

We have many wonderful accessibility solutions in the market today, but still many of the people who would benefit most do not know about them. Israeli platform yoocan works on closing this gap. yoocan is the #1 global collaborative community for experiences and knowledge by and for people with disabilities, so no one feels alone. CEO Moshe Gaon explains how yoocan was created, how it works and where it is headed. 

What is yoocan’s mission and how did it come to be? 

Moshe: It started with a personal story. My brother’s son, Erez, was born with a rare disease that resulted in complex cognitive & physical disabilities. I witnessed what this was doing to our family. There are two main implications for families when a family member has a disability: there is a strong feeling of loneliness and there is also a huge frustration that they cannot find a solution that helps them and their family member with the disability. In many cases, solutions do exist but may be not available in their country, or their city.

Being a businessman myself and looking at start-ups around the world, I was astonished that there exists no collaborative community where people in this situation can ask questions and get information about available solutions. So the vision was to create a collaborative community for and by people with disabilities and their families from around the world and pool information on what’s out there – it could be finding other people in similar situations, activities, organisations, products, innovations…

People can come into this collaborative community to do four things:

  • share experiences and tips
  • explore knowledge of others through their experiences and stories
  • search for products, services, organisations, innovation
  • access and buy products in a simple way

yoocan was designed to be by 2020 the n°1 collaborative platform for people with disabilities and their families and friends. It is user generated content that is provided for free by people with disabilities, organisations, innovators and companies.

How do you ensure the quality of the content on your platform when everything is user generated? 

Moshe: We control and precheck everything before it is published. Our team has to approve every new user account, organisation, product, service, story before it goes online. Since we have now a network of around 900 organisations we have relationships with, we have access to a lot of knowledge in this area and can always backcheck if we are not sure about one piece of content.

What is yoocan’s business model? 

Moshe: yoocan is a for profit undertaking. While the information is freely accessible on the platform to the user, our idea is to gain money in a way similar to Amazon by providing a platform for companies that can sell their products and services on this platform.

We have also created recently the yoocan assistive technology hub. This will be a forum where we allow companies in the early stages, when they have just started their ideas, to use the yoocan community and use our services to help them accelerate their progress through our connections to find either potential partners or potential users.

Our vision is to not only provide a great service with information and knowledge for our users but to also promote and accelerate the development of early stage technologies through our network. In order to supplement that, we want to create this year a global competition of assistive technologies (AT) that will celebrate and promote the best AT from around the world. We did a beta test at this year’s Access Israel convention earlier this year with a showcase and competition of 7 local early stage companies to evaluate how it can work.

Recently we started working on local language translation of the yoocan platform. We already have a corporate partner in Israel to create yoocan in hebrew and seek similar business partners to do the same in Arbic, Spanish, and other languages. This project will allow people in different countries to access local services of yoocan and the global information directory we have created.

My vision for yoocan is that we will be an ecosystem integrated that allows everybody active in this environment to use the yoocan platform to advance services and to create awareness to what is out there.

In creating and building up yoocan, what was the most surprising to you? Either in reaction from the users and community or in the development of the platform as such? 

Moshe: There was a number of things that surprised me. First, when you work with non-for-profit organisations, often, because they are so stretched for money, they find it uncomfortable to work with others out of worry that they might lose an opportunity for funds. I found it actually hard to convince people that collaboration gets everyone a win-win. In the disability community, everybody wants to talk about collaboration but we created a breakthrough in this area in terms of actual collaboration. Case in point being the before mentioned competition that we organised with TOM and Access Israel.

Second surprising point is that so many people talk about inclusion and doing something in the environment of disability, but then there is little willingness to fund innovative projects and technologies in this area. Maybe also because until now the technology was lacking to make products relevant for people with disabilities. But with the advent of bionics, 3D printing, Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) this has changed. However it is still difficult to raise money from a start-up perspective as opposed to philanthropy.

What do you think is missing today in the public debate on accessibility? 

Moshe: Governments still neglect inclusion. Everyone likes to talk about accessibility but not much is actually done. A laudable exception is what the Australian government has done by changing the insurance law so that government money will go directly to the people rather than to the insurance companies. There is a lot of money involved but in most countries this money goes to government agencies and insurance companies but never really arrives in the hands of people with disabilities.

What would be the ideal thing to happen to take yoocan to the next level this year? 

Moshe: One of three things would be really helpful: 1) a major global newspaper to write about yoocan; 2) another major corporation like the #1 bank in Israel (who recently granted 100,000 dollars to yoocan to translate the platform into Hebrew mentioned before) to collaborate with yoocan to create yoocan in another language - Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, etc. 3) to raise more money for additional expansion into new areas (creating apps, AT hub, invest into tech companies….).

We wish Moshe and yoocan all the best and hope that all of these or any of these will happen this year for yoocan!

Have a look at yoocan, the global collaborative community for and by people with disabilities, sharing experiences and knowledge, so no one feels alone:

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