The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) wants the province of Ontario to be fully accessible for persons with disabilities by 2025. That’s a mere two years away.
It’s an ambitious goal that’s left many organizations and companies in the dark, wondering how to meet this government requirement, but Oshawa-based startup Illuma Accessibility is showing them the light.
Illuma Accessibility is a consultancy firm that guides companies and organizations through their rights and responsibilities for accessibility, from company culture and hiring practices to digital tools, website compliance and more. Headed by founder and Digital Accessibility Specialist Jaclyn Pope, Illuma Accessibility tests and audits digital content to ensure compliance with Canadian and international standards and guidelines, provides training and assistance for designing and developing accessible solutions, assists with policy and procurement, helps stakeholders understand accessibility on a global scale and more; all the while advocating for accessibility in corporate culture.
“Illuma teaches accessibility in a way that is eye-opening and not shoved down your throat.” Pope says, “I want people to understand what it’s like to have specific disabilities. For example, why someone with a disability might need that moment to catch their breath when entering a big box store. Or how the combination of traffic sounds and rain affects someone with impaired eyesight when walking the outside perimeter of a mall. How do you find your favourite store?”
Pope has a first-hand experience with the need for accessibility. Having suffered a stroke in 2019, Pope lost 95% of her eyesight. It was an extremely low point in her life, but thankfully there were charitable organizations that motivated her to adapt to her new way of life, like the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), Make a Change Canada and March of Dimes Canada. As she navigated her new lifestyle, Pope encountered numerous accessibility issues, which led to questions of why accessibility wasn’t more of a priority.
“This isn’t something that’s taught in our schools.” Pope explains, “You can learn code language in school but accessibility code and considerations aren’t part of those courses. If you can’t step back
and think outside the box, you’ll never truly understand what it’s like to live within a society that expects you to conform to unrealistic standards. How do I shop at a grocery store online when my screen reader can’t correctly interact with the payment form? How can I find a digital document that doesn’t have a title under the information section or sign a digital document that doesn’t work with keyboard-only navigation?”
Illuma Accessibility began as Projects In the Dark, inspired by how Pope felt during her difficult adaptation to losing sight. Her constant encounters with inaccessibility morphed into frustration and anger. Rather than dwell on what she couldn’t do, Pope decided to focus on what she could do: help companies and organizations think beyond the minimum standards and truly understand accessibility and become fully accessible in both the digital and physical world. The name Illuma represented a brighter outlook for accessibility.
Illuma combines ‘illum’ from ‘illuminate’ and the first letter in ‘accessibility.’ It encompassed everything Pope had self-taught and advocated for in her local, provincial and federal communities.
Pope also uses the word ‘illuma’ as a teaching point. When read digitally, the first three letters of Illuma look very similar, which causes accessibility issues for those with limited vision or cognitive reading disabilities. This is a subtle but prime example of how limited in scope our understanding of accessibility is and why companies and organizations need specialists like Illuma Accessibility.
“Going above and beyond ‘good enough’ is an attitude that I wish everyone would embrace.”
After all, understanding accessibility and becoming fully accessible isn’t merely a government requirement that starts and ends at policies, standards, laws, products and services and company-employee relationships. It’s simply good for business. For example, if a company’s digital product or service is accessible and useable for everyone, that company has the potential to tap into a global disabled community market worth 13 trillion dollars. Also, a company that adopts “shift left’ thinking — making accessibility testing the first step in any digital project to catch accessibility issues from the onset — can save itself the financial cost of fixing the problem later.
Pope had the passion and the idea, but she didn’t have a place to start. She first learned how regional innovation centres in Ontario assist entrepreneurs from the CNIB employment venture pool and, after some research, discovered Spark Centre. Pope points out that the application form she filled out was “inaccessible,” and she used it as an example to explain her idea and why digital accessibility is essential.
Not only did Spark Centre take Illuma Accessibility on as a client, but it’s now utilizing Pope’s guidance to help make the organization more accessible.
“So many people and organizations told me that I was a wealth of information and I needed to share it, but I honestly didn’t know how to or where to start,” Pope says. “Spark Centre helped me to transition my ideas to paper and bring more clarity and a streamlined approach to my process. The biggest thing they gave me, however, was the confidence to get started (and a quiet place to do it) and to succeed, not only as a disabled female entrepreneur but as an entrepreneur, period.”
Succeed she has. Incorporated in 2022,
Illuma Accessibility secured its first contract with Canada Post. Now, it has a growing list of clients in Canada and across the globe, like Staples, Carea Health, Fable Labs and AMI, as well as companies in travel and tourism. She’s also been approached by two educational institutions to teach Digital Accessibility. Pope hasn’t forgotten about Illuma’s roots, however. Projects in the Dark is planned to become the non-profit advocacy chapter of Illuma Accessibility, working with the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB) to help raise funds for various projects such as a Durham Mobile Community Hub Bus, promoting Blind On the Go (an adventure group for the visually impaired) and more.
Illuma Accessibility proves that not accepting “good enough” can light the path to bigger and better things and outside-of-the-box solutions not only as an entrepreneur but as a company, organization and human being.
“Going above and beyond “good enough” is an attitude that I wish everyone would embrace,” says Pope, “not just for accessibility considerations but also to help foster a more creative, inclusive and diverse global community.”