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Sunday, December 21, 2014

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Tech firm provides web accessibility for disabled people

Tags: Business
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Gabriel Israel

Gabriel Israel has had lots of experience bridging the differences between Canadian and Israeli business cultures.

As a longtime employee of Amdocs, a U.S.-based software company founded as an offshoot of an Israeli firm, he was thoroughly familiar with the way the company’s DNA was infused with Israeli brashness and creativity. Having lived and worked in Canada for 12 years, he’s come to understand the methodical and organized way tech business is done here.

In Vision2Mission, the local tech company he created, he’s taken the mission of bridging gaps into a new direction – he’s offering a solution to the difficulties faced by people with disabilities in accessing and employing computer technology.

The solution he provides was developed in Israel by User1st and, like many products that originate in startup nation, it has applicability everywhere.

“It provides website accessibility for people with disabilities,” he said. “It puts a virtual veneer between the user and the computer.”

The solutions are many and varied, depending on the disability being addressed. For some, who can’t use the mouse, a single click can “change the entire interaction so you use the “tab” and “enter” keys to operate the entire computer.”

Another is geared for people who are visually impaired. It employs screen readers to verbally describe everything on the screen. The solution can do this in such a way that “everything is in proper context,” he added.

There is a solution for people who suffer from epilepsy, to eliminate screen flashes that might trigger an episode.

All the solutions comply with WCAG 2.0, international guidelines that set standards on accessibility issues, as well as with Ontario law, Israel said.

Israel donated the technology to the MukiBaum Accessibility Foundation, which in the autumn became its first user in Canada.

 The User1st technology employed by Vision2Mission is an out-of-the-box solution that its competitors can’t match. Other companies can make the interface easier for disabled and elderly people to use, he acknowledged, but to do this they provide web developer toolkits that entail rewriting code, a time-consuming and hence expensive proposition.

Vision2Mission provides a more inexpensive solution with “automatic mapping” in which the software “looks at the existing page and with one tool makes it accessible to the new user.

“Users simply click a button and they are presented with the accessible website layer. Each end user has the ability to select his or her predefined profile of personal limitations. With the User1st cookie and a one-time download of a script, the user will receive the accessible version of the website each time it is accessed,” Israel explained.

There are thousands, if not millions, of potential clients who need to make their websites more accessible. “Every single company that has a website is a potential client,” he said, adding that Canada is one of 100 countries regulated by law to address accessibility.

Vision2Mission acts as a sort of broker, leveraging its relationships with Israeli tech firms to offer Canadian and international companies the technology.

“I create the business development, sales and contacts and overseas account management to make sure the contract is being properly managed according to an agreed schedule,” Israel said.

Clients pay a licensing fee as well an annual maintenance charge, he added.

Vision2Mission also offers consulting services, working with management teams in small- to medium-sized businesses, “realizing their potential, changing their structure, processes, help them grow and achieve profitability,” he said.

Making a go of his two-year-old company is a challenge, but “I like challenges. That’s part of who I am,” Israel said.

A countdown is ticking on his cellphone: 44 days to go toward his next big challenge, though it’s not one connected to his work.

When the time runs down, Israel will begin his climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest peak. It’s an eight-day ascent and a two-day descent along Lemosho, the mountain’s most scenic route.

Along the way, he’ll be snapping photos and selling them to benefit the MukiBaum Accessibility Foundation.

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