This installment of our Accessibility Activists column is an interview with Akash Khanolkar, founder of CrowdViz, a company that connects people who are visually impaired with sighted assistants. Through a video connection, assistants can offer various types of sighted help.
When did you first get started in accessibility?
Learning about the field of accessibility was such a remarkable experience. I had no idea how many amazing products were out there that truly helped people with disabilities. I first started in accessibility in 2014, when I founded CrowdViz, an app that provides remote sighted assistance for visually impaired people through a live video connection. While working on the product for a few months and meeting interested people, I’ve learned that accessibility is a quickly growing area with a tremendous amount of potential.
What project are you most proud of from your work in accessibility?
Most definitely CrowdViz; at first, it really seemed like just a “wacky” idea. Connecting visually impaired people with sighted people through a video connection seemed interesting in theory but unusual in practice. Taking that theoretical idea and bringing it to the market was a huge moment for me and my team. We launched our iPhone app in September and the response received was incredible. When I hear our visually impaired customers talk about how our product has truly made an impact on their lives that in itself, brings about an incredible feeling for me.
What is your current area of focus in the accessibility field?
Currently, I am focusing on making CrowdViz the best product that it can be. I believe it has the potential to make a major impact on the field of accessibility. In today’s world of technology, many times we focus too much on automation and using different algorithms to convert what we see to what we hear. Though I agree this is a legitimate step towards the future of accessibility for visually impaired people, I think that this particular technology is a very long road ahead. We want to show the world that the field of accessibility should focus on building technologies that empower people to help other people.
What accessibility barrier would you like technology to solve?
Our world is designed for people with five senses, which makes it difficult for innovators to take into consideration a world where there are exceptions. When building new innovative technologies, all people should be taken into consideration, including whether or not the person might be visually impaired, deaf, or mute. Building technology that can empower people with the choice to live independently, this would be a barrier I’d like to see solved.
To learn more about Khanolkar’s work, visit the CrowdViz website.