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The need for accessibility startups in Latin America

. Dec 15, 2020
The need for accessibility startups in Latin America Image: LemonJelly/Shutterstock

One of the central tenets of modern entrepreneurship is idealizing projects, services, or businesses that can make a difference in people’s daily routine. And in Latin America’s crowded big cities, filled with problems related to congestion, pollution, and infrastructure, these innovative ventures find fertile ground. 

It was in this context that Matías Lodoño, a 31-year-old entrepreneur from Colombia’s second-largest city Medellín, created M.A.T.T., a startup creating jobs for people with disabilities.

</p> <p>With its full name of &#8220;Movilidad, Accesibilidad, Tiempo, Trabajo&#8221; (<a href="https://brazilian.report/tech/2019/10/11/electric-buses-horizon-sao-paulo-streets/">Mobility</a>, Accessibility, Time, Work), the company began with the idea of creating electric wheelchairs before expanding into providing safe, accessible tours around the city, employing people with disabilities as guides.</p> <p>Besides Medellín&#8217;s accessibility challenges, M.A.T.T. also seeks to help soothe the city&#8217;s employment crisis, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is estimated that over 149 million jobs were wiped out across Latin America and the Caribbean in the first ten months of the year, making job creation as imperative as ever.</p> <p>On December 3, the world commemorated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), celebrating important conquests such as the increase of inclusion programs, and the rise of people with disabilities to major public offices. However, amid the unemployment crisis, joblessness among people with disabilities remains a <a href="https://wheelchairtravel.org/south-america/">pressing concern</a>.</p> <h2>Tackling the challenge of accessibility&nbsp;</h2> <p>In Brazil and around the world, accessibility can still be a major concern for people with disabilities, particularly outside of major urban centers. Working with this issue, Bruno Mahfuz created Guiaderodas, an international network that certifies and evaluates buildings and complexes on their accessibility for people with disabilities.</p> <p>By way of a smartphone app, users can rate premises they visit as either green (completely accessible), yellow (partially accessible), or red (not accessible), providing a crowdsourced database. Guiaderodas already includes ratings from over 2,000 cities in 115 countries.</p> <p>For Mr. Mahfuz, the initiative to build an app advocating for accessibility came out of personal need. When he started to use a wheelchair himself in 2001, he noticed the constant difficulties that people with disabilities face.</p> <p>&#8220;The lack of accessibility creates a very serious problem. People with disabilities are left frustrated and sometimes do not work, study, or even socialize,&#8221; Mr. Mahfuz told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>An equation that Brazilian Bruno Mahfuz still tries to solve. Bruno is the CEO of the project Guiaderodas, a technology company in favor of accessibility. His company led to the creation of a smartphone app responsible for connecting people, services and companies working for and with accessibility.</p> <p>“Promoting entrepreneurship is fundamental for the current moment. Though we have a high unemployment rate, we also have wide access to technology and information. Anyone — with or without disabilities — can use their experiences to start a business and make an impact,” he adds.</p> <h2>Brick by brick</h2> <p>According to official numbers, Brazil had a total of 2.9 million functioning companies in 2019, 23.3 percent more than the previous year. And despite the crisis in 2020, reports from the Economy Ministry show that this number is continuing to rise, with some 782,000 firms opening between May and August.</p> <p>However, the crucial piece of data from an inclusivity point of view is that roughly half of the country&#8217;s 45 million people with disabilities are not a part of the economically active population, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).</p> <p>However, Bruno Mahfuz believes that awareness of the importance of companies focusing on accessibility and inclusion is growing.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The biggest challenge right now is to change the market mindset: engaging in accessibility is an investment, not an expense. As this happens, the chance of progress is huge, especially after the crisis.”

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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