Access Earth wants to create a more accessible world

5 Oct 2020

From left: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Access Earth CEO Matt McCann. Image: Access Earth

Our Start-up of the Week is Access Earth, an Irish firm that has set out to create the world’s largest database of accessibility information to make travelling, shopping and socialising easier for people with disabilities.

Matt McCann is the co-founder of Access Earth. Speaking to, he said that he has two passions in life: technology and championing the rights of people with disabilities.

McCann, who lives with cerebral palsy, has spoken about the importance of accessibility on the global stage, at the United Nations and as part of the Irish Human Rights Equality Commission’s (IHREC) Disability Advisory Committee (DAC).

On the technology side of things, McCann is a web developer, software engineer and one of the founding members of the Aspen Initiative UK which advocates for the ethical use of AI.

Through Access Earth, McCann leverages both his technical expertise and his personal experiences from living with cerebral palsy to ensure that the firm delivers the most impactful technological solution possible to the world of accessibility.

Access Earth

The goal of Access Earth is to build a comprehensive database of accessibility information. The platform does so by collecting and correlating data from its crowdsourcing mobile application, as well as through its AI-powered satellite imagery and accessibility asset mapping system.

“Access Earth has also included Covid-19-related social distancing criteria into its expanding dataset to help increase consumer confidence so everyone can make informed decisions about where they shop, eat, sleep or engage with experiences,” McCann said.

A person holding a smartphone with the Access Earth app displayed on screen.

The Access Earth app. Image: Access Earth

The start-up’s mobile app, Access Earth, is free for all users on iOS, Android or by visiting the start-up’s website. The platform also provides data analysis tools, platform integration and other enterprise-ready solutions to government bodies and private businesses.

The platform currently has more than 110,000 locations available, providing a mix of accessibility information and Covid-19 information.

McCann co-founded the business with Donal McClean, who serves as chief operating officer (COO) of Access Earth.

McClean has five years’ experience as a technical consultant. He has facilitated and led customer and client-facing consultancy projects across technical infrastructure assessment, software training and upskilling, product delivery, knowledge transfer and data migration.

The market

According to the World Health Organization, about 15pc of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, which represents more than 1bn people.

“National and local government bodies are committed to their responsibilities in making their communities welcoming and inclusive for the needs of all their citizenry,” McCann said. “Private businesses understand the value of catering and accommodating for a massive market. The problem is, current solutions and methods for doing so are expensive and resource intensive.”

To address this issue, Access Earth has built an interactive dataset that can allow for smart analytics of an area’s accessibility landscape for government bodies, while helping venue operators and international organisers provide customers and attendees with detailed itineraries of an area’s accessibility assets.

McCann said that this contributes towards a safe, inclusive and hassle-free experience for people with disabilities.

“Be it data analytics or digital facilities to increase accessible tourism, everywhere can benefit from being powered by Access Earth,” McCann said.

Access Earth can be integrated with a customer’s system to provide an API, plugin or an analytics system for deeper understanding of accessibility data.

The start-up has trained an AI model in object detection to create an image classifier by feeding it with multiple examples of aerial-viewed accessible parking data. It can identify if an image it reads contains accessible parking locations and how many of these locations are present within the image.

“This information can then be added into the Access Earth platform and be made available to all our users or curated to a specific format for a customer’s specified requirements,” McCann said.

The plan

Access Earth’s ultimate goal is to see all businesses, sports venues, car parks, supermarkets and other locations of interest existing as a data point on the platform, creating what McCann believes would be the “digital revolution” for the world of accessibility.

“We want to facilitate positive discussions relating to access issues and to help encourage local businesses to get past the current pandemic challenges and together build communities for everyone,” McCann said.

The start-up’s CEO noted that today’s environment is ideally suited for right-handed males in their mid-twenties.

“Looking to the future, without conscious consideration towards accessibility needs, we will fall into the trap of designing environments we may all eventually age out of and exclude others from,” McCann added.

He believes that the internet of things (IoT) has become irrevocably linked to the creation of smart cities, but that smarter cities can only be built atop smarter data. This can be a big challenge when it comes to the creation of new processes and opportunities because data is frequently an afterthought.

“To achieve scale, it is essential to use the correct building blocks, aligned with standards that qualify how we view and measure the world around us and inform our decision-making processes,” McCann said.

This year, Access Earth completed a report with Smart Sandyford on the town’s accessible parking infrastructure, using data gathered exclusively with the AI image classifier the start-up has developed.

McCann said that the report has demonstrated the power of combining satellite imagery and AI object detection classifiers for the purposes of accessible asset mapping within a built environment.

The chief executive said that Access Earth is currently in the middle of a funding round, which will finance its continuous efforts to help businesses and governments use its technology to improve accessibility.

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Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic