Healthtech/Interview/

The startup helping over 1m disabled people go online

French founder Yves Cornu alters the websites of over 500 companies so they can accommodate a wide range of needs

By Éanna Kelly

Source: Unsplash

Installing wheelchair lifts or supplying adapted keyboards are common workplace adjustments to help people with disabilities. 

But we see less accommodations made in the online world, which remains out of reach for many of the 1bn people in the world who live with some form of disability. 

One French startup, FACIL’iti, founded in 2018, is on a mission to make the internet accessible to all, regardless of a person’s cognitive, physical or visual impairments. 

“Everyone is thinking of physical inclusion and installing the ramps and the wide doors at their business premises. But no one is thinking about what’s happening online,” says Yves Cornu, managing director of FACIL’iti — selected as a startup to watch in the latest Pro briefing on disability tech

Cornu’s software solution customises websites to meet the needs of individuals — for example, larger click zones for people with Parkinson’s disease; reading and spacing help for dyslexics; and sharper colour contrast so sites can be viewed more clearly, especially by users with visual impairments. 

The accessibility tool, which companies can add to their websites, has already amassed 500 paying clients — big clothing brands like Kenzo and Lacoste among them — helping to bring some 1.7m people online.

“Over 1m people [have] recovered autonomy on the web because of us,” Cornu says. The pandemic made all of this more crucial, he adds, because many more services moved online. 

Disability services are more necessary than ever

Disabilities are likely to be an even greater concern in the coming years, as prevalence rises with an ageing population. “Just imagine you are disabled and you want to go visit a museum; where would you look for the right information if not online? That’s the first barrier for many people,” says Cornu. 

FACIL’iti’s biggest customer to date is the late Japanese statesman Shinzo Abe, who used the startup’s plug-in library of adaptations for his election website in 2017. “Japan is the oldest society in the world [with] a decreasing population. The foreign ministry said, ‘Please come to Japan and show us what you can do’.”

Cornu pivoted to a career in the disability tech world after a hugely successful stint in fashion and textiles. “I owned weaving mills, I worked with world-renowned fashion designers. I realised I’m doing beautiful things but I wondered what I would leave behind at the end of the day. I decided in 2009 to sell [my] companies and refocus,” he says.

From there, Cornu helped rebuild a small company around completely new values. For him, impactful tech started with looking within. “We began to employ people with disabilities and ex-inmates. We gave our employees paid time off every week to pursue their own interests,” he says.

“It is not shameful for a company to make profits. What is shameful is to make purely financial profits without building profitable actions to create a better future for all.”

Looking for digestible insights on disability tech? Sifted’s Pro briefing on the sector will get you up to speed fast on what you need to know. Click here to see our briefings library or email [email protected] for more information.

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