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Have you ever had a moment when you meet someone and you know you’ve met a rising star?
Well, I found a rising entrepreneurial star!
Meet Lequanne Collins-Bacchus, a new member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
Lequanne Collins-Bacchus is a 24-year-old intellectual peripatetic, who founded PAERE as a hub to explore the intersection of accessibility, disability, the arts, and technological innovation.
She enjoys learning about and re-imagining the human experience and what’s possible for people of all abilities. Being hard-of-hearing herself, she draws inspiration from her own experience and challenges others to do the same. She’s studied at OCAD University (artfully), Carleton University (philosophically), and Seneca College (logistically).
I had a chance to ask Lequanne a few questions about accessibility.
Why did you want to create an accessible business?
For PAERE, the vision is re-imagining the human experience in a way that includes accessibility as part of that experience, not as something that detracts from it, but adds to one’s perspective and enhances their understanding of the world around them. I’m interested in innovating in this space artistically, technologically and through product development. Too often, accessibility and disability are referred to either depressingly or inspirationally—these are valid experiences, but the conversation should be moving beyond these extremes to a place that is more humanizing, visionary, and innovative. This is what motivates me: accessibility as a vehicle for new re-imaginings of how we can navigate the world around us.
Was an accessible business always the intention?
Originally, I started it with the intention of the organization being a black-owned technology company because I knew there was a need for representation, empowerment, community and economic development in this area. But as a I spoke about why I was doing this, I found myself talking about my hearing loss as a chief motivating factor without truly grasping why my disability mattered on a conscious level, but I felt it deeply. Only when I consulted with my advisor did I start to make the connections. I have had many traumatic experiences growing up with hearing loss, not only because how I was treated due to my disability, but also because I was taught to hide it.
I can lip read, which allowed me to learn over time how to navigate hearing spaces fairly well without revealing my hearing loss. Only when I started to meet people who would figure it out without me telling them and take advantage of me did I realize how important it was to talk about it. Once I started doing this, I realized how much broader my understanding of the world was and that it was a gift, not something to hide, and I saw the potential for it as source of empowerment.
There have been many entrepreneurs that are dyslexic; the top CEOs in the world often have learning disabilities; and some of the top geniuses are known to have mental health issues. There are no able-bodied people, just people who appear to be fine until we learn more about them.
Disability is a hidden superpower: it is time to let people tap into that by changing what accessibility looks like, from something ‘over there’ to something inclusive and within us. This is what PAERE aims to do.
Any advice for those looking to hire or create an accessible environment?
Listen to the person you are trying to help—they know their experience and will gladly tell you how to accommodate them if you simply ask. Don’t be afraid to say you have no idea how to help. They will appreciate the honesty and will respect that you are willing to learn something outside your own experience.
What are some of the challenges you see other businesses having with accessibility?
A large challenge I see is bridging the gap in understanding between people with different levels of ability. It might be hard for someone who can walk to know how to relate to someone who can’t, outside of a space of pity. But there is so much room for laughter and creativity in that. PAERE hopes to show that this is possible on a deep level by leveraging technology as that inclusive medium.
Tell us a bit of what you do to help the community of disabled individuals?
So as a start-up, I’m still figuring out how to best enable people of different abilities. It is an ongoing process of discovery, as everyone is different and experiences the world differently. My first project was for myself—a digital gallery of an art exhibition at OCAD University that had descriptions available of the art and the event details all in one place. I was hoping to include the speeches so there was a transcription available, but it was time-sensitive. Having a transcribed event helped me understand any words I missed or misheard. There was an ASL interpreter on-site, but I am still learning it, so this was a bridge for someone like me who is hard-of-hearing.
My next project is an augmented reality gallery for the visually impaired. I’m in conversations with organizations about it, but these are the kinds of approaches to accessibility PAERE is taking, along with starting to consult with businesses to become more accessible.
Have you had an experience in the past that helps you understand the importance of having an accessible workplace or business?
Looking back on my life, there are a lot of experiences that point to why I started seeing my disability as empowering. (It even made) me a better writer, because I’ll mis-hear words and my imagination would just go wild, or I would pick up metaphors in sentences even though it wasn’t what the speaker intended.
There was one summer where I tried dragon boating on a whim because I love being on the water. I didn’t realize I would be doing so with some people who are visually impaired. But when we were in the boat, it didn’t matter. I didn’t notice because we all just paddled in unison together, going to the same place, in tune with each other’s rhythm. There was one day when we stopped in the middle of a practice in Ashbridge’s Bay and the person next to me said, “Do you hear that? It’s a cardinal.” And I said, “Nah, I can’t. What does it sound like?” And she made the noise and pointed in the direction it was coming from. I looked over and saw it. “What does it look like?” she asked, blind to it.
I then described it to her.
We become each other’s eyes and ears.
I haven’t dragon boated in a while, and I only realized how deep this was until much later, because I was exhausted from rowing in that moment.
Think about it: if you tap into that kind of connection as a business, you have tapped into something deeper with your customers.
So dear entrepreneur, whether you’ve been in business for years or you’re just starting, keep Lequanne’s words in mind about accessibility: the vision is re-imagining the human experience in a way that includes accessibility.
The key takeaway messages?
To learn more about Lequanne and PAERE, reach her at: http://www.mypaere.com/contact/
You can also catch up with Lequanne on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/paere_/ and Twitter https://twitter.com/PAERE_
Author: Cesar Gomez, CFIB Business Counsellor
Follow Cesar on Twitter @josuegomezg
Cesar Gomez Garcia has been with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for six years. His current role at the CFIB is helping members with their questions on compliance. These questions can range from employment standards to health and safety, as well as complicated red tape situations that small businesses face. His passion is reading and writing about entrepreneurship. Learn more about Cesar.