From Idea to App
With hard work and a willingness to take a risk, Brandon Winfield turned his experience after sustaining a spinal cord injury into an app that helps people with accessibility needs find new places to explore.
Thirty-year-old Brandon Winfield is ambitious, adventurous, and is not afraid to take a chance. Those qualities, combined with his desire to get out and enjoy life with friends after he sustained a spinal cord injury, became the seeds for a new business.
Brandon grew up in Johns Creek, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. As a child, he dreamed of being a professional motocross rider. He traveled for motocross competitions and even switched to home-schooling to allow more flexibility and time to focus on the sport. But when he was 14, he sustained a T-7-T-8 spinal cord injury in a crash at a motocross event in Tennessee, which resulted in paralysis from his chest down.
After spending time in a hospital in Memphis, Brandon transferred to Shepherd Center for rehabilitation, but as soon as he arrived, he wanted to leave.
“I couldn't wait to get out of there at first. I had been hurt racing motocross plenty of times, which helped me wrap my head around the injury,” he recalls. “But my time at Shepherd was great. My therapists were amazing, and as soon as I got home, I missed Shepherd Center. Everything was so easy and accessible there.”
As Brandon returned to life as an active teenager, including re-connecting with his motocross community, he realized that finding accessible parking spaces, bathrooms, restaurants, and venues could be challenging.
“I felt like a burden to the people I was traveling with. We’d go someplace, and I either couldn't get in, or I couldn't access the bathroom, and I’d have to go home, or we'd have to try someplace new. I felt like it was my fault,” he says. “For somebody who's adventurous and likes to do new things, I got tired of going places and not knowing if I'd be able to access those new things. So that was the catalyst for my idea,” he explains.
The idea that Brandon is referring to is his brainchild and now business — where he focuses much of his attention and energy — a mobile app called iAccess Life. The app uses crowdsourcing to collect information about accessibility at restaurants, stores, and other venues in cities across the United States and worldwide. Users can rate a venue’s parking, entrance, interior, and bathroom accessibility and have the option to leave a review as well.
“I wanted you to open the app and feel like everybody else looking for a place to have dinner, drinks, coffee, or go shopping. Whatever you wanted to do, I wanted to find a way for people to leave feedback on their experience and then hopefully travel confidently as we gather more ratings and feedback from people in the application,” he says.
Of course, it wasn’t a straight line from idea to app. Along the way, Brandon got into competitive go-kart racing, which included traveling and filming for a TV show featuring his experience, “Dreams to Champions,” that aired on Fox Sports 1. He also worked in information technology (IT), including quality assurance testing for websites and mobile apps. He eventually met Sayeed Mehrjerdian, now iAccess Life co-founder and head of product, who helped him develop the app and raise funding.
In 2019, they launched the app and are working on building their user base so the app will have more reviews of more places. They also want to expand the breadth of the app to address accessibility for people with a broader range of disabilities. They recently launched a product in partnership with a parking company to allow for feedback on accessibility issues by scanning a QR code on a street sign. They hope to provide restaurants, retail spaces, and sports venues input on ways they can improve accessibility.
Brandon lives the life of an entrepreneur — always with his eye on what is next — and works to support other start-ups through his role at Atlanta Tech Village, managing the pre-accelerator program, a four-month program designed to help underrepresented tech entrepreneurs get their products to market.
Through every venture, Brandon recognizes the experience he had at Shepherd as one of the major influences in his life.
“After getting back into normal life and meeting other wheelchair users who didn't get to go to Shepherd, I got to see the quality of life that I have because of the therapy and education I got there,” he says. “I'm forever grateful for Shepherd because it made me who I am today. It made me feel comfortable being in a wheelchair.”
Written by Ruth Underwood
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.