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Event to transform way business views disability


21 November 2006

Innovation event to transform the way business views disability

On 24 November, Auckland City will join forces with Vodafone, IBM, AUT University and Waitemata District Health Board to change the way business and civic leaders view disabled people.

Innovation Unleashed – the first event of its kind in New Zealand – will showcase the huge business opportunity represented by disabled people as skilled workers, customers and consumers.

The event will profile some of the innovative and accessible communications advances which serve the dual role of empowering disabled people, and opening up a new global market estimated to be worth in excess of $US1 trillion dollars.

“If you think of the great inventions of our time, most people do not realise that they were created within the disabled community as ways of enhancing communication and access to information. The telephone, the typewriter and even the phonogram are all classic examples. One of the founding fathers of the internet, possibly the greatest communication tool of our age, was hearing impaired,” says Auckland City’s strategic disability advisor, Minnie Baragwanath.

Ms Baragwanath says it is ironic that many disabled and older people are prevented from contributing and accessing information given that we live in an “information age.”

“So many communication systems are designed without them in mind. Crazy when you think there are one billion disabled people in the world and around 800,000 in New Zealand alone. Imagine the potential spending power of this group if products were designed for them,” she says.

Vodafone, IBM, AUT, and Waitemata District Health Board are natural partners for the event, as they recognise the needs of this consumer group and are creating goods and services to meet their needs, while also growing their own market base.

“Being vision-impaired, I can’t read standard print in a book or see a normal computer screen without the use of assistive technology. I have a mobile phone that reads text out loud and special screen reading software on my computer. I simply could not do my job without the right technology. It is frustrating that many people just like me are excluded from participating in society largely because they are not on the radar in terms of product development, design of communication systems, employment and education. We have never been seen as a major consumer market or contributor to the economy and that needs to change,” says Ms Baragwanath.

Presenters at the event include:

- Mark Bagshaw, IBM director of accessibility (Australia and New Zealand) and an international leader in transforming the way business views disability

- Hon Ruth Dyson, Minister for Labour and Disability Issues

- Dr Richard Mander, HumanWare CEO, a Christchurch-based global leader in products to help the sight-impaired access information and lead more independent lives

- Jonathan Kirkpatrick, CEO, AUT Technology Park and Penrose campus

- Victoria Manning, Analyst, Office for Disability Issues and an instrumental person in making sign language New Zealand’s third official language.

The event occurs a week before the United Nations International Day of Disabled People on 3 December which will focus on access to E-communication.

“This event is a great example of an innovative approach to partnership incorporating government, the corporate sector, educational and health organisations. The power of working collectively will always be more effective in achieving substantial social change,” says chairperson of the city’s Partnerships Committee, Councillor John Hinchcliff.

More information can be found at


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