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2 October 2020

In a year where apps have allowed us to seamlessly connect remotely with colleagues across the globe, order food and groceries with the click of a button and track our fitness, it’s easy to forget that not all Australians have equal access to the internet and technology.

Bridging the technological gap and including everyone in our community was the key driver behind West Tech Assemblage 2020, which brought together some of Western Australia’s most innovative and brightest minds.

Now in its sixth year, the event was a melting pot of WA’s leading and emerging technology sector figures and is fast becoming an essential hub for those looking for the latest technological ideas, innovations and collaborations.

This year’s event aimed to put the focus on technology as it related to people with disability. Supported by National Disability Services (NDS) WA, the aim of the event was not just improving access to technology, but involving people with disability in its creation and design and looking at the benefits of employing people with disability in the tech sector.

This year, West Tech Assemblage delegates heard from Dr Scott Hollier, CEO and Co-founder Centre For Accessibility Australia, Jacinta Reynolds, Optika Solutions, Ben Cox, disability advocate and consultant, Kenneth Phua, Seeing Without Eyes Vision Australia Radio, and Santiago Martinez, founder and creative director of Pixel Group – five inspiring individuals with a disability, who shared their insights and experiences using and accessing technology.

Photo of panelists, Ben Cox, Santiago Martinez, Jacinta Reynolds, Kenneth Phua, Dr Scott Hollier and Simon Plumber

The event was launched by the Minister for Disability Services, The Hon. Stephen Dawson MLC, National Disability Services (NDS) State Manager Julie Waylen, and West Tech Assemblage Chair and Co-founder and Illuminance Solutions CEO Nilesh Makwana.

Photo of Minister Stephen Dawson and AUSLAN interpreter Fiona Perry

Minister Dawson said people with disability brought valuable skills, experience and insight and were an integral part of a diverse and inclusive workforce that businesses should be aiming for.

“As the Minister for Disability Services, I am committed to improving employment outcomes for people with disability and initiatives like this are an important and innovative way of promoting inclusivity and opportunity,” Mr Dawson said.

The first West Tech Assemblage event was held in Perth in 2015 and created a space where entrepreneurs, scientists, students, universities and businesses from all industries could gather to connect and share, nourish and grow their ideas.

This year’s event showcased the important work being undertaken with NDS to transition its access and inclusion programs like ACROD Parking and Companion Card to an online environment. NDS WA State Manager Julie Waylen spoke about NDS’s journey to creating a new digital platform with Illuminance Solutions.

“This new platform gives people with disability the option to apply for an ACROD permit or Companion Card online, streamlining the process and making the program more accessible for everyone,” Ms Waylen said.

“We are extremely proud to be a part of the development of this platform alongside Illuminance Solutions to help streamline access to these critical programs.

“Our goal is to create better outcomes for people with disability, their families and carers.”

Mr Makwana said that his company began conversations with NDS a few years ago about simplifying what was a very time-consuming and manual process.

“The goal is to digitise the process and make the system more easily accessible rather than requiring people to manually fill out lengthy forms and endure unnecessary delays.”

Mr Makwana believes users of new technology should be part of including people with disability.

“Inclusivity, accessibility and diversity in the tech sector is incredibly important, and having people with disability co-designing and co-creating – not just as software testers or end users- is very important for an inclusive world moving from here into the future we want,” he said.

“One of the project managers in my own company is legally blind and brought immense value and perspective to the program so I know first-hand how well this can work.

“While many sectors are experiencing increased unemployment and a reduction in income, the tech sector is thriving and an important means of helping to diversify our economy.”

Recent job data from job site ad Seek listed ICT as one of the sectors with the highest number of job ads across Australia with skills shortages reported by many seeking to recruit in the sector.

“Finding a positive during these uncertain times isn’t easy, but 2020 has really showed how critical technology and digital literacy is in helping us adapt to sudden change in our work and life in general.”

Group photo of West Tech Assemblage 2020

The event featured over 100 attendees and a large gathering from around Australia online.

The Centre For Accessibility Australia is a joint project by Media on Mars, DADAA and Dr Scott Hollier and is funded by the Department of Communities, Disability Services.

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