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New thinking required for national disability technology

Byron Connolly | June 25, 2015
New thinking required for national disability technology "The disability world is deep and diverse. I’m not your average disabled computer user by any stretch of the imagination." - Sean Fitzgerald


Like many people with a physical disability, Canberra-based Sean Fitzgerald faces significant daily challenges. Paralysed from the shoulders down and forced to drive his wheelchair with his chin, Fitzgerald is one of almost 500,000 Australians who will benefit from the Federal Government's far-reaching National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Fitzgerald broke his neck in 2000 while mountain biking in a remote area south of Darwin. At the time, he was an IT contractor working for United Nations peacekeeping forces in East Timor. After the accident, he was placed in intensive care for nine weeks, unable to move.

"I had to pretty quickly figure out what I was going to do to get myself out of this mess I was in. I remember being in intensive care looking up at the dots on the ceiling -- and I was kept that way for about nine weeks. I knew of Dragon NaturallySpeaking [speech recognition software] and figured that would be my saviour and I could get back to work.

"Of course, when you get home, reality hits -- you've got to deal with staff looking after you and the reality of competing in a contracting market means the guy in a wheelchair gets the last consideration of all."

These days, Fitzgerald runs C3 Solutions, an organisation that provides disability-friendly technology and training services. He hailed the NDIS program as the biggest social improvement project undertaken by the government in the last 30 years, which increases funding for people with a disability around Australia by more than two times.

"If you look a little bit deeper into that of all the 500,000 eligible participants, it means that half of them weren't getting any funding at all," he told CIO.

"So how do get out of bed? If I haven't got people getting me out of bed, I don't get out of bed and if I haven't got someone sticking a spoon in my mouth, I don't eat either.

"The disability world is deep and diverse. I'm not your average disabled computer user by any stretch of the imagination," he said.

Fitzgerald told his story at an information session held last week in Melbourne by the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), the organisation rolling out the NDIS.

The session outlined the NDIA's vision and strategy for the forthcoming deployment of a new technology platform that will be a vital part of the $22 billion program to support Australians with complex physical and intellectual disabilities.

A once in a generation reform

Marie Johnson is heading up the technology authority overseeing the rollout of the IT architecture and strategy by the NDIA. She compares the establishment of the NDIS to the creation of Medicare in the 1980s.


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