Improving Melbourne’s Accessibility with Open Innovation

Published Jul-25-19

Creative solutions uncovered to make to make Melbourne more accessible for people with disabilities.

The City of Melbourne, Australia

The Story:

Improving Melbourne’s Accessibility with Open Innovation Almost one in five people in Australia experience some form of disability, which can make moving around cities difficult and problematic. So, to stimulate new ideas and solutions to make Melbourne more accessible for people with a disability, the City of Melbourne Open Innovation Competition on Accessibility (OICA) was launched in 2018.

"This [the open innovation challenge] gives us an opportunity to actually tap into innovators who will give us some solutions that we maybe haven’t thought of, “said Vickie Feretopoulos, Senior Policy Officer, Aging and Inclusion.

Framing the Problem Statement

To help guide participants in the right direction, the City of Melbourne’s Disability Advisory Committee played a key part in framing the problem statement, offering advice to participants during drop-in sessions. Framing a problem in the right way is of paramount importance in addressing challenges and puts solvers on the right path to developing the most effective solutions. A well-framed problem can be easier to solve.

The importance of laying the proper foundations before attempting to solve a problem is highlighted in a statement attributed to Albert Einstein. “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Developing Ideas

Participants of the Melbourne open innovation contest were encouraged to incorporate data-driven and technology-enabled approaches when developing their concepts to address such issues as:

• Enhancing the provision of information to help people with a disability participate
in all aspects of life within a city.

• Making sure the people and places of Melbourne better understand and address
the access needs of people with a disability.

The open innovation contest received a total of 32 submissions, and five were invited to participate in a public pitch event in front of a panel of judges. This resulted in the selection of three prize winners.

Prize-Winning Innovations

First prize recipients of a check for $20,000 was Melba created by Kyle Mantesso and Hong Yew. This app pairs the City of Melbourne's open data with smart assistants such as Siri and Amazon’s Alexa to provide up-to-date information via voice, text and screen readers.

For example, before setting out on a shopping trip a user can get a smart assistant to call up Melba and then ask it specific questions such as whether a particular shop is wheelchair accessible and if there is accessible parking nearby and if it’s in use or not. Then while in transit Melba can be called up again to get the latest availability status of accessible parking bays. Other opportunities to interact with Melba include:

• Navigating pedestrian congestion - "Is a particular street busy right now?"
• Navigating disruption caused by roadworks/construction - "Are there any building
works on a particular street?"
• Wayfinding - "where is the nearest taxi rank from my location?"

The runners up were Samantha Wong and Luannie Dang who received a check for $7,000 for ClearPath. This is a turn-by-turn navigation system to help blind or vision impaired people to navigate unfamiliar places.

The third place winner was Michelle Khuu and her team who received $3,000 for Eatability, a rating system that provides guidelines on accessibility for the food and beverage industry. Businesses can be rated according to four disability groups: mobility, auditory, visual and cognitive.

The chair of the People City portfolio, Councilor Beverley Pinder, said: "I am incredibly excited by the creative and tech-driven solutions uncovered by our finalists, all of which will help to dramatically change how people experience and navigate our city."

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