There are more visually impaired people in Australia than there are Tasmanians, which makes Dr Anna Wright's SheStarts winning business idea a potential game changer for many people.
Accountant and UTS Business School academic Dr Wright has been named among the 10 winners to receive $100,000 each in pre-seed funding at the culmination of the inaugural SheStarts competitive startup program. Her winning business idea is AudiBle, a wayfinding proposal that will bring sound and more detailed information to Braille signs.
Announcing Dr Wright as one of the winners, SheStarts Director Nicola Hazell described AudiBle as "smart cities technology at its best".
Dr Wright's business idea was one of 20 selected from the approximately 400 entries for the SheStarts program, which aims to lift the participation of women as business founders from around 20 per cent of all start-ups currently.
The 10 winners receive funding and mentorship to develop their idea. Other winning proposals included an on-the-spot payment system for farmers selling grain, a digital platform for sharing medical information, and an app to help children on the autism spectrum complete daily tasks.
The idea for AudiBle came from Dr Wright's own life experience. Having confronted the possibility of losing her own eyesight, she started to think about the challenges she would have faced if treatment had not slowed her vision loss.
"Twenty years ago I was diagnosed with an eye condition which severely reduces vision, and I was told to plan for a life of low vision," Dr Wright says. "This got me thinking about how I would navigate unknown spaces."
Her own workplace, the Frank Gehry-designed Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, home of UTS Business School, has Braille signage throughout but it struck Dr Wright that Braille has limitations.
"Braille is a common feature in public spaces, but have you ever considered how visually impaired people know that it is there?" she asks,
"Braille is last-century technology," she says. While for commercial reasons details cannot be revealed at this stage, AudiBle will use digital technology that adds auditory and other information to extend the usefulness of Braille signage.
It is estimated there are more than 575,000 people blind or vision-impaired people in Australia, 7.3 million in the United States and 285 million people worldwide.
Dr Wright is talking to advocacy groups, property developers, building managers and building users about her proposal.
"Building managers might think they are doing enough by providing Braille signage, but they need to start thinking about using this sort of technology," she says.
"Will we still be using Braille in buildings in 10 years' time, 20 years' time?"
Audible Braille would provide greater dignity and decrease environmental barriers that limit vision-impaired people's independent participation in society, she argues.
She is seeking "innovative" property developers to become involved in the project.
"This is an opportunity for building owners to make their spaces more accessible and to enhance the information they give visitors, staff and customers."