Zero Project 2019 – Presenting at the UN in Vienna

By Christine Hemphill | 5th March 2019

Last week we had the privilege to return to the UN in Vienna for the second year in a row to present at the fabulous Zero Project Conference. This year the themes were Independent Living and Political Representation.

Global solutions, practical inclusion

In my view, the Zero Project conference is the best forum there is for global, multi-channel, pan-disability inclusion.

An outside photo at the UN in Vienna with three people, all of African origin following the sign to the Zero Project Conference. One is a wheelchair user

Participants come from all over the world each year to the Zero Project Conference at the UN in Austria ©Pepo Schuster

The three-day conference provides truly wide-ranging, considered, interesting, innovative and global perspectives on practical topics of inclusion of people with disabilities. The example I often use to describe it comes from last year. On the same day I heard solutions that ranged from using wheelbarrows to get kids with mobility impairments to school in the mountains of Pakistan, to neural sensor controls so a quadriplegic doctor could drive a Formula race car in Brazil. From remarkably practical to remarkably innovative, and plenty more in between that combine the two!

As always it was a pleasure to meet with old friends and make some new friends in our fabulous global inclusion community. Thanks to the support of the Essl Foundation, this gathering includes many award winners and speakers from right across the globe (not just the wealthier nations) with interesting and useful products, creative ideas and approaches that they have proven out within their context. The rich array of ideas formed in a range of environments with varying languages, cultures and resources can help us make the world more accessible and enjoyable to us all in a wide variety of contexts. This year, the particular focus was on increasing personal independence and political influence of those with disabilities.

Inclusive research and data: our topic and passion

I was invited to present a paper on the first day and participate in the panel on Data and Reporting. The topic was how research and insight with and about people with disability can be more accurate, impactful and inclusive to support improved policies and products. It is a topic we are very passionate about at Open. With only a very short presentation time, it felt like trying to fit a great big colourful genie of a subject into a teeny weeny lamp.

We focussed our time on two things we thought would be most valuable, each based on our experience at Open,

  1. Methodology:

    How mixed methodology can be used effectively (combining quantitative and qualitative research elements) to provide broader and deeper insights than either one can do easily alone. We used two case studies of real projects highlighting different ways the methodologies can be ordered chronologically and combined for stronger insights.

  2. Inclusive Approach:

    How the research with participants itself needs to be designed and managed to be highly inclusive so all can participate and contribute fully regardless of physical, sensory or cognitive abilities, needs and preferences. We shared some of the ways we set up the environment, communicate with people and design in varying engagement approaches suited to all preferences and needs so we can gather the richest insight from everyone involved.

If you are interested in the presentation, it is available on SlideShare here.

Some of the highlights for me from the conference this year

  • Spending time with Caroline Casey who MC-ed the event with her usual lovely energy and passion. I don’t often meet people that I find it so easy to connect with both personally and professionally as I did to Caroline. In such a busy few days, our lunch together was definitely a jewel in this trip.

See our interview with Caroline about the Valuable 500 initiative in our podcast or vlog here.

An image of Anastasia Somosa on stage speaking at the Zero Project Conference 2019. She is seated in her wheelchair wearing a soft pink knitted jumper and rich maroon trousers. Behind her is the Zero Project banner in green

Anastasia Somoza – NYC disability community liaison ©Pepo Schuster

  • Listening to amazing speakers from the legendary Senator Ted Harkin (author and sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990) to the influential and insightful Jenny Lay-Flurrie from Microsoft or fabulous future changers such as Anastasia Somoza. At a very youthful, but mature 9 years old, Anastasia started challenging presidents and influencing national politics in the USA to be more mindful of inclusion of people with access needs. Now, almost 25 years later she is still a powerful voice influencing from within the NYC Council, as liaison to the disabled community there.

My favourite quote of the event came from Anastasia

“We will know that we have really moved the needle when people no longer see disability as a “special need” but instead as an integral part of the human experience.” 

  • Getting to hear about and experience the many innovative products such as from Step Hear with their digital orientation solutions for visually impaired passengers of public transport in Israel, to Wigital, an app for sign language speakers in South Africa to better understand terms and conditions of contracts they are entering into, or Mobiloo providing portaloo/changing places that are fully inclusive across Ireland and the UK as well as many more.
  • Sharing time, ideas and experience with the other panelists on the Data Forum. Inclusive user research, data capture and analysis to assure quality insight is a topic that we take very seriously at Open. We are always looking to learn more from leaders in this field, and the group on the forum all are such leaders. Thank you all for clearly sharing your practical ideas from working in the field, your leading concepts from academia and industry and the very interesting outputs of your various data research projects. We hailed from Spain, Austria, Ireland, Thailand, Singapore, and the UK. We were remarkably consistent in so many elements (both data challenges and things we are doing to address them) that it gives me confidence that we can and will move leading practices forwards together. I felt humbled by you all. If you are interested in inclusive research and insight, I would highly recommend the session. A video of it is attached here for you.