Irena Ilic joined one of the teams at the GovHack Sydney site. The team built three projects but her favourite was a project that created an app to help people with less mobility to find accessible toilets in different locations. Data came from NSW transport, Australian Bureau of Statistics and a couple of others.
The team had diverse skills including Photoshop, video editing, coding/programming, and using data from datasets. The team worked together really well to make great stuff at GovHack.
One thing that sets Irena’s team apart is that she is profoundly deaf. I asked her what that means.
It means I can’t really hear anything. I am like 90% deaf and rely on sign language to communicate with other people. I use notes on my iPhone to communicate with hearing people which does work quite well in most situations.
During GovHack, the team communicated with each other, and Irena, using some Slack channels which she found very useful and helped to keep up with everything that was going on with all three projects.
Is GovHack accessible?
I asked Irena how GovHack was for someone without hearing.
I can remember quite well on that Friday night when we went there for the opening ceremony. I felt like I missed out on a lot of things. It would be really helpful if the videos had subtitles. There are other ways to make things better for people like myself like maybe providing additional notes, more assistance from crew/mentors, etc.
Does modern technology make it easier for you?
Certainly, things were very different when I was a kid. Technology has changed quite a lot over the years which has been helpful for deaf people to communicate with other people. Like when I am at work, I can write emails or MOC (Microsoft Office Communicator) people if I need to talk to them.
(Irena works in Information Management for the Australian Taxation Office).
I remember when YouTube first started doing [automatic captioning] some years ago. It wasn’t very good. However, things have improved a lot like I am starting to see more and more videos with subtitles that work great on YouTube. I think they are doing a great job on making it more accessible for deaf people so they don’t miss out.
I’ve tried [smartphone speech recognition] with several people and it didn’t work great because you know some people have very different accents. So I guess speech recognition software doesn’t really understand all the different kinds of accents that people have. I think they still have a long way to go.
Advice for GovHack competitors with special needs
I would tell them to give it a go. Doesn’t hurt to try and maybe they will achieve something great like I did with my team.
I was very nervous because I didn’t know what to expect and it was actually my first time to participate in GovHack. I was a bit concerned about working with other people because most hearing people haven’t worked with a deaf person before. I thought it was going to be a challenge for them to work with me. I am glad it didn’t turn out that way because we all got along really well and had lots of laughs.
Although the opening night was difficult for Irena, things changed. “I think that moment came up when I went there the next day to do some more work with other people in our team. I was helping someone with photoshop work and discussing with other people about coming up with some ideas for our team logo/name. I felt like I was starting to feel more comfortable and relaxed when I was interacting with them”.
I want GovHack readers to know that people with disabilities are not that different from hearing/’able’ people because I believe that they can do so many great things if they are determined and have the support. I think GovHack is a great platform to show that all people of different abilities and backgrounds can do great things.
GovHack is committed to supporting all participants and we promise to do better in the future. We enthusiastically welcome Irena and are grateful for her patience and honest feedback.
Story by Peter Marks for GovHack.