The Be. Lab – what’s it all about?

A Microsoft Be. Lab taking place

The Be. Lab is a New Zealand-based, globally-networked centre for access innovation.

We’re creating the Be. Lab because we believe a shift to an innovative, future-focused, systems-led approach to accessibility is critical if Aotearoa is to address what we call ‘the access paradox’. The ‘access paradox’ recognises that our world is currently experiencing, simultaneously, both the profound costs of the exclusion of people with access needs and very real access market opportunities.

People with disabilities remain one of the most underemployed groups – and consequently, one of the most socially and economically disadvantaged. However, alongside this inequality we are also seeing a burgeoning, highly lucrative, and largely untapped market for accessible products and services due, largely, to the aging Baby Boomer cohort – the wealthiest generation in history.

When we consider this paradox, we must also understand the context it exists within. In this VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, disruption happens swiftly. And any number of future currents – global migration patterns, crypto-currencies, shifting societal attitudes, climate change-related weather events, political upheaval, the aging population, AI and automation – could profoundly affect the state of accessibility globally. Existing access challenges may escalate rapidly, or alternatively, be eliminated completely. Additionally, the historical, hard-fought-for wins of the accessibility movement have the potential to be quickly and dramatically impacted. Humankind is at a critical juncture – the decisions we make today can either create the most inclusive or the most disabling society the world has ever known.

The Be. Lab seeks drive the next wave of social change for people with access needs by working at the intersection of all of this.

We believe a nation which ensures Access Citizens can thrive will be a nation with possibility woven into every place, every offering, and every system. The Be. Lab is setting out to facilitate this – and to position Aotearoa as a global leader in access innovation – by:

  • establishing an ‘access innovation ecosystem’ which creates the conditions for access innovation to flourish.
  • developing access innovation, access entrepreneurship, and inclusive design capability in organisations, communities, and individuals throughout Aotearoa.
  • fostering future-focused and systems-led approaches to accessibility.
  • connecting organisations and entrepreneurs with access markets.
  • establishing a nation-wide measurement tool which quantifies and tracks access-focused social change.

Where are we at now?

We’ve made some great progress with the Be. Lab development in the last few months. We’ve now:

  • piloted (with rave reviews!) the Be. Lab workshops – a 3 day access innovation deep-dive designed to act as a catalyst for organisational transformation and capability development.
  • brought on board our first Be. Lab strategic partner, Microsoft
  • held a series of conversations with other potential investment partners – more information on those very soon!

We believe deeply in the potential of the Be. Lab, and it’s so exciting to see the energy it’s already generating. As we establish sustainable funding through strategic partnerships we will move into the next phase of the Lab’s development – watch this space!

Victory Convention Centre

Victory Convention CentreVictory Convention Centre’s journey to Gold began in the lead up to Te Ao Tangata – Inclusive by Design, Aotearoa’s 3rd annual Universal Design Conference. Be. Accessible assessed the center to ensure as many people as possible could access the conference. Their initial rating was a Silver, but within 10 short days the team had implemented a raft of changes, and were swiftly upgraded to Gold!

These changes included:

1. Painting four accessible car parks directly opposite the main entrance into the Convention Centre

2. Installing way finding signage from the entrance to the accessible car parks

3. Providing information about access on their website

4. Installing a large way finding sign in the main foyer at the entrance

Victory Convention Centre is not only accessible across all facilities, but it is also in a great location. Overlooking Victoria Park on one side and the Auckland Harbour on the other, it is a great location for large scale events in the city. Attendees of the Universal Design Conference spoke about how friendly and helpful the staff were towards their access needs, from greeting them at their cars with an umbrella, to taking their assistance dogs out for fresh air – not to mention the center itself being incredibly easy to navigate.

Be. Coach flew up from Wellington with her guide dog Pedro for the event. “I found the site very easy to get around, with clearly identified staff and volunteers, who were all very helpful and willing to take my guide dog out for a walk. This would have to be one of the most accessible conferences I have ever attended.”

Be. Welcome Relationship Manager Lauren Wetini assessed the site, and commended Victory Convention Centre’s commitment to continual improvement. "The management at Victory Convention Centre worked really hard to improve access for the Universal Design Conference, knowing the changes they would make would benefit everybody attending future events. They have a goal to become the first events center to reach Platinum, which is really exciting".

Catherine interns at GNS Science: what she learnt about herself

Catherine Sangster Hello, my name is Catherine, and over the summer of 2017/2018 I was an intern at GNS Science, Te Pū Ao. GNS Science conducts geoscience and isotope research and provides consultancy services. I was working in the regional geology department.

During my placement I was involved in a variety of projects, such as digitising borehole data and old maps as part of urban mapping projects in Wellington and Auckland, writing python scripts to automate tasks and process data, and helping to curate PETLAB, the National Rock and Geoanalytical Database.

I learnt how to apply design thinking in the work place, matching my colleagues needs with what is technologically feasible. I furthered my ability to effectively problem solve, selecting appropriate tools for the task at hand. Solving real world problems in GNS allowed me to prove to myself that in the workplace I can work independently. I learned to balance instruction with self-direction and initiative.

This internship showed me that someone like myself can function at a high level in the workplace. I have managed my disability to a level where it has little impact on my value as an employee. This has given me the confidence to step out of the academic world.

None of this would have been possible without the practical support of Be.Employed. The most crucial support provided by Be.Employed was the help in making connections. Sarah, a brilliant relationship manager, gave me motivation to actively look for opportunities and support to reach out. I also found the CV advice and the PepTalk employment workshop helped me to increase my own marketability. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity.

Universal Design Conference: TravAbility

Bill Forrester speaking about accessible tourism at the Universal Design ConferenceTe Ao Tangata – Inclusive by Design was New Zealand’s 3rd annual Universal Design Conference, and sponsored by Be. Accessible, LifeMark and CCS Disability Action. The conference focused on housing, neighbourhood, transport and tourism.

Speaking on accessible tourism was Bill Forrester. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Bill founded TravAbility in 2007 with the mission to “be agents of change; to inspire people who have never travelled before to do so, and to inspire others to do more. To encourage all cultures of the world to see disability as an integral part of life, and to provide the motivation and tools to the tourism industry to allow them to create accessible environments that enable inclusion in an economically sustainable way”.

In Bill’s keynote speech, he spoke about the economic opportunities and practical benefits of enabling accessible tourism. He mentioned that people with disabilities travel at a slightly higher percentage than the general population. It is also not homogenous - "the only minority group that anyone can join in an instant". There are "perceptions that people with disabilities live below the poverty line. It's not true". The baby boomer generation in particular have a spending power of $8.4 trillion in USA and control 50% of tourism expenditure. This generation is retiring, and don't take no for an answer!

Part of the issue however, is that it is difficult to find marketing material on accessible tourism, and a lack of information on what is accessible to allow the traveller to plan the full journey. "Travel is all about systems. The journey has to be integrated". For example, adaptive saddles and accessible harnessed can only be distributed and work effectively if the whole tourism industry is involved.

"People with disabilities will not venture into the unknown because the risks are too high". And with the opportunities for tourism operators being so far, it's about time accessible tourism was mainstreamed! Lonely Planet has recognised this, and developed an accessible phrasebook for tourists to communicate their needs in the local language.

There is a growing global community of accessible tourism operators who have recognised this need. Be. Accessible has been working with tourism operators, visitor attractions and hotels across New Zealand to become as accessible as possible. Wellington’s Te Papa Museum for example, is Gold rated and constantly seeking ways to improve accessibility. Oyster Travel operates as an accessible travel agency in New Zealand and Making Trax provides adaptive equipment to adventure tourism operators. Be.'s Marketing Assistant travelled to India in early 2018, which was organised by New Delhi based accessible travel agency Planet Abled, who organised accessible accommodation, transport, tour guides, and providing information on accessible attractions.

Universal Design Conference: Systems change in transport

At the Universal Design Conference Systems change in transport talk In September 2018, Be. Accessible was a Gold sponsor of Te Ao Tangata – Inclusive by Design, the 3rd annual Universal Design Conference. The conference encouraged participants to think about designing inclusively, particularly in the four key areas of housing, neighbourhood, transport and travel.

Talking all things transport-related, was transport engineer Bridget Burdett. Bridget is a Principal Researcher at global engineering company Stantec, based in their Hamilton office, focusing on road safety, human factors, inclusiveness and accessibility. Her interest is in "understanding how engineers think so that she can recommend systemic changes that result in better outcome for people". She is also in the final stages of a PhD in applied cognitive psychology at the University of Waikato.

Bridget has looked extensively into making transport genuinely inclusive and designing a world for how humans behave. Her thesis study was about mind wandering during everyday driving. "Transport is complex. Journeys happen for lots of reasons, by different people, by different modes. On familiar urban roads, I estimate that drivers’ minds are wandering at least half of the time. Working is like this too. Everyone has a brain that is trying its best to be efficient."

Bridget told a story about her own experience cycling around a double-lane roundabout in Hamilton. The car on the outer lane let her go through, but the car driving on the inner lane didn’t see her, and she was struck. The second lane was built during the construction of a new development, reacting to resource consent conditions where you’re not allowed to “delay traffic”. Her comment highlighted bad planning that makes us slaves to the motor car.

This is not the fault of the engineer. “They suffer constraints, and challenges, and are working within a long history of professional habits”. But she said that if the second lane wasn’t there, we could have raised pedestrian zebra crossings all the way around it.

Bridget’s suggestion is that all sectors should collaborate within the industry to implement good design rather than retrofitting past mistakes. “We need more leaders from the disability sector, more representation in the decision-making – from community and other disciplines such as geography – whose expertise are seen in the big picture”. For Bridget the focus should be about “working towards inclusiveness and wellbeing instead of mitigating traffic congestion”. You may be interested in the reflection about Housing, where Tricia Austin from the University of Auckland spoke about her study of the housing development at Hobsonville Point.