Its mission is “working for a world without barriers”, as defined by the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and it focuses on researching and communicating innovations. Through this mission, Zero Project aims to celebrate “the dignity of man”.
The 2018 conterence, hosted by the Essl Foundation, took place in the UN office in Vienna, and I was lucky enough to attend.
The conference opened with an impressive speech by TED speaker and social entrepreneur Caroline Casey. She explained that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are playing an important role in shaping our world, especially for people with disabilities, saying: “We must find and implement one single innovation for people with disabilities in our home country right now.”
The first keynote speech was by political scientist Daniela Bas, who spoke about how accessibility can help us achieve inclusive and sustainable development for all. She said: “The ‘dis’ in ‘disability’ can stay at home. Let us try to bring the abilities forward more and more.”
For the first day of the conference, I chose to attend sessions focusing on innovations for people with visual impairments. These included orientation systems such as tactile pavements in Italy, an audio-based navigation system for mobile devices called Wayfindr, and a menu-reading app called MenuSpeak, developed by an organisation called Mopius in Vienna, to help people choose food and beverages in restaurants.
Day one ended with more keynote speeches, most notably by Shelly London, president of Poses Family Foundation, whoch focuses on improving the lives of people with learning and attention issues. She spoke about children with neurodiverse conditions, telling us to “look for unexpected inspiration and see the world through your child’s eyes”.
The annual conference took place in February 2018 at the United Nations office in Vienna, Austria. In total, 650 people travelled from 70 countries to attend.Visit the website
On the second day of the conference, disability expert Immaculada Placencia discussed the European Accessibility Act, encouraging the audience to “prepare the world for a different way of thinking about accessibility.” This is something we are very much doing at Sightsavers as we work on more of our publications and websites to make sure they are accessible for people with disabilities and other conditions.
My sessions for day two focused on sign language and IT solutions supporting people with hearing impairments. Most impressive was the work of Gallaudet University in Washington DC, which has developed a bilingual storybook app written in sign language. We heard the argument that sign language should be part of the curriculum in all schools, so people with hearing loss are not alienated, but can communicate with everyone in their language.
At the end of the sessions, we walked to the rotunda of the UN Building, where we listened to the Longfield Gospel Choir perform the Zero Project Hymn: the song speaks of changing the world to create a civil society for the benefit of everyone. Watch the video on the right to hear the song.
That evening, the awards ceremony took place: it was great to see so many of the products we had heard about during the seminars receiving awards.
On reflection: “Daniela Bas’s statement about focusing on ability really rang a bell with me. As a person with severe visual impairments, I try to focus on the things I can do and ignore the things I cannot do, especially in my work with the Social Inclusion Working Group. I love to make the most of the talents of the group and utilise these to everyone’s benefit.”