Q: What do YouTube, Second Life, high speed broadband and information about accessible features have in common?

A: They have all been subjected lately to some serious innovation work to bring the benefits of modern communications technologies to people with disability, with spin-off benefits for all telecommunications users.

They are also the subject of four scholarly papers accepted for the Telstra-TJA Christopher Newell Prize for Telecommunications and Disability, which was presented today, 19 May 2010, by the Hon. Bill Shorten MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, at a special event in Melbourne, which I had the honour of organising.

The winner of the 2010 Christopher Newell Prize is Dr Denise Wood, from the University of SA, for her paper, “Communicating in Virtual Worlds through an Accessible Web 2.0 Solution.”

Dr Wood has identified the benefits of Web 2.0 and 3D Virtual Worlds such as Second Life for people with disabilities, noting that there are a large number of groups in Second Life that provide opportunities for people who identify as disabled, or who have an interest in disability, to socialise, share information or receive support services. However, for these benefits to be realised, there is an urgent need for developers to address the identified accessibility challenges posed by such dynamic, media rich environments. Dr Wood will use the proceeds of this award to extend her research and actually build accessibility solutions for people with disability in collaboration with colleagues from universities and community groups across Australia, the US and the UK.

The Christopher Newell Prize, initiated by Mr Shorten and sponsored by Telstra, is awarded for the best original paper offered for publication by the Telecommunications Journal of Australia that demonstrates the tangible benefits that an innovative use of telecommunications technology can deliver in assisting individuals with disabilities. The prize recognises and commemorates the ground-breaking work that the late Revd Canon Dr Christopher Newell AM undertook within the telecommunications industry from 1990 to 2008 in representing the needs of people with disability. It was wonderful to have a number of Christopher’s family and friends at the event, as well many people from the telecommunications industry who knew Christopher.

The other accepted papers are:

  • Katie Ellis, “A Purposeful Rebuilding: YouTube, Representation, Accessibility and the socio-political space of Disability.”
  • Rob Garrett & Gunela Astbrink, “Are we there yet? The struggle for phone accessibility information.”
  • Jim Slater, Jan-Ingvar Lindstrom & Gunela Astbrink, “TV and broadband: Innovative applications for people with disabilities.”

Telstra has agreed to again sponsor the prize with the TJA in 2011. Details for entry can be obtained by visiting ACSTSA.

The 2010 winning paper, and other accepted papers can be accessed in the May 2010 edition of the Telecommunications Journal of Australia.