20 May 2010
By Robert Morsillo

When user needs drive real innovation


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.


Posts: 3


  1. ttony greybeard of SL says:

    Well Telstra/Bigpond will sponsorer something like this but they wont make it cheaper for disabled,socially isolated,injured or terminally ill people who use sites like Secondlife,Youtube or Facebook as ways to keep in contact with friends & family…not to mention they pulled out of Secondlife after introducing thousands of people into the 3D world which they think is just a game but to alot of us it is our way of beating illness, disability or just distance,which i am part of all 3 i also am trying to start a bussiness within Secondlife to make real money not virtual money.

  2. Robert Morsillo (Telstra staffer) says:

    Thanks ttony for your feedback. I guess the Prize will at least help highlight these ICT access issues for people with disability, which will feed into public policy discussions such as the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Disability Care and Support. I know that the Prize winner will be using the award to further the work of disability access to these sorts of 3D online communities, which I commend. Regards.

  3. Robbie Stephens says:

    Just another reason why the NBN is progressive idea and why Telstra are either naive, stubborn or downright stupid to not get onboard.

    If you build it, they will come…

  4. Denise Wood says:

    Hi ttony

    Thanks for sharing your concerns and experiences. As Robert has mentioned, the prize money from this award sponsored by Telstra will be used to further our research into improving accessibility to such technologies for people with disabilities. Our research has certainly identified the benefits of Web 2.0 and virtual worlds for people with disabilities as you so rightly argue. Similarly, our research has identified many barriers to people with disabilities including accessibility issues and affordability of both hardware and internet services. Our research, reported in the paper published in TJA reports on some of the solutions we are developing to address the accessibility issues. The funds from the award will be reinvested into this research to improve outcomes for people with disabilities as well as enabling us to progress other avenues of research regarding affordability issues. As Robert also mentions, we hope our ongoing research will enable us to present compelling evidence of the issues facing people with disabilities for consideration at the national level, including submissions to the PC Inquiry.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and for raising such important issues.

    Best wishes


  5. Chris Dodds says:

    The issue ttony raises is critical. Technology does provide significant benefits for addressing disadvantage for a number of groups including esepcially people with disabilities and people living in remote regions. it is unfortunate that equipment, training and support all cost money and that just as in the society at large there is inequity in access. In every state there are huge waiting lists for essential equipment provision. In remote areas there are people with essential equipment EG satillite dishes and those without. As Web 2.0 solutions to issues like involvement,employment and social connection are developed it is also essential to ensure that these benefits flow to all not just those with the financial resources to participate.

  6. Denise Wood says:

    Hi Chris

    Absolutely agree with your comments, and yes it is not just the lack of access to the technology and the internet -- there is also a need for adequate funding to provide local training and support. Web 2.0 and virtual world technologies are opening up new opportunities as well as leading to a new kind of digital divide. That is why we need to leverage as much support as possible to ensure that these issues are articulated in our responses to the National Productivity Commission Inquiry. It is an agenda I am pursuing in collaboration with several service providers and I know this is a concern of high priority for these groups.



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