Blind student developing plan for accessible vending machines

'I couldn't use the vending machine, even though I knew it was there. I had to ask one of my fellow students,' says ...
KELLY HODEL/FAIRFAX NZ

'I couldn't use the vending machine, even though I knew it was there. I had to ask one of my fellow students,' says University of Waikato student Jayne Sankey-O'Dwyer.

She'd just come out of class, thirsty, and there was a vending machine. But she couldn't use it.

University of Waikato law student Jayne Sankey-O'Dwyer is blind, and that experience gave her the idea of creating machines that were easy for people with disabilities to use.

"I couldn't use the vending machine, even though I knew it was there. I had to ask one of my fellow students to use it for me," she said.

"It just seemed quite unfair."

Sankey-O'Dwyer now has a $5000 scholarship for the university's Summer Start-Up Programme, which encourages entrepreneurship by giving students 10 weeks to develop a project or idea.

Other student ideas range from a management app for flats to a student volunteer organisation and a guitar amplifier for home studios.

Sankey-O'Dwyer's plan is to look into software similar to Siri on iPhone to operate the machines by voice.

She went blind at 25 and said most people didn't think about the daily activities that could become a challenge.

"You have to relearn everything."

So her vending machine experience got an idea brewing before she'd even heard about the summer programme, which she said came at a very convenient time.

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Voice-activated, accessible vending machines would give blind people more choice, she said.

The project is still in the early stages and the more she researches, the more different needs she finds for people within the disability community.

"A lady I know that is in a wheelchair was saying to me that she can't reach the coin slot and her knees are in the way of the product drawer," she said.

So she may have to narrow her target audience to people who are blind or visually impaired.

She is one of about 30 students selected for the Summer Start-Up Programme, about 10 of whom are in Tauranga.

"It's about how to take your idea to a venture or new social organisation," said co-founder Dr Chris Kirk.

The initiative includes help from an expert start-up coach, workshops and a shared working space, and was developed by the university and Waikato Students' Union.

Sankey-O'Dwyer still needs more people to complete a survey about vending machine use.

 - Stuff

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