Home / Issues  / Dragon’s Den for the disability sector, a major milestone for access citizens

Dragon’s Den for the disability sector, a major milestone for access citizens

The Global Centre of Possibility at AUT (GCOP) is launching its flagship programme for possibility leadership.

Thirteen access entrepreneurs and innovators were recognised at an event in April that heralded the launch of their projects and social change initiatives and innovation that are designed to contribute to a fully accessible Aotearoa for every citizen and visitor.

One entrepreneur is Ari Kerssens, a 26-year-old Aucklander who lost most of his sight at 19 due to a genetic eye condition. Having since become an accessibility advocate, he is collaborating on Free Fares to Freedom, a petition calling on government to reinstate the access to affordable, independent mobility that was available during the first Covid lockdown.

Ari is also working on the Sight Dependent project, which has support from Creative NZ to create a framework of accessibility for art galleries in Aotearoa based in part on world-leading accessible venues in Europe, which Ari visited in a research trip before lockdown.

“I have these two established projects, but I don’t have a lot of experience in advocacy, business or leadership, and this is the perfect time for me to gain the skills and relationships that the Possibility Leadership Programme provides,” says Kerssens.

“I want to be able to apply my unique perspective of accessibility, informed by my understanding of sensory neuroscience as much as personal experience – and augmented with my charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent – to pave the way for an all-access Aotearoa.”

Christchurch-based Cate Grace’s project involves building a community of voices that can actively participate in creating partnerships for change. Cate believes that New Zealand is on the cusp of embracing diversity and truly becoming a team of five million.

“For me, the Possibility Leadership Programme is an opportunity to build whakapapa and leave no one behind. I hope to establish a grassroots framework that helps whānau with access needs, who might not yet be heard in their community, to have a voice,” she says.

GCOP and central government are supporting these entrepreneurs as they take the initiative and develop their concepts to expand possibility in communities.

GCOP founder and Chief Possibility Officer Minnie Baragwanath says it is the right time to invest in accessibility.

“The calibre of these 13 people is simply stunning, proving that there is latent access entrepreneurial talent in all our communities, businesses and educational facilities.

“Access citizens in Aotearoa are taking the lead as they cannot wait for permission from the mainstream community or for power structures to change to create a fully accessible future for all.”

New Zealand has the fifth highest employment rate for 15-64 year olds in the OECD – fifth out of 37 countries. The unemployment rate data for the December quarter fell from 5.3% to 4.9%, astounding all economic predictions, yet the unemployment rate for access citizens sits at 11.4%.  

Baragwanath says GCOP’s role is to resource these access entrepreneurs to be business and social leaders, innovators and change makers who can give us the world we need, fit for all citizens, economically, culturally and socially.

“They are some of the best people to do this work, because as access citizens they have spent all their lives, in many cases, being creative, thinking outside the box, and developing their resilience to live successfully in mainstream spaces that are explicitly not designed to accommodate them.”

The pilot programme for access entrepreneurship is possible with support from the Office for Disability Issues in the Ministry of Social Development. AUT remains a key partner to the programme, with the GCOP partnering with the Entrepreneurship Team at AUT and the Co-Starter Programme to deliver the flagship programme. 

Other partners include the GCOP’s sister organisation Be. Lab; founding Possibility Partner Sudima Hotels, which is providing accommodation for participants; and Autex, the innovative acoustic panelling and insulation company which uses recycled plastic in its materials and is converting the GCOP HQ at AUT into a fully accessible space with bespoke panelling that is suited to access citizens with hearing impairment or loss or auditory sensitivity.

Review overview