Meet our 10 finalists


Valerie Irvine


Dr. Valerie Irvine is a professor in educational technology and co-director of the Technology Integration and Evaluation (TIE) Research Lab in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria.


How is your project "smart" and aligned to the themes of Smart South Island?

Our project, entitled AIM for Accessibility Innovation and Mobility, with all Smart South Island themes. We are proposing a digital platform for supporting cyberproxy, which allows anyone, regardless of disability type or accessibility need, to have access via an online presence into a physical space.


How was the final concept determined?

At the core of this concept are the values of human rights and social justice. From there, we considered other use cases and mechanisms. Initially, I was not focused on developing a business, but this competition pushed me from focusing on this as an academic concept to partnering with others and developing a business model to make it a reality for those in need.     


How does your concept name explain itself?

AIM stands for Accessibility Innovation and Mobility. In virtual reality environments, one holds a controller and aims to a tile on the ground ahead, then clicks to be transported here. It’s not that different in the real world. People have targets of where they want to get to and, for some, it is simply not possible due to barriers. If we use our networks and technology effectively, we can support a “click and be there” approach. It can give a whole new meaning to “I will aim to be there.”


Where else in Canada or the world could you see your project being effective?

Anywhere in the world where there is wireless internet and technology to be a portal for accessing a space. Our idea makes it possible to locate and access these invisible ramps. In the 1980s, when cement ramps became legislated, we did not have the internet and video conferencing technologies. Now we have them, but we have not yet organized and evolved to systematize access for the other 48% of individuals with disabilities. Those with lower limb mobility issues, who use the wheelchair ramps, comprise only 52% of the population with disabilities.


What was the biggest challenge in creating your concept?

Being a futurist is challenge in a society that tends to avoid change. Fortunately, with the pace of change increasing, I think we are getting more experienced at adapting to change than we were in the 1990s. I have worked on this idea for years. The team I have is very experienced and excited to move this idea forward. It helps to have that reinforcement.


What has been the most enjoyable part of creating your concept?

It is the big hope that I can help those who have been excluded, those who have written off being able to access education or have delimited themselves to online universities. The most enjoyable part is reconnecting with the student with an autoimmune disability, who was forced to leave an academic program due to its core courses being face-to-face. I told her that she had a big impact on me and I have not stopped trying to right that wrong. This is for her and, if successful, it will ensure that no other citizen like her will be blocked from being where they want to be. We really are cutting edge in exploring this at the University of Victoria. I love how responsive the community is here to explore change.


If you could select any well-known person to endorse your project, who would it be and why?

It would be an entity: leadership. The provincial and federal governments and those executives in charge of other institutions, like universities and k12, as that is where human rights are squeezed the most. I would love to meet with John Horgan, Andrew Weaver, and Andrew Wilkinson as legislation requires collaboration. I would love to meet the person(s) who brought in the 1987 legislation requiring the use of cement ramps, to gain their assistance or insights.


If you could include any partner(s) within your concept who would they be and why?

I would seek out an angel investor to help fast-track this idea and additional business leaders, who are passionate about the concept, to gain their experience to ensure its success. I would like to partner with those who can establish that accessibility must happen using networking and video conferencing technologies, such as the telepresence robot.


What long-term impact do you envision about your project?

The long-term impact I want to see is that we create a mechanism by which citizens can be where they want or need to be, and physicality does not stand in their way. Ideally, I would like to see mobility reach beyond those with disabilities. For example, one should not have to choose between the ability to attend a meeting and the legal requirements for presence of care for a child. As was said in a recent Forbes magazine article, “flexible work is the future of feminism.” I would like to see this pervade all aspects of life everywhere – and say, “there’s an app for that” followed by “there’s policy and legislation for that.”


Why is Smart South Island important to our Region?

I was engaged solely in disseminating this idea in academic conferences and in my teaching. Smart South Island summoned our best ideas for a smart city. I have business experts on my team now, who believe in the business opportunity and who say we should proceed regardless of the outcome of the Open Innovation Challenge. It excites me to think that I could have a larger impact on society and create change that supports human rights and social justice.