Making the World More Inclusive for The One Billion People Living with Disabilities
Applying the skills she learned at Torrens University Australia, Melanie Tran is the co-founder of AbilityMate, a company which uses 3D printing to create custom made orthoses. She is also a UX Designer for Hireup, an online platform which allows people with a disability to find and manage support workers.
For Melanie Tran, a Digital Media student at Torrens University Australia, accomplishing her dreams starts with a fearless attitude and believing in herself. She is a disruptor, an innovator, an activist, and an entrepreneur. Every day, she fights to make the world more inclusive and accessible for the one billion people who live with a disability.
Melanie began her studies at Torrens in 2015. However, she has not let her busy schedule as a student and thought leader stop her from using her unique perspective, expertise, and voice to help create a tangible and meaningful impact for others. She is the co-founder of AbilityMate and is also a UX Designer for Hireup. Her leadership has helped both ventures achieve significant impact and scale.
“My lived experience as someone who has a disability, coupled with my skills and knowledge as a User Experience Designer, allows me to be a change maker in the disability and technology sectors,” she said. “I work bringing together two worlds that have not always worked side by side. I believe disability must drive us towards innovation”.
Melanie’s work has been recognized globally, including becoming the first person in the world with a physical disability to receive the The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. In addition, she is a highly sought-after public speaker and media commentator. Melanie was recently selected to presentthis pitch at the TEDx Sydney Pitch Night at the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Each day Melanie finds ways to apply everything she learns and experiences to innovate and disrupt traditional models. She is driven by a deep sense of empathy, has an orientation towards finding creative solutions, and embodies Laureate’s spirit of being Here for Good.
Blending technology with human-centered design, Melanie and her team harness the power of digital technology to make affordable orthoses for people with disabilities and with health professionals, shaping the future of orthotics to make high-quality orthoses without the hassle of plaster-casting. Their engagement with medical-grade 3D printers allow them to produce complex orthoses quickly, accurately, and affordably. Each product designed by AbilityMate becomes open-source, increasing global access to custom, 3D-printable solutions that help people with a range of disabilities increase their mobility, communication, and ability to carry out everyday activities.
Since its launch, AbilityMate has engaged over 100 individuals with disabilities and their families through co-design workshops and mobilized more than 500 supporters and allies through a crowdfunding campaign to jumpstart clinical trials and secure regulatory authorization. “Once our products are commercialized,” says Melanie, “we have the potential to benefit millions of people with disabilities around the world.”
Ranked number one on Deloitte’s Top 50 Fastest Growing Tech Companies in 2017, Hireup has rapidly disrupted the traditional model of provision of support services for people living with disability. This online platform allows people with disability and their families to find, hire and manage their own home care and support workers. Hireup has brought the peer-to-peer economy to the Australian disability sector, using technology to empower and support this community in a way that has never before been achieved. Melanie herself manages a team of ten support workers who enable her to do what she loves each day. This, combined with her talent in UX Design, provides her with a unique perspective and an opportunity to create impact.
- There are more than 27 000 users on the platform across Australia – this includes support workers and people with a disability
- Since the launch of Hireup in 2015, people with a disability have saved more than $8 million (Australian Dollars) in their funding packages and are able to access more hours of much needed support
- Since 2015, Hireup support workers have provided over 1.2 million hours of support to people who have a disability
- 103 Hireup staff are employed at their headquarters
Q&A With Melanie Tran
1. What does being Here for Good mean to you?
To me, as a student at Laureate, the term Here for Good is a promise – a promise to use education as a tool to create social change and embed this in the curriculum. I see it as an opportunity to use the power of education as a catalyst for change. It is about learning the fundamentals of being a UX designer and taking it one step further, where I can look at social challenges through the creative lens.
The best part about being Here for Good is embracing the opportunity to adopt leadership qualities and have the ability to bring together the worlds of business and design – because when we can find that balance between the two worlds, magic happens. To me, social impact sits perfectly between business and design, and the term Here for Good enables me to embrace these three critical elements.
2. How has Torrens helped deepen and accelerate the impact you’re having in the world?
My experience at Torrens has led me to a path I never knew existed. To be honest, when I first started studying here four years ago, I didn’t completely understand the potential of design. Over the years at Torrens, I’ve noticed the Here for Good philosophy embedded in each of the subjects, and as I continue to move forward in my course, it feels as though I am putting together a puzzle, piece by piece, until I see the full picture and understand how to put social impact at the core of business and design. The most important thing I have learned is that it’s not just about how I can use the skills I have developed to help create social impact – it is also about how I can use education as a catalyst to do better and dream bigger. Torrens has equipped me with the essential skills to become a creative thinker, an innovator, and an entrepreneur who embraces social inclusion as a core principle.
3. There are 1 million students across the Laureate network, how does it feel to be selected as the winner of this important award?
Overwhelmed and incredibly honored! It’s such a privilege to be selected as the winner for this award and I can’t thank Laureate enough for this opportunity. To me, this award not only reinforces the power of education, it also brings in a new horizon – it taught me to leverage the tools and resources I have been given, to create opportunities for myself and for others.
I still find it hard to believe that I have won this award. Four years ago, I wanted to follow my passion and become a UX designer but I fought countless battles just to pursue higher education. Mainly because I was only seen as a person with a disability and pursuing higher education and aiming for success is just simply “too difficult and unrealistic” for someone like me. Although I have managed to overcome this, I can’t say I didn’t go through times where I questioned myself and had to resist the urge to give in to what others were saying. So, this award means the world to me, and to those around me – because it shows I can use my unique perspective as a platform to help create social change.
4. What is your message to other students across the Laureate network?
Be fearless. Make mistakes. Learn from them and do better! The one thing I have learned is that if you want to be innovative, creative and ground breaking, you need to first believe in yourself – because a lot of people will tell you no. If you believe in yourself and the vision you have, keep fighting for it.