Our Board Members at VisAbility come from diverse backgrounds with different specialities, but all are committed to supporting our organisation. They have a united goal to provide the best service provision for our clients. One of our longest serving is university academic Professor Iain Murray.
Professor Iain Murray, who took up his post ten years ago, was recently recognised as a John Curtin Distinguished Professor, the highest honour awarded to academic staff. The accolade shines a spotlight on his remarkable achievements in the world of accessible technology. To mark this award we’ve been speaking to him about his career and life to date.
What does this university award mean to you?
It’s quite humbling because it acknowledges my vast input in the field of assistive technology since taking up my first role with Curtin University (link opens in new window) twenty-two years ago. It highlights my involvement developing new courses, establishing and maintaining partnerships and helping people with vision loss to secure jobs.
There are 65,000 students at Curtin University and within my School 4,000 students, which has some 120 staff reporting under me.
You call yourself a technology geek – can you elaborate?
Yes, I have a natural interest in gadgets and electronics.
My brother Gordon who was a Rubella baby was born blind and had other health complications.
He went to the Sutherland School for the Blind and I mixed with his friends and realised how some techy gadgets might make his life easier.
Gordon has passed away now, but we were close and his blindness had a huge impact on me. I donated a kidney to him when I was 29. He could never lead an independent life but he had a good life.
What are the highlights of your Curtin University career?
I’m currently the Head of School for Electrical Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Science. I’ve worked my way up, but in the early years I did lots of research.
I am most proud of the Cisco networking training initiative known as the Cisco Academy. It was established 18 years ago and is still going strong today and has partner organisations in India, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka, England and South Africa along with many people studying online from all over the world. It encourages people with vision loss to become programmers and to configure electronics so they can have future careers. Around 300 people a year go through the courses.
A donor contributes $20k Australian dollars a year to this initiative and all the instructors have vision loss and are volunteers. I travel a lot with my work all around the world six to ten times a year.
I also established a Curtin University program known as the ‘Internet of Things’. This also has the backing of Cisco. It’s a free online course which takes around eighteen months to complete. We have already had 200,000 students pass through which is pretty impressive.
Tell me about the connection with Apple?
Every year about forty or fifty final year honours students get to work on some amazing projects which incorporate inclusive design. This has even included Apple and voice cancellation technology to help people who wore hearing aids who were using Apple products.
You are a former VisAbility employee, what did you do?
I used to work for The Association of the Blind WA from 1991 to 1998 as a technical officer. VisAbility worked with organisations such as HomesWest, the Police Department and Community News and my role was to make technology more accessible, so people with sight loss could to carry out their work. For example, a lady at the Community Newspaper who was Deaf Blind wanted to to know when the phone was ringing and to read what was on the database. It was my job to make this possible using the latest in technology.
Why do you enjoy being on the Board at VisAbility?
You’ll find many lawyers and accountants on Boards, but what you really need is people who are in touch with what’s going on. I am talking about people with lived experiences of being with someone with a disability. My brother’s blindness along with my assistive technology experience is so useful. It makes me have a greater understanding of what our clients are going through.
Yes, we need to formulate policies and secure funding so VisAbility can do the job it does. However, we also need to serve our clients and be that discerning voice to make things happen.
Tell us something we don’t know about you?
I enjoy the peace and tranquillity of working on my veggie patch. It’s quite large about 400 square metres and my olives are just amazing. I tend to it on my own, as my wife doesn’t share my interest in gardening. Many of you will know her – she’s Suzy Murray and is one of the customer service operators at VisAbility. She welcomes and greets clients when they visit the Perron Centre, she positively loves her job.
What is the legacy you’d like to leave behind?
I may have lots of letters after my name but I wanted to make a difference. Money has never been a motivation. I hope what I’ve done has had an impact on someone’s life for the better. I am already doing some succession planning for when I eventually leave Curtin University. In my retirement it would be nice to spend some more time at home, do less travelling and just nurture and grow more vegetables.