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MyAgenda: Umesh Pandya

Not-for-profit Wayfindr is on a mission to empower the 285m people living with sight loss worldwide to take new journeys, increase confidence and open up new opportunities – with its Open Standard key to accessibility. Co-founder and chief executive Umesh Pandya takes our 10-question test.

Umesh PandyaWhat’s top of your agenda for change?

“William Gibson once said that ‘the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed’. I’m on a mission to ensure that current and emerging technologies are evenly distributed. At Wayfindr we are on a mission to empower the 285m people living with sight loss across the world to independently take new journeys, increase their confidence and open up new opportunities for relationships and employment.”

What are doing about it?

“We have created a free to use Open Standard that can be found at Wayfindr.net. The standard guides venue owners in ‘baking’ accessibility into the rollout of their indoor navigation services from the outset, in turn improving the wayfinding experience for all their customers, including vision impaired people.  I believe that once the standard is widely adopted there will be a positive boost for vision-impaired people and an economic boost for the venues that use it.

How did you find yourself doing what you do now?

“A combination of things came together in 2013, my wife, Bhavi (an optometrist at Moorfields eye hospital) and I had made a commitment to use our skills to help people living with sight loss. As a designer I was, and still am interested in how humans would interface with computers when they are no longer framed by a screen and how current and emerging technologies can be used to improve the lives of all.”

How is technology helping you to secure the change you want?

“We identified that the growing indoor positioning and navigation market could hold the key to independent travel for people living with sight loss. We have also taken inspiration from the open source and creative comms movements. I believe that through these types of mechanisms that encourage sharing and collaboration, we as a society are able to move quickly and more effectively together to overcome some of the big challenges we face today.”

What’s the project you’ve worked on that has made the most difference to date?

“Wayfindr Open Standard for Audio Wayfinding. We are really proud that our Open Standard has been recognised by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union). The ITU is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies for the United Nations. With this recognition, we are closer to empowering those 285m people living with sight loss to independently take new journeys, increase their confidence and open up new opportunities for relationships and employment.”

What’s the biggest challenge for people wanting to make a difference through technology?

“When it comes to tech for good companies, at the early stage we tend to rely on small grants – these are great for an initial boost. However, to see the long-term impact and scaling that impact funding needs to carry on. More grant bodies should consider funding tech for good startups that could make a difference regardless of whether they are a for-profit or not-for-profit and access to early and mid-stage impact investment would help too.”

What technologies are most exciting you in the space right now?

“Indoor navigation and positioning technologies; voice/speech interfaces; and computer vision.”

What would you have done differently in your work looking back?

“At the early stages, I would have liked to have spent more time on exploring how we could bake in a mechanism for impact investors to get involved.”

What’s your piece of advice to people looking to do good through digital?

“I believe that, as we weave computers into the fabric of our environment and being, we should aspire to create inclusive, trustworthy and delightful products that dissolve effortlessly into everyday life. Don’t wait, just get on with it and work closely with the people you intend to serve.”

You won a 2017 DigitalAgenda Impact Award. What impact does that make on your work?

“The recognition for our work from DigitalAgenda has really been a positive boost for the whole of the Wayfindr community. It has really helped us drive awareness for the mission that our community is on.”

wayfindr.net
@wayfindrstd
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