Melanie Tran is one of the Australian Financial Review's Top 100 Women of Influence

Inspiration: Melanie Tran. Picture: Simon Bennett
Inspiration: Melanie Tran. Picture: Simon Bennett

Edensor Park resident Melanie Tran has been named as one of the 2019 Australian Financial Review's Top 100 Women of Influence.

The 23-year-old, who was the first person with spinal muscular atrophy to complete the Duke of Edinburgh Award, will now be considered for the Diversity and Inclusion award at the gala awards on October 22. Melanie became the first person in the world with a physical disability to receive the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award.

The Champion caught up with the Torrens University graduate to talk about her many titles including innovator, entrepreneur and activist.

How does it feel to be named as one of AFRs Top 100 Women of Influence?

It's an absolute honour to be named one of the AFR's 100 Women of Influence for 2019! I can't find the right words to describe what this means to me, but the thing I can say is that this recognition is more than just about my journey and the work I do. It also represents the army of people behind me that have made all this possible and helped me become the person I am today. I can't tell you how grateful I am to have these people by my side because they were the ones who believed in me, taught me to turn barriers into a force of innovation and gave me a platform to create opportunities not only for myself, but also for those around me.

Most importantly, this recognition acknowledges the power of diversity and inclusion. To me, this serves as a reminder for all of us on how this simple, yet key, principle can unite us, as we stand together to embrace all that makes us unique and leverage this as a platform to discover talent.

I'm so excited to be sharing this experience with all the incredible finalists in 2019, as well as joining over 700 alumni in this network.

"I can't tell you how grateful I am to have these people by my side because they were the ones who believed in me."

"I can't tell you how grateful I am to have these people by my side because they were the ones who believed in me."

How have you made the world more inclusive and fundamentally more accessible through user experience design?

One of the main goals that I work towards throughout my career is to make the world we live in more inclusive and fundamentally more accessible through the lens of user experience design and technology. To achieve this, it has two folds:

  1. Hireup. My role as a User Experience (UX) Designer in the product development team allows me to leverage the power of technology to help disrupt and innovate the traditional model of enabling people with a disability to connect with support workers. One of the key factors that help drive this to success is to bring the voice of our end users to the heart of the development process, and aligning our user needs with our business goals. Perhaps this approach can be summarized in three words: Collaborate. Co-design. Co-create.
  1. Torrens University Australia: I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to also work as a UX Designer in the product development team at Torrens University Australia and look at education through the creative lens. Education is the most powerful tool one could have and if we want diversity and inclusion to become part of our DNA then it needs to begin with education. The work I do with Torrens University Australia is predominantly focused on embedding the principle of universal design into our product development process within the online learning environment, so that we can create a learning environment that is flexible enough to adapt to different needs.

The best part about my work is that I get to witness a magical moment that occurs when the power of design and technology meets positive social change. More importantly, it reinforces the importance of harnessing the principle of diversity and inclusion, and how this can be seen as a force of innovation.

What are the ways you are leading disruptive change in the traditional model of provision of support services for people with disabilities?

The disability sector has shifted dramatically since the roll-out of the NDIS. People with a disability started to have more choice and control. Service providers started to create more products and services to suit individual needs. Businesses started to be more inclusive. When I bring this back to the work I do, I think there was something missing from this equation: technology.

The best part about my work is that I get to witness a magical moment that occurs when the power of design and technology meets positive social change.

MELANIE TRAN

Technology is a powerful tool that surround us every single day, and if we combine this with social impact, something magical happens. As a person living with a disability and a UX Designer with knowledge in product development, it puts me in a unique position where I am able to bring together design and business; two worlds that don't always work side by side. And that itself, is enough to enable me to look at the disability sector through a new lens.

You have become sought-after public speaker presenting at a range of events including at Google's first-ever Asia Pacific UX Design Summit. What's the key message you try to get through when you're a public speaker?

My speaking engagements give me the opportunity to take a step back and look at diversity and inclusion from a holistic perspective. It allows me to look at the bigger picture and convey one key message to the audience: diversity and inclusion goes far beyond disability. This simple concept encompasses everything that makes us unique. But mostly importantly, it provides a platform for me to showcase how technology and design can become a catalyst to help us achieve this vision.

What are some of the challenges you have faced and how you used them to create opportunities for yourself and others?

We live in an environment that was not built to be flexible and adaptive and the solution is not as simple as making our physical environment accessible because there are two sides to a coin. In order to truly embrace diversity and inclusion, it needs to be embedded within our culture. It's about attitude and perception. It's about how we can turn the challenges we face into a force of innovation. Because when that happens, we will learn to create opportunities for ourselves and for those around us.

  • Melanie recently graduated with a Bachelor of Digital Media at Torrens University and is now enrolled to begin her Masters of Philosophy with plans to complete her PhD. The 2018 global Laureate Here for Good Award winner is leading significant conversations globally with companies like Google, Laureate International Universities and the Commonwealth Bank and setting a new agenda about the role that designs plays in building greater access, inclusion and participation for all members of society.