Article Title:Technology for change
Author or Credit:Sarah Murphy
Published on:18th May 2016 - 06:22 pm
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Story ID:18280
Text:Lydia Watson, Joanna Li and Piper Whitehe are three very talented students from Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, who have created Loocation, an app that has the potential to be a game-changer for gender-diverse people in the city. They sat down to share their thoughts on diversity, acceptance and women in technology. “As cisgender girls, we, like most of the population, think very little about finding a public toilet that meets our needs,” the girls say. In fact, the concept for there app was initially just an app that found public toilets, however after thinking about this further, they realised that the majority of public toilets they use only cater for men and women. They also noted that these bathrooms were often small and not big enough for a wheelchair, only sometimes had baby changing tables in the women’s bathroom, and hardly ever in the men’s or - if it existed - unisex bathroom. “The fact that our default thought had been to just find bathrooms in general, emphasised to us that we consider finding the right bathroom a basic expectation when out in public, which in turn made us think about those cannot share that same expectation.” “Being able to find correct public bathrooms is really important, because in order to spend any length of time away from home, we need access to them. Essentially, if people can’t find usable public bathrooms, they will be far less likely to feel comfortable out in public, and so they are in effect, cut off from the community, as they are prevented from spending time in it. We believe that an app such as this also highlights the true underlying problems within our community, such as lack of acceptance, and services that cater to trans and intersex individuals.” The three students say the decided to build the app, in the hopes that transgender and intersex individuals would benefit from it, as well as those who need wheelchair accessible bathrooms or baby changing tables. When researching for the app they began to understand that having to use the wrong bathroom can be seriously upsetting for trans people. “We don’t want to generalise, as the issues with bathrooms are different for every trans person, and as cisgender people we do not have any authority in the experience of this problem, however we understand that having to use an incorrect bathroom is a real problem because it can feel like your very identity (or existence) is not being recognised, and can therefore be very damaging to a person’s well being.” They are looking to launch the app soon, first on the google play store and then for IOS later in the year. “Leading up to our launch, we hope to create a partnership with other local businesses in order to fund our app, and to get some more feedback from potential users and other organisations, such as Rainbow Youth. “We also plan to add more features to the app after receiving this feedback, such as possibly adding photos for each bathroom to help find them. Right now we’re based in Auckland, but eventually, we would like to spread out to the whole of New Zealand, and after that, who knows? “Ideally, the app will assist in the long run with helping to normalise this part of life for trans and intersex individuals, and raise awareness that all gender identities should be recognised as a part of our everyday lives.” Loocation was created as part of the Technovation challenge, which encourages young women in the technology industry and asks them to come up with the solution to a problem in their community. The girls say it’s not so much that women are unfairly represented in the technology industry, it’s more that many girls are discouraged from studying and working with technology. “A lot of the time, it’s the stereotypes that surround the technology industry that discourage us,” they say. “Technology is typically presented as a career for men who can cope with “hard” problems; this especially comes through in tv where women are hardly ever depicted in these areas. It would be amazing if these stereotypes were broken, and girls could do what they love without fear of judgement. “Although these stereotypes are beginning to be addressed, the angle is often taken that “women are necessary for their creativity and design skills”, which while encouraging women to enter the industry, reinforces the message that girls cannot cope with the technical or “difficult” aspects of the industry. “The real issue lies in women not even considering the tech industry, because they don’t realise that it is something they can succeed in. We have a good grounding in technology at Dio, and we have all really enjoyed Technovation. It's definitely something we would consider studying in university.” “Almost all of the work was things that we had little to no prior experience with, meaning that as we tackled each aspect of the project we were facing both a steep learning curve and a motivational struggle. There were definitely moments when, both as a team and individually, we all felt like completing the app was not achievable. However, in pushing through those moments (often with the support of our mentors), we ended up not only completing the app, but completing it to a standard that we were all really proud of. As cheesy as it sounds, when we look back at ourselves in January, there is no way any of us would have believed this doable. “To us, this really highlights the importance of perseverance and self-belief, and ties into the issues about female representation in technology. A lot of the time girls turn away from technology because they do not think they can achieve their goals; studies have actually shown that for students with the same ability, girls are much more likely to rate their skill as lower than they actually are, while boys tend to accept their skill level and are therefore more confident when approaching challenges. “Through a real world application of technology, we have all become more aware of what we can really achieve, and we think this will have a really positive impact on our future engagement in such opportunities.” The girls have recently found out that they are semi-finalists in the competition, and say being recognised is really excited. “It’s encouraged us to look beyond the competition and seriously think about our plans for releasing the app and promoting etc. “ It has also been really nice to receive so much support for what we’ve been doing, and it has made us really appreciative of the amazing opportunity we have had. We hope that we will be able to successfully release our app later this year, and that our business will be able to make a positive change in our community.”     Sarah Murphy - 18th May 2016
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