First published 17 May 2019

Santiago “Santi” Velasquez is part of the Australian delegation attending the forum in New York in June.

He will be meeting with advocates from across the world to discuss a raft of different strategies to improve the lives of people living with disabilities.

“Honestly, I’m still in shock. This is an incredible opportunity to represent the voices of Australians who have a vision impairment," Santi said.

“I hope to learn how other countries are solving everyday problems that people living with a vision impairment go through and what we can implement here in Australia.

“I want to break down the barriers that stop students with vision impairment from achieving their dreams.”

United Nations building based at Manhattan, New York
United Nations building based at Manhattan, New York

Outside of his studies, Santi is working on projects that address the daily tasks that most of us take for granted – such as using public transport.

In partnership with MIT alumni, Santi is working on a project called Hailo – a system that remotely alerts the bus driver when a person with vision impairment wants to board the bus.

“If you’re blind and you’re waiting for a bus, you can’t see when it arrives. So the bus doesn’t stop and you’re left behind,” Santi said.

“You need to hold up a sign or wear hi-vis in order to get the driver’s attention.

“I started asking myself: ‘How can we fix this using modern-day technology?’

“Hailo can help the 285 million people with vision impairment live more independently.”

Santi is completing his electrical engineering degree with QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty (SEF), a passion he’s harboured since childhood.

“My dad was a civil engineer and I’ve always been interested in technology. In many ways, I started my life with this passion for understanding how things work,” Santi said.

“I knew that this was what I wanted to do so I took a chance and the staff at QUT chose to take it with me. They did their best to ensure assistance was always there for me.”

QUT SEF’s Manager of Diversity and Inclusion Natasha Shaw praised Santi and the staff who support him.

“Santi is such an asset to the faculty. By sharing his lived experience he's helping us all better understand life as a vision-impaired student,” Ms Shaw said.

“In response to his feedback, we’ve installed a braille interface into the elevators at S Block to better support students with vision impairment.

“Studying can be challenging at the best of times and we want to make sure we do everything we can to support students who have a disability, injury or health condition.

“We welcome all students and will work with them to fulfil their dreams no matter the challenges.”

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