- Anna Wright FCA launched the app BindiMaps to guide the visually impaired through complex indoor spaces.
- She has a retinal condition herself.
- She says it’s wonderful making a difference in people’s lives, but dealing with a start-up’s cash flow is stressful.
As told to Meredith Booth
Photo by Graham Jepson
Former EY accountant and UTS Business School senior lecturer Anna Wright FCA launched BindiMaps with a A$100,000 SheStarts grant in 2017. The smartphone app guides the visually impaired through complex indoor spaces.
Picture: Anna Wright FCA.
How did the idea for the BindiMaps app come about?
If you talk to somebody who is blind or vision impaired, there’s a lot of the world that’s really stressful for them to access. Take university: you can study and use screen readers but how do you get from classroom to classroom and what if a class has changed and somebody has written the change on the whiteboard? Catching a train: next time you’re at a train station close your eyes and see if you can try to find where you’re going. This is the day-to-day experience of people with disabilities.
“If you talk to somebody who is blind or vision impaired, there’s a lot of the world that’s really stressful for them to access.”
Where does the name come from?
Bindi is short for being independent and is also the name for the red dot in Indian culture which symbolises the third eye. It also refers to a prickle [in the garden]: only Aussies get that. But I don’t mind being a bit of a prickle in people’s sides. While Google Maps does outdoors, the idea is you can jump on to BindiMaps (in shopping centres, hospitals, universities, airports and more) and find your way around.
What’s your experience with sight loss?
I have a retinal condition where I should be blind in both eyes but I’m not. When I was first diagnosed there were only 17 people with my condition in Australia and 100 worldwide. It was a long time ago. I was 26 or 27 and working as a CA when my eyes started to go wonky. I put it down to stress. Back then it was the big 1 March tax deadline and it was the end of February and I thought I was extra stressed. When it didn’t clear up, I saw the eye doctor.
The doctors said: “You only have it in one eye; everybody else is bilateral. You’ve had a warning shot – you are going to go blind so start preparing.” I’m amazingly lucky. I knew I could continue to work as an accountant or an academic. The issue was how was I going to get to work?
Have you found your calling as a start-up CEO?
When we get to experience someone with vision impairment using the app for the first time, there are quite often tears – and they’re not just mine. It’s an emotional time when people realise they can be independent. It’s wonderful making a difference in people’s lives. It’s more stressful dealing with cash flow – that part’s not for the faint-hearted.
Jumping into a completely new world with a new language has been fun, but accounting training has helped balance that out a bit. We’re really strict from a financial point of view. In these uncertain times I share everything with my staff. They know how much money is in the bank.
What is the future for BindiMaps?
We’re going to map everything. We’re rolling out across Stockland [shopping centres] but, of course, that’s all slowing down in this environment [during the COVID-19 shutdown]. We’ve started to get into places of education. For people with a disability, tertiary education is a big determinant for full-time work. To be able to get people educated is a personal dream for me. I think we will probably go into Europe first and we’ve already talked to New Zealand. Being a daggy CA, I really want to ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchange. How cool would that be?
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