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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

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Victoria Austin

I am the Director of the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) a Community Interest Company, attached to a new research centre of the same name at UCL, which we set up (during my masters!). GDI Hub has a vision to amplify the legacy of the Paralympic Games of London 2012 by creating partnerships which enable people and communities to lead new thinking about disability across the world; especially where disability exclusion is compounded by the destructive impacts of poverty. It is a partnership of UCL, University of the Arts London, Loughborough University London, the Mayor of London, V&A museum, Sadler’s Wells Theatre, and the communities of east London. All of the institutions moving to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, working together for disability innovation (www.disabiltiyinnovation.com).

I love my job! Which is good because it takes a lot of my time. One of the most exciting projects is AT2030, a multi-stakeholder £10m programme (funded by DFID) to address access to Assistive Technology (Hearing Aids, Wheelchairs, Walking sticks, Prostetics etc) for people around the world. We know that currently over 900,000 million women, men, girls and boys are prevented from living full lives because of a lack of access to the Assistive Tech they need, and that number is going up rapidly. As the programme Director, I get to work with agencies as diverse as WHO, UNICEF, UCL, Microsoft, Humanity and Inclusion (HI), Help Age, and local Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs) in countries across Africa and Asia. Obviously, the DPU, which delivered part of the programme is my favourite! The DPU, led in this project by Julian Walker, is undertaking participatory research with disabled people living in informal communities considering how grassroots innovation is being developed to support them. I’m also doing my PhD part-time with Julian and it is a huge privilege to be back at DPU. 

I’ve worked in Human Rights and Social Justice in the public and voluntary sectors for more than 15 years before my MSc. I worked for the Mayor of London (actually three, don’t ask which is my favourite!?) which led the Paralympic Legacy Programme of investment into inclusive design of the built environment, economic and social programmes for disabled people in East London pre and post 2012. 

My first degree (way back in 2000) was in Economics and Politics at York University and I studied for a first MA in Public Policy in 2002 too. The MSc Social Development Practice was like lighting the touch paper on a firework for me. It gave me the confidence to engage with the topics and issues of my work in an academic context; which in turn spurred me on to bold ambitions. It also gave me a solid grounding to move from a national/European to a truly international space for my thinking and practice. What I loved the most was the situation of social development within a spatial and planning context. I looked at lots of Masters' programmes – and there are plently of other good ones. But for me UCL is a special place and the DPU has the perfect combination of a committed group of people struggling collectively for social justice through practice, with the connection to scholarship and community that only a global university can bring. Ideas and individualism are encouraged and supported here.