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Cate Blanchett Voices ‘Game Changing’ NDIS Avatar

20 February 2017 at 4:31 pm
Wendy Williams
Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett has lent her voice to a new project which promises to be a “game changer” for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Wendy Williams | 20 February 2017 at 4:31 pm


Cate Blanchett Voices ‘Game Changing’ NDIS Avatar
20 February 2017 at 4:31 pm

Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett has lent her voice to a new project which promises to be a “game changer” for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The star has become the voice of Nadia, an online virtual assistant, who can speak, write and chat online while answering questions about the NDIS in a “natural way”.

NDIA deputy CEO Louise Glanville, who “introduced” Nadia, said the avatar had been developed to provide people with disability with information about the NDIS “when and how they want it”.

“Initially Nadia will be used to answer the most common questions people have about the scheme, but over time, with your help she will develop the capacity to provide detailed responses to a wide range of queries,” Glanville said.

“She can already understand thousands of questions put to her, and will answer with clear and simple responses. The more interactions she has with people, the more her knowledge bank will grow.”

An NDIA spokesperson told Pro Bono News, Nadia was a recent innovation the agency was pleased to have developed in partnership with people with disability.

“We are looking forward to continue to work with people with disability to help build Nadia’s knowledge base, and make it easier for all stakeholders to have their questions answered quickly and clearly,” they said.

Nadia has been co-designed by people with disability with the Digital Innovation Reference Group – a “meeting of minds” between people with disability, innovators, the NDIA and innovation and technology professionals – taking the lead to ensure it is “a useful tool for everyone”.

ADACAS project coordinator Kate Rea from the Digital Innovation Reference Group said people with disability were at the forefront of the project.

“It truly is a group of people with a need, driving innovation, rather than somebody telling a group of people what they need to have their problem solved, and I think that is just so exciting to be a part of it,” Rea said.

Nadia, who has been designed to meet international accessibility guidelines, will be accessible 24/7 through the NDIS myplace portal.

She will start as a “trainee”, released in a trial environment in the coming months and it is expected to take 12 months before she’s fully operational.

NDIA technology authority Marie Johnson said “in many ways Nadia is a game changer”.

“This is the bringing together of disability entrepreneurs, the best of the public service, the most brilliant scientists, academy award winners in a scientific and creative effort that is really about a higher purpose for Australia,” Johnson said.

Scientist and Soul Machines CEO Dr Mark Sagar, who developed the technology for characters in Avatar, King Kong and Spiderman 2, said: “It is probably one of the most innovative projects in the world right now.”

To become the voice of Nadia, Blanchett was recorded saying thousands of sentences containing different combinations of phonemes, which can then be repurposed and made into new content for the avatar.

In a promotional video, The Making of Nadia, Blanchett said she agreed to be part of the project as she had disability very close to her family and she was excited by the idea.

“I think it has a got a really good chance of being something very exciting but also very important,” Blanchett said.

Maryanne Diamond, media, communications and engagement NDIS said Blanchett had been spending all her spare time learning the script.

“It might not be her next academy award but it is certainly challenging,” Diamond said.

“It is the voice of Nadia.”

Blanchett said it was something authentic.

“I heard that Mark Sagar who is an astonishing computer wizard was developing the avatar, and so I thought that the authentic connection of the people who were going to be served by the NDIS, and by Nadia the avatar and Mark’s incredible brain, I thought was a really exciting combination,” she said.

“It is authentic and it’s honest, because so many people with disability have put their two cents in and across the spectrum of various different disabilities.”

She said the “liberating potential” of Nadia was “astonishing”.

“It is a much more democratic and empowering way to deliver a service so people can just get on with their lives and be who they are.”

NDIA is set to hold information sessions to inform people how they can engage with Nadia over the coming months.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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