Innovative idea to overcome isolation

4-minute read
Discover how Innovate with nbn™ Grants Program winner Nathan Johnston is helping people with disability to connect, share and network with like-minded people.

Broadband connectivity via services delivered over the nbn™ network is much more than Nathan Johnston’s window to the world.

It’s a crucial enabler for him to make a difference to others by bringing great ideas to life.

As someone challenged by the constraints of cerebral palsy from his home nestled within the rolling green hills at Bega Valley (Yuin-Monaro Nations) in New South Wales, Nathan knows well the power of connection.

It was that motivation that drove him to create two complementary platforms designed to empower people like himself – DME3 and Disability Club.

These have become especially important during COVID-19 lockdowns.

DME3 and Disability Club

A music streaming service and social media network respectively for people who live with a disability, DME3 and Disability Club help users connect, share and network with like-minded people.

For musicians with a disability, DME3 helps them to build audiences and stream their art.

It was Nathan’s own love of music – everything from pop, rock and country to techno – and making it that inspired him to create the platform.

“I do it digitally right here on the computer.

“There’s people with disability who are musicians. They need a space to upload their music and have their own artist profile,” says Nathan.

Three years after dipping his toe in the water with his own music network, Nathan says social media platform Disability Club is a natural extension of DME3, and is designed to fill a void where people with a disability can connect with each other via their own dedicated channel.

nathan-johnston-home
Nathan Johnston, Founder of DME3 and Disability Club

“Disability Club came about because when I went into lockdown for the very first time, I felt isolated.

“I felt alone and I actually thought, ‘If I feel alone, there will be a tonne of people with disability feeling the same way. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all connect on a social level?’”

Innovating for accessibility

Nathan says mainstream social media sites can be difficult to negotiate for people with disability.

Disability Club features straightforward navigation, enlarged on-screen text, and more user-friendly colours and fonts – and these have been well received by his target audience.

“People say my platform is a lot simpler to use than mainstream social media,” says Nathan.

“Disability Club has a disability focus. We share news about what’s going on in the disability sector.

“Individuals with disability can all network together, upload photos and message each other.”

Corporations can also gain membership and place ads on the site, as well as generate their own online profile to connect with members and disability organisations.

“People with disability have been waiting for something like this because a lot of them think there’s nothing out there that connects them with others like themselves,” says Nathan.

“And there’s nothing out there for disability brands and organisations to connect them directly to their target audience.”

Nathan is keen to highlight that even though Disability Club is focused on people with disability, other members with an interest in accessibility are also very welcome.

“People without disability can join our platform. We are very inclusive.”

Overcoming isolation

In early 2021, Nathan’s efforts to help bridge the gap for people with disability battling isolation, particularly in rural areas in the middle of a pandemic, earned him $10,000 as winner of the Arts category in the inaugural Innovate with nbn™ Grants Program.

As part of nbn’s commitment to regional and remote Australia, grants totalling $95,000 were awarded across seven categories: arts, agriculture, education, health, Indigenous business, tourism, and women in regional business.

The program aims to help regional businesses transform their ideas into game-changing achievements.

While thrilled and humbled by his win, Nathan says the Innovate with nbn™ grant has importantly allowed him to take DME3 and Disability Club to the next level.

The funds have been used to develop and code the Disability Club website (which had been running as a Beta version) and to link it to the existing DME3 music platform, along with paid advertising and promotion of the website through search engine optimisation.

“There is still a lot to do with development to make it even better, but the nbn grant gave me a big boost in starting that.”

A world of possibilities

Nathan says participating in the Innovate with nbn™ program has opened up a world of possibilities.

“Through the nbn grants program, I’ve got a tonne more exposure.

“Other companies are starting to notice me and, because of that, I would like to thank nbn for helping me to open doors for Disability Club and DME3 music network that allow me to help other disabled people and the overall disability community and sector.”

Through lifting the digital capability of Australia, Nathan says the nbn™ network has been crucial to his efforts to realise his dream of making a difference to the lives of the disabled community.

"... I would like to thank nbn for helping me to open doors for Disability Club and DME3 music network that allow me to help other disabled people and the overall disability community and sector.”

“If the nbn™ network wasn’t around, I couldn’t do this.

“When you maintain websites, you need very good internet to update the structure. The same goes for streaming as well. They need good broadband,” says Nathan.

“If it wasn’t for the nbn™ broadband network and Innovate with nbn™ grant, I wouldn’t have been able to take it [DME3 and Disability Club] to where it is now.”

The Innovate with nbn™ Grants Program will run again in 2021/22. Stay tuned for more information.