30 August 2018 – When Genevieve McLachlan received a letter from Government House on April Fool’s Day telling her she’d made the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, the thought it might be a practical joke crossed her mind.
But once her “real sense of disbelief” faded, Genevieve, who has cerebral palsy and a vision impairment, was thrilled to be named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to people with disabilities.
The Hutt Valley local has long been involved with Sailability, was recently appointed to the Disabled Leadership Group of national charitable trust Life Unlimited, and is the current chair of the transport working group for My Life My Way, a community initiative to make the city inclusive for all. So the MNZM is fitting recognition of Genevieve’s life-long commitment to improve access for disabled people to all spheres of life.
“For me, the Order of Merit says it all,” says Genevieve.
But the investiture ceremony to receive the honour was only the second-most important day in her life, Genevieve adds quickly. Her wedding to husband Bruce takes first place. And like her wedding day, Genevieve insisted she walk under her own steam to receive the honour at Government House in Wellington.
A photo from the occasion shows Genevieve standing confidently beside Dame Patsy Reddy with her insignia and ribbon pinned to her left shoulder. But, what’s less apparent is Genevieve holding on to the Governor General for support after the physically demanding day, she reveals.
“I was shattered afterwards, but it was really important to walk.”
The MNZM caps a string of awards for Genevieve that recognises both her contribution to the disabled community and her achievements in business since starting Adaptive Technology Solutions over 11 years ago. These include the Her Business Most Inspirational Role Model in 2011, three David Awards for small businesses in 2014, and in 2016 Genevieve was a finalist in the Attitude Awards, Entrepreneur category.
Her business, Adaptive Technology Solutions, offers assessments, training and support for people who struggle with their computer or need assistive technology to read print or write text.
Genevieve started the business after almost seven years working for the Blind Foundation providing adaptive technology assessments and training for blind and low-vision clients. She felt frustrated by the existing equipment model that lacked flexibility, offered a limited choice, and didn’t take into account other difficulties people might face.
Genevieve saw a need for a new approach to help individuals access adaptive technology and wanted to deliver a more holistic service, not least because of her own experience living with dual disability. She uses technology to assist with vision impairment, but it also has to meet her needs as a person living with cerebral palsy. For example, it needs to be lightweight and portable.
“I wanted to work with the whole person, irrespective of their impairment. I focus on helping people find what they need, where to source it and how to use it.”
Taking the leap to start her own business took courage. Genevieve says she didn’t have any formal qualifications, just gut instinct, a plan and good advice. She worked with employment service Workbridge, the local Chamber of Commerce and her bank – and she did her research.
But it wasn’t without challenges. Genevieve recalls some people doubted she would succeed, and she’s honest about some of the physical limitations that have had an impact on the business.
“In terms of running a business, it’s no different to anyone else. But having a disability means there are challenges. I have to watch my energy levels and pace myself.”
Being her own boss means she has some flexibility to prioritise her wellbeing. But it’s still “a lot of hard work.”
A long list of positive testimonials on the Adaptive Technology Solutions website from individuals and organisations Genevieve has helped shows the hard work has been worth it.
“I’ve had to accept the fact that it’s specialised and I can’t do as much promotion as others. It’s never going to make lots of money. But I don’t do it for the money. I do it to help others.”
Genevieve is positive about the role of technology to help people communicate and connect, but she recognises coping with change can be difficult for some.
“It has improved over the years and opened up communication for a lot of people who might be isolated. But for older people, it can be a barrier. They haven’t grown up with it, so they can struggle. Bills all come by email now, and they’re expected to pay with online banking. For older people that’s very scary.”
The vision behind Adaptive Technology Solutions to remove barriers and help people use technology with confidence so they can enjoy the benefits that it offers is what continues to drive Genevieve.
Meet the other members of the Disabled Leadership Group at Life Unlimited.