DOMESTIC violence survivors played a key role in a two-year project to enhance a mobile database connecting Australians with support services including housing, money, material and legal options.
Infoxchange Australia's ground-breaking Ask Izzy puts 360,000 support services at the fingertips of anyone with an internet-enabled device.
From doctors to accommodation providers, the database provides the details of every medical, legal, financial, housing, community care, education and social justice organisation in Australia.
It helps men, women, children and young people to find the support they need.
It meets the needs of people from diverse communities including those with physical, sensory, intellectual and/or other disabilities, the aged, those with health problems, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex and people who have English as a second language including refugees and asylum seekers.
Accessed by 172,000 Aussies in crisis over the past three years, the biggest uptake has been from women.
About 20 per cent of all searches relate to domestic and family violence.
With that in mind, Infoxchange asked 40 abuse survivors to help it improve the database's domestic violence features that are now live.
Vicky Vacondoios is one of those women.
The mother-of-three spent a lot of time living rough following family violence many years ago.
Back then mobile phones were far from smart, so Ms Vacondoios would go to internet cafes to search online for support services including housing and material aid.
There was no central database like Ask Izzy, so it was often a haphazard affair tracking down the contact details of refuges, material aid, legal services and the like.
"I was navigating the crisis support system myself," Ms Vacondoios said.
"I was sleeping in hotel rooms and the next day I'd have to rush to a service to try and get help.
"I would drop the children off at school in the morning then race to the internet cafes to try to find a way out of this.
"Having access to technology was so important because there was a high demand on services and they were so busy that the support workers would not have time to sit down and go through with me the assistance that was available."
Ms Vacondoios said the internet helped her gain control over her life and to live free of violence.
"That was important to me, especially after experiencing domestic violence," she said.
Ask Izzy's family violence improvements mean:
- There is now a specific search category covering domestic and family violence;
- There are multiple pathways to family violence services;
- There is a quick exit button that the user can press to rapidly close the site without raising suspicion if their abuser is near;
- There are safety screening questions to help people in immediate danger;
- There are state and national crisis and emergency numbers; and
- It uses best practice technology safety tips and warnings for users.
Infoxchange social innovation and digital inclusion manager Jess Perrin said having the input of survivors like Ms Vacondoios ensured Ask Izzy was better equipped to improve and even save lives.
"We have been working on this project for two years," Ms Perrin said.
"Our first step was co-designing it with people with lived experience of family violence because we wanted to understand what their needs would be when connecting to services.
"We also worked with service providers to determine how we could make it safer and easier for survivors to use."
Developed in partnership with News Corp Australia (publisher of this publication), realestate.com.au and Google and supported by a $500,000 NAB Foundation grant, Ask Izzy can be accessed on any device anonymously and without cost.
People on the Telstra mobile network do not need to have phone credit or Wi-Fi access for their mobiles to use the site.
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.