Some of the world-class best practice inclusion by design occurring within the UTS precinct was highlighted at a workshop and walking tour organised by the UTS Equity and Diversity Unit and UTS Business School in conjunction with the Association of Consultants in Access Australia (ACAA).
Among those who attended the Inclusion by Design session were members of the ACAA and consultants who worked on projects at UTS over the past five years, together with wider major construction projects and events requiring accessible design considerations.
“The lecture, walking tour and workshop help to ensure access and inclusion is more than a set of words on planning documents; it must become operationalised in spaces and places so that people with all types of disabilities are able to access their rights of citizenship,” says Professor Simon Darcy of the UTS Business School.
Darcy’s expertise lies in developing inclusive organisational approaches to diversity groups. A founding member of the ACAA and recently appointed Vice-President, Darcy provided an overview on the day of the global context based on current research.
The workshop and walking tour broached areas that cross research, teaching and industry engagement central to UTS’s vision, together with the recently signed Urban Growth NSW University research agreement. The agreement allows opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students and researchers to work with UrbanGrowth NSW across the lifecycle of city transformation projects within their academic studies.
With universal design and inclusive design processes still in their infancy in Australia, the workshop provided an opportunity to explore process and outcomes firsthand with Sacha Coles of Aspect Studio, also an Adjunct Professor in UTS’s Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building. As a key designer of the Goods Line and Alumni Green projects, Coles provided key insight into the design philosophy behind both urban spaces, along with the challenges of universal design.
The workshop broke into three groups who then looked at the Goods Line, UTS Alumni Green and Central Park centre opposite UTS on Broadway, considering all disability types and embodiments (mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive).
Leading consultant Mark Relf from Access Consultants challenged the group to look for features within the three urban spaces that contribute to inclusive access while also searching for areas of improvement, which sometimes appear at the back end of construction phases where unforeseen issues arise and people start to use and live a space.
“Universal design is a seductive concept that’s difficult to operationalise. It covers all disability types, including mental health,” explains Darcy. “Previous design work on access and inclusion has been criticised for being clinical and aesthetically unpleasing; more contemporary approaches attempt to seamlessly integrate access inclusions within the broader design considerations to be inclusive of all senses and embodiments so as to capture the essence of space and place.”
While inclusion for people with mobility, vision and hearing disabilities is well understood by the general public, others like those with, for example, autistic spectrum disorder are less so. Tactility and shaded quieter spaces are considerations that play an important role, while green spaces themselves are shown to have a calmer therapeutic effect on positive wellbeing.
Darcy has recently been involved with the design of inclusive playgrounds. “Children with disabilities can become sensorily overloaded. So new playground designs provide areas that are shaded, quieter, and allow the children to have time out from all the stimulation. Similarly, a diversity of environments within the one precinct must be considered. You need shaded spaces, sunny spaces and accessible spaces.”