Nothing about us with us. That was the overwhelming message from the Melbourne Disability Institute’s recent collaboration with the City of Melbourne. The project, which aims to inform the City of Melbourne’s updated Disability Action Plan, enlisted people with disabilities to suggest ways the City of Melbourne could be more inclusive for people with disabilities.

Inform spoke with the study’s lead researcher, Dr Jerome Rachele, whose research investigates the link between urban design and heath inequality, to learn more about the project and its findings.

‘Across all the different disability types, the biggest [theme] we found was consultation. Making sure that the City of Melbourne consults people with disability when they’re planning a new project that’s likely to affect people with disability,’ Dr Rachele said.

‘The general consensus from the workshops was that if only people with disability were consulted at the start, a lot of the problems that arise when those projects are completed wouldn’t have happened in the first place,’ Dr Rachele said.

‘So, consultation is really important. And that nothing about us without us saying comes in here,’ Dr Rachele said.

Centering the voices of people with disabilities in the conversation about inclusion is not only good practice, it’s also a great way to ensure you’re getting the best information.

‘People with disability who have lived for the last say 20 years, and they’re thinking about this all the time, they have a whole lot of expertise in this area. And they’re an untapped, often untapped, resource that we need to tap into, to make our society more accessible,’ Dr Rachele said.

Seventy-nine people took part in the study. The 240 ideas they came up with were then ranked according to their importance and feasibility.

Alongside consultation, another major theme of the research was legislation. This included both compliance and ensuring legislation kept pace with technological developments. For example, elevators that were the right size for wheelchairs or electric scooters. In addition, public transport and footpaths were reoccurring themes.

The top five

Many of these major themes were reflected in the top five ideas that came out of the project. Those ideas were:

  • always consult people with disability before planning things for people with disability.
  • educate employees to promote inclusivity and equal opportunity.
  • provide easy English information about entitlements.
  • ensure that the City of Melbourne is a visibly inclusive organisation
  • ensure that people with disability are not segregated

The diversity of ideas that emerged from the project reflected the diversity of disability of the participants. People with mobility, sensory, intellectual and psychosocial disability worked on the project. This diversity meant the study could explore accessibility and inclusion via a range of viewpoints and experiences. But it also revealed some challenges.

‘The thing that surprised me the most from the workshops… were the challenges of managing people’s needs,’ Dr Rachele said.

‘For example, some people with physical mobility disability spoke about tactile indicators. The things on the ground that help people with vision impairments get around. The little bumps at intersections for example. They can be quite slippery. They can be a tripping hazard. Whereas people with sensory disability wanted more tactile indicators,’ Dr Rachele said.

Inclusion has far-reaching benefits

Managing those differing needs is a challenge for any city however doing so can have far-reaching benefits.

‘If we thought about employment. Employment’s really important for health, and we know at the moment in Australia that about 80% of people without disabilities are in employment compared to 50% of people with disabilities. We also know that people with disabilities are less likely to have a driver’s license, and less likely to have a car in their household. And so hypothetically, if we had a city that had high quality public transport that was highly accessible, that had frequent services, it would mean that people with disability would be more likely to access employment,’ Dr Rachele said.

‘And so if we could lift [employment] from 50%, by about a third up to say 67%, then that would be worth around $43 billion to the economy,’ Dr Rachele said.

The findings of the study will be sent to other local governments and a range of organisations working in and around Melbourne.

Read more about the City of Melbourne study via the University of Melbourne’s Disability and Health Unit here

Hear more from Dr Rachele on the Inform podcast here

Do you have a story to share?

Do you have a story about accessibility share? Maybe you have some tips that might help someone else in a similar situation? Or perhaps you have a good news story about accessibility done right? We’d love to hear from you! Get in touch at [email protected] and tell your story.

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