Universal design in local government: participatory action research findings

Universal design in local government: participatory action research findings 

Presenter: Adam Johnson, Local Area Coordinator Community Capacity Building at APM

Oral presentation

In 2014 the City of Bunbury in Western Australia set an aspirational goal to become the Most Accessible Regional City in Australia (MARCIA), acting upon a recommendation from their Disability Access and Inclusion Committee. In partnership with Edith Cowan University, a 3-year participatory action study was established to investigate systemic barriers to universal access in the design of City services and infrastructure, and how internal policies, procedures and design culture shape decision-making. The research was conducted in collaboration with people with lived experience of disability.

Historically, universal design has been minimally and inconsistently applied by local governments in the development of ‘public infrastructure’, which includes buildings, facilities, services, information and events intended for use by the public. The study identified five key barriers and facilitators of universal design in public infrastructure, and developed a model of Universal Public Design that may be usefully applied in other public design contexts, including other local governments, other tiers of government, and the commercial sector.

A defining feature of this PhD study was its methodology, which used Participatory Action Research (PAR) to position people with lived experience of disability as researchers and activists, engaged in a concurrent process of inquiring, sharing and influencing. Eleven people were recruited as co-researchers, working alongside a PhD candidate who adopted the role of facilitator and ‘animator’ in addition to researcher. Together, they engaged informants from the City of Bunbury (elected members, executives, managers and technical officers) in deliberative dialogue about the City’s role in in public design.

The presentation will share the findings from the study and discuss the process of PAR, using examples and illustrations drawn from the engagement experience. The presentation will also touch on progress made since the research recommendations were adopted by Council in 2018.