Public service workplace attitudes revealed

Cover of report with lots of faces.The University of Canberra has just published a report about employment of people with disability in the Australian public service. The qualitative study that underpins the report includes many quotes from employees with disability which give an excellent sense of what they are experiencing. The study covers seven Australian Government departments and identifies critical dilemmas for the service as a whole. Disclosing a disability can either get you good support from your manager, or it can hold you back. Not understanding the resilience that living with disability creates, others often see weakness rather than strength. The point is well made by one participant,

“The fact that they don’t want to put more pressure on me and I know I’m ready, that’s very hard to take. They don’t know about my journey. If they knew about the challenges that I’ve met there would be no doubts in their minds.”

There are several recommendations resulting from the research, which should be applied across all areas of employment, not just the Australian Public Service. Areas for improvement include: the current definition of disability which disempowers rather than empowers; the need to upskill managers in how to work differently; and for staff training that includes interacting with people with disability, not just undertaking e-learning modules. 

You can download the report, Doing it Differently: Staff perceptions of the barriers to workplace participation experienced by public servants with disability in the Australian Public Service.

Space: Complex and Contested

picture of a wide paved walkway along the estuary showing a bike rider, a seat and grass.The notions of space and place can be confusing – they are words used interchangeably and to most people mean the same thing – a place to play is the same as a space to play. But to geographers, planners and urban designers, they are not the same thing. Rob Imrie writes an interesting essay on “Space” in Keywords in Disability Studies.  He focuses on the people who are left out of spaces, and who have spaces and places created just for “them”. He writes:

“However space is defined, it is intrinsic to human existence and, for Newton (1689),the fundamental element of space as place is that “part of space which a body takes up” (also, see Merleau-Ponty, 1962). The human body is always emplaced and its placement is conditioned, in part, by the social content and context of a place. Thus,the impaired body has, historically, been constructed as not normal, unsightly, and‘out of place’ in everyday environments.”

The essay can be downloaded from

From ‘disabled’ to ‘different’

a very mechanical looking wheelchair with a metal person with skinny spiderlegsPerceptions are often culturally constructed and are therefore open to being transformed. DeeDee Bennett explores how the perception of ‘disability’ may be transformed to ‘differing abilities’. Using the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction, the author suggests a way to shift societal culture of disability and consequently cause a significant shift in policy and ethical consideration of the future. You will need institutional access for a free read of Scientific eventuality or science fiction: The future of people with different abilities, published by Science Direct. It is good to see the topic being approached from this perspective.

Abstract: Consider this, we are living in a future [in-part] imagined over 30 years ago – in science fiction film and books. We may envision that 30 years from now we could live in a future with technology developed from the concepts we see in science fiction today. In this paper, the concepts of disability are challenged in the future based on the technologies imagined in the science fiction genre of the present and past. Focused on the sub-genre, Cyberpunk, current mainstream, as well as new emerging technologies inspired by science fiction are reviewed. Future disability is reimagined dependent on continued support and acceptance of the emerging technology. If our past is any indication, our future may lie in the conceptual and slightly implausible figments of our science fiction-based imaginations. However, the cultural shift will significantly impact our laws, regulations, and policies, as well as introduce new societal concerns.

Image sourced from Pinterest: Stephane Halleux’s “Wheelchair telefunken” 

Is your professional association inclusive?

logo of American Sociological Society - blue on white backgroundThe American Sociological Association has developed a comprehensive policy to ensure the highest level of inclusion for all members. They have 15 recommendations that could be a model for others to follow.

While the focus is on conferences, seminars and other events they hold, whether in a conference venue or by webcast, the list also includes, how to file a disability complaint regarding the association, processes for membership renewal to the association, orientation to conference venue or meeting site, and web content accessibility rules.

The article is in the Association’s publication, Footnotes, and is titledImplementing Professional Curb Cuts: Recommendations of the Status Committee on Persons with Disabilities

People at the centre of the design process

Front Cover of the Routledge Companion bookValerie Fletcher is a well known campaigner for inclusive/universal design in the built environment. Her chapter in The Routledge Companion for Architecture Design and Practice is an excellent primer on universal design. After setting the social context of ageing populations and a new view of disability, Fletcher traces the evolution of universal design in both the United States and United Kingdom.

She discusses legislation, accessibility standards, and that universal design evolves from accessibility. Fletcher says that universal design “builds from a floor of accessibility” with fixed standards that are similar across nations. This is a key point at which many people become confused – there is a perception that accessibility IS universal design. She explains the difference.

The contributions by Selwyn Goldsmith (UK) and Ron Mace (US) are discussed, and more recently the contributions by Hubert Froyen (Belgium). Brazilian architect Marcel Pinto Guimarães also gets mention. Of particular interest is the work being done in Singapore to go beyond accessibility codes and to promote universal design.

Valerie Fletcher presents an informative and compelling case for universal design in the 21st Century. 

Nordic Charter for Universal Design

UD logoThis article will be of interest to policy makers and anyone else interested in furthering universal design principles across all aspects of society. Using the 2012 UD Conference in Oslo as a catalyst, the Nordic countries worked together to create a common goal and strategy for dealing with the challenges of an ageing population as well as meeting their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. Although published as an academic article in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, it is informative in the way it covers the built environment, products, services, and ICT.  

Achieving full participation through UD

Achieving participation thru UD front coverThis European report sets the scene for promoting universal design and setting an action plan in motion. Universal design is viewed as a strategy to ensure equal and democratic rights in society for all individuals. It covers participation in: political and public life; cultural life; information and communication; education; employment; the built environment; transport; community living; legal protection; research and development; and awareness raising. Examples of good practice are also included. It links well with the eight domains of life outlined in the WHO Age Friendly Cities and Communities program.

Stella Young and Insiprational Porn

stella youngIn this entertaining video the late Stella Young talks about how we have been sold a lie about people with disability being ‘inspirational’ for just being themselves. She also argues that people with disability have been objectified in this process as being ‘special’ in some way and not counted as normal everyday people doing everyday jobs in an everyday world. On the topic of a positive attitude Stella says, “No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp.”

UD and 40 Principles of TRIZ

Homes for Strong Families, Children, Seniors and All Others. How Universal Design, Design for All and Forty Principles of TRIZ Enforce Each Other.

This short paper by Kalevi Rantanen shows how to combine the principles of universal design and design-for-all with the 40 principles of TRIZ. It gives another perspective on how to apply the principles of universal design in a problem solving context.

The 40 Principles of TRIZ are a list of simple, and easy to learn rules for solving technical and non-technical problems quickly and simply. Studying these existing solutions can inspire people to solve new problems and imagine innovative solutions. They show how and where others have successfully eliminated contradictions and take us to the proven, powerful recorded solutions contained in the patent database. These 40 Inventive Principles may be used to help solve both technical and non-technical problems. 

Universal Design: Is it Accessible?

This opinion piece by Jane Bringolf published by Multi:The RIT Journal of Plurality and Diversity in Design was written in 2008, but is still relevant. 

Abstract: Designing products and environments to be usable by the majority of people is the underpinning concept of universal design. In some aspects, however, universal design fails to meet some of its own principles. This has resulted in a lack of understanding of the concept, which in turn, has allowed the terms “accessibility” and “disability” to inhabit the language of universal design. This means universal design is now bounded by concepts of accessibility, regulations and disability rights, rather than the intellectual challenges inherent in designing for the whole of the population bell curve. The universal design movement recognizes that making headway is proving difficult and is seeking ways to improve its position. Market research, however, indicates universal design is now branded as a disability product and this has implications for consumers, practitioners, and for the universal design movement in general. Discussed are the influence of terminology on the direction and perceptions of universal design, and the dilemmas of applying a regulatory framework as an implementation strategy.