Neurodivergent lens on public transport

Lucinda Miller asks the same questions any follower of universal design and inclusive practice asks. “Who are our built environments planned for?” Disability access standards are framed around people with physical and sensory disabilities. But what about people with invisible disabilities? Miller puts a neurodivergent lens on public transport and challenges the way policies are ‘decorated’ with the language of access and inclusion.

“What does ‘public’ mean if it does not serve the needs of all people in the community?”

Creating inclusive environments is not only bricks and mortar, but also the belief systems held by society.

Cover image by Miller and Leddie

Front cover of the document, the invisible city. it has a mid blue background and white text. The graphic is of wiggly lines with small dots with different means of transport.

Miller highlights the gap between the words and deeds in policy documents. There is a chasm in the translation of access and inclusion in addressing invisible disabilities.

The thesis reviews both disability literature and policies and looks at ethical considerations. New South Wales state and local government policy is the basis of the policy review.

The diversity of lived experience must be baked into the design recipe – the planning instruments – rather than bolted on as an afterthought.

A man stands on a train platform looking at his smartphone. He is wearing a hat and has a bright yellow backpack.

Discussion and recommendations

The Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Transport Standards define disability as both mind and body, but are skewed towards physical disabilities. These documents guide planning instruments and so the diversity of invisible disabilities goes unrecognised in action plans. Consequently, environments are accessible to some, but not inclusive of everyone.

Recommendations include mandating hidden disability training and taking a whole-of-government approach to universal design. A universal design approach should be at everyone stage of projects and include people with lived experience.

The title of the honours thesis is, The Invisible City: Public Transport through Neurodivergent Lenses. Miller’s concluding remarks begin:

“This thesis explored how terminology such as accessibility and inclusive in policy and urban design translate to public transport from neurodivergent perspectives. It revealed that accessibility currently equates to a compliance-based mindset favouring minimum design standards. In contrast, inclusive is less concrete and highly decorated in strategic documents, yet its translation is absent from public space.”

From the abstract

Designing public transport to accommodate people with physical disabilities has gained momentum. The consideration of invisible disabilities, the experiences of neurodivergent individuals, navigating public space is yet to catch up.

This thesis interrogates the terms ‘accessibility’ and ‘inclusive’ in transport planning, and examines how these terms translate to the built environment.

This thesis emphasises the social value of public services in its fundamental role in serving communities. Despite the importance of compliance-based thinking there is a need for a cultural shift that moves beyond minimum standards..

The diversity of lived experiences should be embedded in planning instruments – “baked in, not bolted on”. It accentuates the Transport ‘Customer’ as more than a transactional member of the community.

The design of public transport must reflect the spectrum of disability, where transport journeys are about dignity. All users and their intersecting needs should feel a sense of autonomy over their right to participate in everyday life.

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