The right to participate and co-design

A graphic of a group of people including a wheelchair user.How do you include people in decisions that will affect them when it’s not easy for them to participate? It’s a chicken and egg situation. So, asking people with disability to contribute takes more than a survey or a community meeting. It needs a much more thoughtful process. Janice Rieger has some thoughts on the right to participate and co-design polices and processes.

Janice Rieger discusses the issues in relation to the next National Disability Strategy. Her briefing paper is titled, Right to Participate: Co-designing Disability Policies in Australia. Focusing on process rather than the end product sets the framework to reach a shared understanding. Her three recommendations for co-designing in practice are:

      1. Focus on abilities not disabilities
      2. Employ expertise to help
      3. Value the importance of creative practice

Public sector co-designing is an emerging field of practice. It provides the opportunity for creativity and innovative ideas. Reframing participatory engagement through a social justice lens takes us towards a co-designing process. 

Editorial Introduction

“We are entering a new era in Australia as we envision a new disability strategy to replace the current national disability strategy (2010–2020). During this transition, we can reflect on and recognise the changing disability landscape in Australia and ensure that we create a just and inclusive Australian society. Recent consultations and reports have called for people with a disability to directly engage in designing the new disability strategy in Australia, but what does that entail, and how will the rights of people with disabilities be upheld throughout this process? This brief describes public sector co-designing practice—an emerging practice aiming to open up new trajectories for policy development through a co-design process and to provide best practice recommendations for the next disability strategy in Australia.”

Co-design is another skill set

A page of tiles with faces of many different people.How can we get design educators and students to think beyond themselves? Considering other body shapes, sizes, ages and interests is essential for inclusive designs. But designing with users, or co-design, is another skill set. Fake personas, building codes and anthropometric data are a good start, but they lack the evidence of lived experience. Without inclusive designs, we cannot meet our commitment for the Sustainable Development Goals

The issue of teaching educators to look beyond the tried and true design methods is being tackled by a team from Queensland University of Technology. In their article, they take a critical look at current approaches to design education in architecture and interior design studios. They propose an “authentic learning approach” which includes engagement with real users. 

The title of the article is, Breaking Barriers: Educating Design Students about Inclusive Design through an Authentic Learning Framework You will need institutional access for a free read. Or you can contact Janice Rieger and ask for a copy.


Current studies in design education suggest that students and educators base their designs on what they already know about themselves and their peers, or on stereotypical notions of others. This article presents a critical examination of a pedagogical approach employed in several architecture and interior design studios to determine how best to develop student understanding of how to design for real users and users with abilities different from themselves. This authentic learning approach with spatial design students and teachers from the School of Design, Queensland University of Technology, Australia and with people with differing abilities, used qualitative and quantitative questionnaires, student journals and design studio projects to create a multimodal data set. While there are no simple conclusions, or easy answers to unravel the complexity in creating inclusive designs, our findings point towards enabling new engagements and knowledge processes and scaffolding these activities around authentic learning, so that design students and educators can begin to understand the differing ways of designing for/with people with disabilities. The significance of this research is that it opens up new approaches for teaching design students about inclusive design beyond fake personas, building codes and anthropometric data, and provides evidence of the need for a more holistic, authentic and scaffolded approach.