Robina Crook: Universal Design Thinking

“My disability exists not because I use a wheelchair,  but because the broader environment isn’t accessible.” –Stella Young – Australian Journalist, Disability Rights Activist and Comedian

As we collectively look for ways to create a more sustainable future, it is vital we include our built environment. Without considering all, we risk condemning the most vulnerable of our community to an unsustainable, inaccessible world. By embracing Universal Design Thinking our urban places will accommodate everyone; you, me, young, old and those with disabilities.

universal design thinking
Robina Crook

Curtin University has made a commitment to a sustainable future for all by establishing a vision to be the most accessible campus by 2030. The main Curtin University campus is located in the suburb of Bentley, Western Australia. Curtin is a large low rise, low density university, predominantly built in the 1970s with a big vision.

Due to the good fortune of location, Curtin is perfectly placed to provide educational services to the South East Asian student market. Over the next 10-20 years, Curtin is embarking on an extensive programme of development that will fundamentally change the nature of the Bentley campus. The campus will function as alternative city centre with a diversity of functions and services, not just a location of tertiary education. The adoption of the Universal Design Thinking approach is one of the key strategies that designers, architects and planners are required to address when tendering for work at Curtin.

There are 50,228 enrolled students at the Bentley campus, supported by some 4,041 staff made up of academics, administrators and contractors. Over 16,376 of these students are international. With a large student body, Curtin hosts numerous events, festivals and graduations on campus, attracting thousands of visitors to the campus each year. Curtin is a fabulously rich and diverse community.

In Australia, 18.5 % of the population report as having a disability, this means that some 11,800 people will want to access the campus that could also have a disability. These figures do not even address the very porous state of temporarily able-bodied. Live long enough and you will almost certainly enter a state of disability at some point in your life.

As a public institution, Curtin University is required to meet the Disability Access and Inclusion Legislation requirements however Curtin has established a vision that is more welcoming and inclusive than the legislation. Curtin University has adopted a smart approach. The Curtin Universal Design Guideline – Built Form project provided for a high level of participation engaging with 65 stakeholders underpinning a strong sense of ownership. The process deliberately aligned with the vision, established agreed principles and created design criteria. The guideline has also been embedded in a governance process that integrates Universal Design Thinking into all stages of place making.

By Ms Robina Crook, Associate HASSELL

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