Guide Dogs Victoria’s Luke Price discusses accessibility of developments in Australia

Guide Dogs Victoria’s Luke Price discusses accessibility of developments in Australia
Guide Dogs Victoria’s Luke Price discusses accessibility of developments in Australia

As Australia's built environment continues to shape and redefine human-centric design, architects and developers are utilising the services of accessibility consultants to ensure designs successfully accommodate individuals with disabilities or visual impairments. Guide Dogs Australia Access Consultant Luke Price shares with readers some of the many ways access consultants are able to help throughout the design and construction timeline, as well as commenting on assistive technology and the future of accessibility in Australia. Luke has extensive experience supporting the development of Public Transport Victoria infrastructure; design of schools, events, playgrounds, recreation facilities and more. Hello Luke, thank you very much for your time today. I’m interested to learn more about the process around assessing project designs to ensure they are accessible to individuals with disabilities or visual impairments. What are some key barriers and design considerations you need to look out for?

Luke Price: There are a number of key accessibility features we look for in a space to determine how easily a person with blindness or low vision will move through. We’re primarily looking for wayfinding features such as adequate and accessible signage, effective contrast on edges of stairs, glazing on glass including windows and sliding doors, suitable handrail systems that meet Australian standards, circulation spaces for someone using a mobility aid such as a white cane or Guide Dog to manoeuvre and tactile ground surface indicators, which you’ll be familiar with as the raised strips you often see at the train station. The Australian Standards include the internal space of the building and extend to the external pathway from the carpark or public transport drop off zone to the entrance of the building, so we are looking for wayfinding features along this entire journey. Key barriers to accessibility often emerge in older buildings or buildings which have not been designed with accessibility in mind. Any design elements tied into the structure of the building can create significant barriers as they’re costly to renovate, for example, there may be a tight corridor leading to a staircase creating a bottleneck that is difficult to navigate.

U: At what stage in the project timeline are your services generally employed? 

LP: Ideally, we are engaged in the design/planning phase of the project. The earlier we are engaged, the greater our ability to seamlessly weave accessibility features into the building's core design, as opposed to retro-fitting solutions post-construction. Temporary or non-permanent wayfinding solutions are often applied post-construction and can not only be less effective but may not be all that inclusive. I’m sure most readers will be familiar with the dusty old ramp which has been sitting in a rarely visited storage area only to be roughly fitted over a staircase to create wheelchair access, not only is this generally below safety standards but it doesn’t create an environment of openness to a person with disability entering the premises. That being said, in most cases, there are simple small added features which can drastically enhance the accessibility of the building, so we can really bring value to any stage from initial briefing through to construction and assessment of pre-existing buildings.

U: What are some design tools and techniques which can aid in creating a more accessible and comfortable environment for its inhabitants?

LP: The most effective technique is to put yourself in the shoes of a person with a disability and journey through the space to identify potential hazards and opportunities for improvement. Wearing a blindfold or simulated glasses that reduce the participant's vision and attempting to navigate a building can provide deep practical insights. It is also important to think of the functional purpose of the space, is there a particular activity or task to perform and how can this environment be best suited to that specific activity or task.

We highly recommend seeking feedback directly from patrons with a disability as they will have an innate knowledge of areas for attention.

U: Are there any developments in Melbourne which you believe provide an exemplary level of accessibility?

LP: It’s difficult to think of an example within Melbourne which provides a fully comprehensive accessibility design however, there are developments that contain strong elements. Namely, the Melbourne metro train stations which have a network of Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSIs) along with Beacon wayfinding technology to assist with audio directions e.g. Parliament, Melbourne Central and Flagstaff train station. Guide Dogs Victoria regional sites Bendigo and Geelong have been recently developed and as you would expect given the high volume of clients with who are blind or have low vision, have been designed with best practice at front of mind. As a society, we do have a way to go in improving accessibility but we are making great strides.

U: Do you have any case studies where access issues have had to be rectified?

LP: We recently worked with the MidSumma festival to provide access consultancy for the Pride March. There are a number of factors involved when assessing a large event for accessibility which are compounded by the fact that foot traffic numbers and traffic flow can be difficult to predict.


"Midsumma Festival engaged Guide Dogs Victoria to conduct access audits of our two large-scale outdoor events, Midsumma Carnival and Midsumma Pride March. At Midsumma Festival we value diversity and want to ensure that our events are accessible to all LGBTQIA+ people, including those with disability. Working in close consultation with Midsumma Festival staff, Luke and Vicki were able to attend our events to conduct the audits and brought with them an immense amount of expertise, care and diligence. Guide Dogs Victoria produced rigorous audits that provided the solution-orientated clarity we needed to make sure we are producing accessible events."

U: Could you please tell us a bit more about assistive technology in the built environment? What smart devices can be installed in complexes or apartments currently?

LP: Beacon technology has recently been rolled out across the major train stations in Melbourne to aid in the navigation of busy train stations. Essentially, Beacons sited around the station connect to the mobile app BlindSquare which provides an audio description of a space and instructions on how to get to key locations, such as the platform, service desk or bathrooms. The technology is now also available at Melbourne Zoo and would be a potential solution for large apartment complexes, particularly for finding communal spaces within the building. We’re also using QR codes in a similar fashion to Beacon technology, it’s as simple as attaching a QR code to a specific location for a person with blind or low vision to scan and again hear audio descriptions of the environment.

U: Where do you think the future of accessibility will go and what current features within the home/community spaces do you think still need improving?

LP: As we move toward a more inclusive society we are certainly seeing a greater level of awareness of accessibility in the design space. Having had 16 years’ experience in the industry I have seen big steps taken toward improved accessibility standards and policy, the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards released in 2010 was one such big step, however meeting minimum standards does not always equate to a safe and dignified journey for people with blindness or low vision. To summarise, we’re heading in the right direction but we still have a long way to go, and when we consider how many buildings are still actively in operation from decades past there are plenty of opportunities to increase accessibility.

Ultimately, good accessibility is good business, creating a space that is inviting and welcoming will motivate people to come through the door, be they people with a disability or not.

Lead image credit: Guide Dogs Victoria

Olivia Round

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

Accessibility Guide Dogs Victoria


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