Updated: Dec 26, 2021
Flying Fox is a charity that Honeycomb director, Jenna, founded in 2014.
Jenna shares her story in this piece written for the Flying Fox blog - The Flyer Blog. Enjoy!
In 2014, I connected with a group of young people with a disability through my role in the founding of Flying Fox. Many of these connections have become true friendships with people with whom I have many common interests and shared experiences.
A few months ago, I went shopping with one of these friends for some new bathers. This friend has high support needs; she is blind, non-verbal and uses a wheelchair. Together we picked out a few different bathers to try, but when we reached the change rooms there were no accessible spaces where my friend, her wheelchair and I could fit to try on the bathers.
This problem is easily avoidable. By having one accessible change room, my friend and I would have been treated as valuable members of society who are entitled to shop for a quality pair of bathers, just like anyone else.
I took experiences like these with me into my architecture studies and then into my professional life. I realised the importance of ensuring that the accessibility needs of people with a disability were always at the forefront of architectural planning; something I am pushing to be embedded into architecture and design courses across all universities. Today, I work as a Graduate Architect and a qualified Access Consultant. In both roles, it is my responsibility to ensure that the needs of the building’s end user are considered and accounted for, and that beautiful design goes hand-in-hand with pragmatism and accessibility.
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) guides my work. Established in 1992, this legislation outlines the rules preventing discrimination against people with a disability in Australia, including the laws for accessible building design. There is a legal requirement that the built environment be physically accessible to ensure that all people have access and equal opportunity to utilise public spaces. However, despite this legislation being in place for over 30 years, numerous buildings still fail to provide access. These buildings may have a set of steps at their entrance, a sign to an accessible entrance that is hidden, or an ‘accessible’ toilet that is only able to be reached via a flight of stairs.
Accessibility equates to spaces that are functional and fit for purpose and are truly inclusive for their end users. Why is this important? Because everyone deserves to be included in society and the built environment makes up so much of our society.
Ensuring that our built environment is accessible is central to creating an inclusive world.
Accessibility does not always mean ramps and lifts. Many common features of a space can also act as a barrier for people with ‘hidden disabilities’, such as epilepsy, autism or an intellectual disability. For example, no specific access-related laws exist that limit how crowded a football match can be or how loudly music can be played in a shopping centre, yet these factors can be significant if not considered carefully and can even prevent individuals from participating in society.
To solve these issues, one simple rule must be followed – focus on the end user. Fortunately, several new initiatives have begun to do so. The 'Quiet Hour’ introduced at Coles supermarkets last year (a low-sensory shopping experience with reduced noise and lighting), and the sensory room implemented by the St Kilda Football Club (a quiet, calming and dimly-lit space) provide equal opportunities for people with hidden disabilities. Closer to home, Flying Fox have recently created their own home, ‘Tova House’; a holiday home designed to host fun weekend getaways for Flying Fox participants. The house has recently been renovated to ensure that it suits the needs of a diverse group of people with a disability. The house includes sensory spaces, separate break-out areas, rooms that are themed by colours and large activity areas.
The world of architecture and the world of disability have an obvious interplay. Making the built environment physically accessible is a vital step on the path to an inclusive world. True social inclusion means that anyone and everyone can choose to go anywhere at any time. This is the goal and it is absolutely and unequivocally achievable.
Check out the original piece here.