If it’s not universally designed you are leaving us behind Karen Fankhauser, Disability Advocate

I spent my 45 birthday in a nursing home not knowing if I could ever come home- my muscles, weakened by muscular dystrophy, were no longer strong enough to enable me to walk and I was now a wheelchair user. At that time I didn’t know what universal design was, but I knew that all housing needed to be more accessible – for not only myself but other people, younger and older, whose homes were not able to accommodate their mobility equipment. I was lucky – I made it home, but my rental property was only meant to be a temporary situation. Five years on and we are still pushing for universally designed housing!  I’ve become actively involved in advocating for universal design in not only housing but visitor experiences through the Mornington Peninsula Shire’s All Abilities Consultative Committee and on and individual level. I was awarded Mornington Peninsula Shire’s Citizen of the Year 2018. This year’s 3rd Australian Universal Design Conference, “Home and Away: Creating Inclusion Everywhere” falls on my 50th birthday. My presentation is about why universal design is important from the lived experience of disability perspective. Storytelling from people with disabilities is a powerful conduit for change. It gives people a reference point for the ‘why’ we need to aim for higher than mere DDA compliance and to instead adopt universal design principles.  The topics I will address include housing, travel and transportation, tourism and destinations, inclusive events (I create my own form of inclusion at most events), and community (specifically people with disabilities) involvement in design processes.  I will incorporate photos and videos to underpin what my view on inclusion is, and to reinforce how universal design principles enhance an experience, whereas the concept of accessibility, through implicit associations, low expectations, negative stereotypes and unconscious bias perpetuate the idea that accessibility is for people with disabilities and therefore separate to the mainstream.