University of NSW platform will combine disability studies across all faculties and disciplines. The university-based initiative is a first, with its cross-faculty inclusive disability focus that combines Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) and Humanities and Science (HAS) research. This is intended to design accessible and inclusive working, living and learning environments, generate innovative technologies and create inclusive law, policy, services, markets and communities, providing a connection to the community, industry, services, government and practitioners.  The institute, which will be launched this year, will collaborate with people with disability to identify, understand and research solutions to the practical challenges experienced by those with disability.

Senior researcher at the USNSW Policy Research Centre (SPRC) Rosemary Kayess said the institute will go well beyond merely providing physical access for people with disability.  “It will cover human rights law, how to embed disability into the design of STEM research, architecture and the built environment, as well as how people engage, communicate and transact,” Kayess said. “This is an area where nobody really claims global leadership and why it has such enormous potential.”

According to SPRC Professor Karen Fisher, innovation is stimulated by unexpected connections and necessity and disability is one area where this happens. “Innovations can have the potential for a much wider impact and use across society. Smart home technology is one example and another is electronic voting which was developed for accessibility but is now extending to the rest of the electorate,”she said.

About one in five or 4.2 million Australians identify as having a disability and as the population ages one in two are predicted to develop an age-related disability over the next 20 years.