‘Nothing about us without us’: Working cross-sector to make the City of Melbourne more inclusive for people with disability

On the 30th May 2019 the findings from a new project to make the City of Melbourne more inclusive for people with disability were reported at a community forum at Melbourne Town Hall. This project showcases how different sectors and community members can come together to create policies that reflect the views and ideas of those most affected by the proposed policies. People with disability have historically been marginalised from the policy process, with a lack of consultation with people with disability a significant issue in the formation of government policy. This project addressed these issues by using an evidence base coming directly from people with disability in order to inform policy for the City of Melbourne Disability Action Plan.  In the blog piece below Dr Jerome Rachele lead investigator of the project talks about its development and how working cross-sector between local government and academia led to a successful outcome.

 

Melbourne is regularly rated among the most liveable cities in the world. But with its many inaccessible shops and cafes and narrow difficult-to-navigate laneways, just how liveable is Melbourne for people with disability?  The Melbourne City Council Plan 2017-2021 acknowledges that there are systemic barriers in the built, social, and information environment that can prevent people with disability from being able to fully access and participate in Melbourne city life. In turn, the Council is committed to reducing, and where possible eliminating, these barriers to enable a city which is inclusive and accessible for everyone. To meet this goal, I, along with co-investigators Dr Ilan Wiesel and Dr Ellen van Holstein from the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne, conceptualised a project that would not only bring together local government and academia but also develop an evidence base directly informed by the views and ideas of people with disability.  The project used a guiding principle of ‘Nothing about us without us’ to directly involve people with disability in the generation of ideas for new local government policies. We brought together a project team of academics from the University of Melbourne and the City of Melbourne staff, with input from the Melbourne Disability Institute – City of Melbourne Steering Committee, and the Disability Advisory Committee of the City of Melbourne, creating a truly cross-sector approach to policy development.

How did the project work?

Using a method called of Group Concept Mapping, a series of workshops were conducted which brought together people with disability, City of Melbourne staff, disability advocates, and academics to brainstorm ideas on ‘how to make the City of Melbourne more inclusive for people with disability’. Five workshops were run in early 2019, with each focusing on a different disability type; physical and mobility, sensory, intellectual, and psychosocial disability, and one with different disability types. Overall there were 79 participants who identified 240 unique ideas. A total of 93 participants then sorted these ideas into themes, and rated each idea based on its importance and feasibility of implementation. Ideas that were considered to be both important and feasible were those relating to: consulting people with disability during planning, educating employers about inclusion and equal opportunity, increasing access to a diversity of employment opportunities, providing accessible government forms, advocating to the state government on the needs of people with disability, ensuring that the City of Melbourne is a visibly inclusive organisation, providing Easy English information about people’s entitlements, and training policy officers and local compliance officers about diversity of disabilities.

The study findings were disseminated in a report, infographic and Easy English version of the executive summary. A Community Forum was also held to launch the report and study findings which was attended by around 150 people, including people with disability, disability advocacy groups, City of Melbourne staff, including the Lord Mayor and City of Melbourne Councillors, and staff from other relevant government departments and Victorian local governments.

What made the project a ‘success’?

There were several factors which contributed to the success of the project. First, the City of Melbourne were committed to having evidence-informed policy and were willing to put significant resources towards make the project a reality, and help it reach its potential. This included dedicating several staff to the project, allocating staff to participate in workshops and complete the sorting and rating tasks, use of their facilities, hiring interpreters and carers, and catering for each of the sessions. And second, there was an extensive consultation process during the project development with the City of Melbourne and Melbourne Disability Institute Steering Committee, and the Disability Advisory Committee of the City of Melbourne. This allowed any issues to be raised and addressed through a collaborative approach between sectors. Their input was invaluable and played a key role in the project’s success. Third we produced a report of the study findings which had a DOI and ISBN. This meant that the City of Melbourne could immediately access the findings and cite our work in their upcoming policies, rather than waiting for study findings to be published in academic journals. It also means that we can more readily demonstrate the impact of our research. We now plan to replicate the project with children and adolescents with disability, and hope that the model developed can be used by other local governments to develop policies for people with disability that actively include their views as a key part of the policy process.

 

Dr Jerome Rachele is a social epidemiologist from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, and the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health.

More information about the project can be accessed at:

-          Report

-          Info-graphic and executive summary

-          Easy English executive summary