News

Arup funds research for a more accessible Melbourne

Jennifer Shand Jennifer Shand Australasia Press Office,Sydney
19 July 2019

More than 453,000 people are blind or vision impaired in Australia, according to research by the Centre for Eye Research Australia and Vision 2020 Australia. Vision Australia has forecast that by 2030 there will be 564,000 people with low vision or blindness

The importance of inclusive transport systems, buildings, public spaces and digital connectivity will increase as more people will be living with vision impairment.  

To better understand the implications of blindness for urban design, 18 Arup consultants stepped into darkness at Dialogue in the Dark™, a simulated journey through blacked-out Melbourne, to discover what it’s like to rely on senses other than sight to navigate the city. 

The group spent time navigating everyday interactions in total darkness. Dialogue in the Dark guides, with low vision or blindness, led the groups through the simulation, sharing insights on accessibility and how society perceives blindness.

After this experience, the young consultants formed multidisciplinary teams for Arup’s $30,000 ‘Think Different, Design Better’ research challenge, and worked with people with low vision or blindness to design solutions for a more accessible city. 

The teams researched potential scalable ideas and pitched them to a panel of judges and the wider Arup community in Melbourne.


Creating ‘accessible cities’ is an enormous challenge. It takes the scale and coordination of an organisation like Arup to consider the possibilities this entails. Congratulations to Arup for this innovative approach. All three projects were based on issues that affect Victorians living with disability on a daily basis. ” Krysia Birman Relationship Manager, Australian Network on Disability

Arup’s ‘Think Different, Design Better’ challenge saw teams research potential solutions to create a more accessible city for people with low vision or blindness.

Krysia Birman (Relationship Manager at the Australian Network on Disability), Kathryn McPherson (Workshop Coordinator at Dialogue in the Dark), David Simmons (Acting Director Inclusive Public Transport at PTV) and Jonathan Kinghorn (Arup’s Australasian Advisory, Planning & Design Leader) evaluated the ideas on clarity of pitch, innovation, feasibility and market potential.

The ideas were: a framework of design for unpredictable changes and detours when journeying to work; a delivery system for accessing high-quality information on buildings and public spaces within inclusive navigation applications; and an inclusive journey-based design framework to navigate the built environment.


The ‘Think Different, Design Better’ challenge was a fantastic opportunity to understand varied experiences of the built environment to ultimately re-think our current design processes. ” Emily Russo Emily Russo Graduate Planner

The winning concept was a framework for a more inclusive design process for the built environment which centres around input from a range of people with a disability at the very start and throughout the design process. This concept moves away from the current prescriptive regulatory design approach and focuses more on the user journey. 

A Disability Discrimination Act adviser worked with Team Co-Design, identifying early engagement opportunities with consultants within a design framework. Early engagement produces more accessible detailed designs, reducing costly retrofits.  

The team further explored how designers can move away from a ‘design for’ method towards a ‘design with’ approach through a collaborative framework.

This challenge fostered disability confidence in our team members and created a tangible pathway for them to create more inclusive and accessible cities. We look forward to delivering real outcomes to improve the built environment for people with disability. ”

Dr Francesca Maclean Australasian Disability Leader

Arup has provided $30,000 in internal research funding so the team can develop a framework with key disability user groups and run a pilot trial in Melbourne.

Arup researches and develops innovations that influence positive social and environmental outcomes through Arup Research and Arup Foresight