Author Identifier

Adam Johnson

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Professor Kathy Boxall

Second Supervisor

Dr David Rhodes


This study used Participatory Action Research (PAR) to investigate the facilitators of disability access in local government, with a focus on the City of Bunbury in Western Australia. In 2014, the City of Bunbury adopted a long-term aspirational goal to become the Most Accessible Regional City in Australia (MARCIA), and the findings and recommendations from this study are intended to inform strategic priorities for achieving that goal, including a potential change of corporate approach required to attain MARCIA status. The thesis critically evaluates the historical, cultural and systemic factors that have influenced accessibility and inclusion in the development of Bunbury’s public infrastructure, situating this discussion in the context of national and international disability research. It also draws on literature about deliberative democracy, knowledge partnering and co-design.

A defining feature of this study is its methodology. Participatory Action Research seeks to position the researched as researchers and activists, engaged in a concurrent process of inquiring, sharing and influencing. To achieve this aim, eleven people with lived experience of disability were recruited as co-researchers, working alongside the PhD student who adopted the role of PAR facilitator to ‘animate’ and facilitate the process of inquiry. Together, they engaged Informants from the City of Bunbury (elected members, executives, managers and technical officers) in deliberative dialogue about the system of public design. Interviews and group discussions were recorded and transcribed, and analysed using the Framework Analysis method. Informed by an extensive literature review undertaken by the PhD student, the framework was developed collaboratively with the project’s co-researchers.

Historically, universal design has been minimally and inconsistently applied by regional cities such as the City of Bunbury in the development of public infrastructure, including buildings, facilities, services, information and events intended for use by the public. The study found five key facilitators of universal design in public infrastructure: documenting and applying benchmarks and safeguards for best practice in universal design, providing training and technical support for staff and contractors, and engaging people with lived experience of disability in co-design. The five facilitators of universal design in local government are presented in this thesis as a model of Universal Public Design, that may be usefully applied in other public design contexts, including other local governments, other tiers of government, and the commercial sector.

In keeping with the action research philosophy of Participatory Action Research, and to fulfil the obligations of the ‘industry engagement scholarship’ that supported this study, the preliminary findings and recommendations were presented to Council in a research report in June 2018, and endorsed unanimously for implementation by the City of Bunbury. The thesis concludes by detailing some of the progress that has been made to date by the City, and situates the study in the context of global efforts, especially by the United Nations, to engage ‘neighbourhood’ leaders such as local governments in fulfilling a key objective of the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda – accessible, inclusive and sustainable cities.


Paper Location