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Navigating the urban environment with smartphones for people with a disability

Navigating the urban environment with smartphones for people with a disability

Image: Dr Kathleen Ellis. Image courtesy:  Curtin University of Technology.

Image: Dr Kathleen Ellis. Image courtesy: Curtin University of Technology
Finding out how people with impairments use smartphones to navigate the urban environment, to help improve access to services and address problems related to social participation, will be the focus of research in an ARC Discovery Project to commence in 2017.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) will be providing $234.7 million for 630 new research projects under the Discovery Projects scheme, announced on 1 November 2016 as part of the ARC Major Grants Announcement.

Dr Kathleen Ellis from Curtin University of Technology will receive $187,222 to lead one of the projects, which aims to understand how people with a disability use smart technology to navigate urban spaces. Ultimately, the research may assist in improving disability access to public areas and essential services, and improve social participation for people with impairments.

The project will study how people with a disability use smartphones to mitigate the effects of their impairments and compensate for inaccessibility in urban spaces. It will comprehensively map mobile phone use in urban space to inform design of the urban space, and the development of apps as disabled people integrate with these spaces.

Dr Ellis, who is a previous ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award recipient, said her research to date has focused on disability and digital media, extending across issues of representation of those with disabilities and ways to improve social inclusion.

“People with disabilities are some of the most marginalised members of Australian society. It is vital that we start recognising disability as a social problem, that the exclusions people with disability experience are the result of inaccessible environments, negative attitudes and inflexible policies and procedures, rather than their individual ‘damaged’ bodies,” Dr Ellis said.

“Mobile devices and accessible applications have become an integral part of how Australians with disabilities navigate through urban spaces in their day-to-day lives. This new funding will allow us to look closely at how people with disabilities are using smartphones to improve social inclusion."

“My co-investigator, Dr Mike Kent, and I hope to discover the ways people with vision and mobility impairments, as well as intellectual disability, use these apps in a number of locations throughout Australia, to give us an insight into how we can offer enhanced support and services to those with a disability, increase their independence and improve their access to information.”

The Discovery Projects scheme provides funding for research projects that can be undertaken by individual researchers or research teams.

The objectives of the Discovery Projects scheme are to:

  • support excellent basic and applied research by individuals and teams
  • encourage research and research training in high-quality research environments
  • enhance international collaboration in research
  • expand Australia’s knowledge base and research capability
  • enhance the scale and focus of research in the Science and Research Priorities. 


Image: Dr Kathleen Ellis.
Image courtesy:  Curtin University of Technology.

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