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How might we better design a city to make it more accessible for deaf, blind and deafblind citizens?

We were approached by the City of Melbourne to understand better the experience of people with sensory disabilities as they traverse Melbourne’s central business district.

While decades of work has been done to make individual urban components like footpaths and train stations more accessible, it was felt that better understanding the total experience would surface opportunities for improvement.

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Research Design

Users are experts of their experience – nobody is better placed than a person with a sensory disability to tell you what the city might do to be more accessible.

We designed a research programme which included shadowing, but also created workshops to explore the problem space and being to generate ideas for improvement.


Our research included twenty participants who were either deaf, blind, visually impaired, deaf and blind. We included recent deaf migrants, who were not yet literate in AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) or English.

We designed all the research activities to ensure all participants could actively participate, which included things like printing in Braille and collaborating with expert translators for our deaf and deafblind participants.


There is something very simple but profound about simply watching people tackle their everyday challenges.

Sometimes the best insights can be by placing researchers in the field with users as they go through an everyday experience.

Deafblind research participant during a walkthrough

We designed each route with our participants, based on their daily journey and included challenges intended to simulate the sorts of problems regularly face. While we walked, we were able to observe the strategies of each person first hand and learn from the way they made decisions. Each walkthrough was filmed, photographed and tracked on a map.

They were invited not so much as participants but as co-designers. I think that allowed them to be more at ease – to be empowered to highlight some challenges we couldn’t have anticipated

City of Melbourne

The value of first-hand experience

By immersing the City of Melbourne team in the experiences we were studying, and by witnessing people in context, we built insights that are more than academic – they were a personal, lived and layered appreciation for the user context.

Thick design research participant

We created an insights report and a series of tools to help the team better empathise with, and design for, people with sensory disability.

This prepared the team to recognise service opportunities that address a real-world need and provide the knowledge to better advocate for this community inside government.


The City of Melbourne has identified many opportunities to lead best practice design for accessibility. After running a city-wide forum, formal partnerships are being brokered and new city projects are being given the tools and insights required to embed accessibility into infrastructure and service development.


Have a challenge for us? Have a coffee with Dave

Call +61 (0)3 9416 0300
Email david@studiothick.com


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