Personal experience drives inclusive design

4 min
18 April 2023

As the mother of a 13-year-old autistic son, Lisa Whinnen has a lot of personal experience of being in a shopping centre with a child who is overstimulated and anxious. 

Lisa, the Social Sustainability Manager – Partnerships and Engagement at Stockland, shared her experience recently in a panel discussion on ‘Designing for Inclusion at Wellbeing’ at TRANSFORM 2024, an event held by the Green Building Council of Australia. 

Stockland's Lisa Whinnen and son, the TRANSFORM 2024 conference and Stockland's sensory map campaign

“I can see the build-up in my son when we are in a shopping centre,” she said.

“There’s a lot of smells, the noise is deafening, and I’m stressed too and I’m thinking ‘am I going to be able to do my shopping today.’ 

“On many occasions, I have left my trolley behind and just gone home, and that’s such a missed opportunity in so many ways.” 

Lisa related her personal experience in the context of the discussion on inclusive design, which she said had also informed her professional work at Stockland, where such principles had become “embedded and non-negotiable.”  

“We do not build public spaces without taking in that lens of inclusion for everybody, regardless of ability,” she said. 

“We also recognise that everybody is likely to have some form of disability in their lifetime, whether it be temporary or permanent. 

“So, we must design spaces for everybody, regardless of ability.” 

Also on the panel was Pino Demaio, the Chief Impact Designer and founder of Melbourne-based design studio Local Peoples. 

Demaio told the panel that there were as many as five million Australians who are “vulnerable to exclusion” because of a permanent or temporary disability. 

“That’s around $40 billion in annual disposable income,” he said. 

“So, there’s also a really good business case to be designing for everybody.” 

At Stockland, Lisa Whinnen said the company’s Retail Town Centres now included quiet rooms and sensory maps to help neurodivergent people plan their shopping trips and feel well supported when they are in the centre, should they need it. 

“We’re working on all facets of a customer’s journey and visit, so that people are able to plan ahead and feel welcome, comfortable and supported when they visit a Stockland asset,” she said.

“We are in the process of rolling out gold standard amenities in our Retail Town Centres which include gender neutral bathrooms, accessible toilets, prayer rooms and Changing Places bathrooms which have an adult change table, hoist and shower. 

“Often people with disability feel like they can’t access shopping centres, or need to get in and get out. By including these added supports, people with disability, their carers and therapists are choosing to stay longer. This is a game changer for so many and makes good business sense.” 

Stockland has also partnered with the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower Program, an initiative across 39 countries designed to support people living with non-visible disabilities and medical conditions. This partnership has been “strongly embraced” by our customers. 

Stockland Shellharbour, Townsville and Green Hills participating in the Hidden Disabilities Scheme 

In wearing the Hidden Disabilities lanyard, wristband or pin, people are able to indicate that they may require support or assistance and front facing Stockland staff have received appropriate training to recognise and support this.

Noting that Australian standards tended to change regularly, Lisa Whinnen said Stockland’s approach was “to go well above those standards.” 

“It’s not enough for us to just abide by standards, we are aiming higher,” she said. 

“One of the ways we’ve done this is with accessibility audits, where we’ve had people living with disabilities audit our town centres, a bit like a secret shopper experience. 

“They assessed the environment and customer service, along with their journey planning. The results were so insightful and informative in how we service and design our spaces” 

Magda Mostafa, Associate Chair and a Professor of Design in the Department of Architecture at the American University of Cairo, joined the panel to outline her work in creating an award-winning design framework for autism. 

The framework was driven by seven principles with priority given to acoustics and also the use of space and has been implemented on a university campus in Ireland and also in Denmark. 

She said her work was driven by a concept she called the “available city”, a term which democratised the use of space and made it “more invitational and less hierarchical.”