Devonport's Tammy Milne is working with engineering students at Melbourne University


A leading Tasmanian disability advocate is working on a project with engineering students at Melbourne University to improve the lives of people with disabilities.


Tammy Milne, of Devonport who recently gave evidence to the Disability Royal Commission, is part of a team of four but there are 10 other teams working across Australia.

"We are working collaboratively to identify something that will make the lives of people with disabilities (PWD) better," Ms Milne said.

"These collaborative groups enlighten our young engineers of the future about the diversity of community and that not everyone is able-bodied and accommodations need to be made.

"We look beyond the legislation and look deeply into physical problems that restrict people with disabilities' full participation in society and find solutions.

"This will have a flow-on effect in our community in the future because our engineers will be more aware and better skilled, they will know more and be more empathetic because they have worked with people with disabilities."


Mrs Milne, a former Devonport councillor said her group had talked about the accessibility of hotel bathrooms and also accessible prams for mums in wheelchairs and wheelchairs that can go out to the beach and into the water.


She said the team had narrowed its focus to access to trains for all Australians.


"People with disabilities need to notify the staff at the train station to get a ramp put down physically by a train staff member so that the PWD can access the train.


"Trams have elevated platforms and the gap between tram and platform is negotiable and doesn't need a ramp.


"We want to try to engineer a way in which we could retrofit train stations in the same way that mirrors the tram stops and gives people with disabilities easy access without having to ask for assistance."


Ms Milne said each team had a person living with a disability as an expert consultant.


"I guess my role is to guide the students on what people with disability need and what it is like to be disabled and what equipment means to our independence and full participation in society.


"We talked about ableism, which they were unaware of. Ableism is where things/structures/environments are built only for people who are able-bodied, it gives people who are able-bodied an advantage.


"A self-opening door enables both able-bodied people and disabled people to have an even, equitable advantage but a door that requires you to physically open it puts some people with disabilities at a disadvantage and they need to be helped or assisted and feel reliant on others instead of having control over their own environment. Getting assistance on a train is like this."


Ms Milne does not have to travel to Melbourne for the project.


"COVID has in some instances has been a game-changer for the way in which we communicate and conduct business. We have learned we don't necessarily have to be in the same room. This has meant that the pool of people able to be involved in projects like this can be Australia wide rather than confined to one metropolitan area, people in this collaboration are from both regional and rural and cites, from all over.


"It has been amazing and it means that the consultations are so much richer and authentic than otherwise would have been."


Ms Milne said she hoped the Disability Royal Commission shone the light on what happened to Anne-Maree Smith, 54, who had cerebral palsy and died in April from malnutrition and other illness after being left in a cane chair for 24 hours a day for more than a year.


"All the evidence given has been very important to the improvement of our services and to make sure what happened to Anne-Maree never happens again," she said.

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