University of Tasmania
Kerr_whole_thesis.pdf (23.07 MB)

Experiences of public space built environment connectedness and the autism spectrum

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posted on 2023-05-28, 11:45 authored by Kerr, CJ
Recent research has highlighted the importance of the built environment for supporting the needs of individuals with autism and their caregivers, yet little of that work has considered the significance of built environment connectedness as a factor in the relationship between access to public space and social inclusion. This study aims to uncover the operative environmental characteristics that influence feelings of connectedness in public space and to contribute to ongoing research and discourse that interrogates notions of equal, normal, and universal as applied to the built environment. This work investigates the theories, policies, and practices that constitute urban design and its socio-political responsibility to provision the rights of all people with access to, and occupation of, public space. The research includes a review of literature and discourses about urban design and autism, and about the neurological and physiological factors that facilitate connection to environment. It is also ethnographic and participatory and includes stories shared by five people with autism who engaged in novel fieldwork and semi-structured interviews to provide empirical evidence about their experiences in public spaces. Participant contributions are enlisted‚ÄövÑvÆfirst to expand understandings of the meaning of connectedness by working with and through a lens that privileges neurodiversity and, second, to question the epistemological foundations and practices that inform and shape urban design. The study introduces two novel ideas: the Golden Record for Autism‚ÄövÑvÆa powerful metaphor signifying the need for epistemological shifts; and the score of experience, which helps people to describe feelings of connection to environment. Deploying these ideas, the research challenges dominant perceptions about, and thresholds related to, what is normal‚ÄövÑvp, and foregrounds the prevalence of ableism. It exposes the pervasive epistemological impact those two ontologies have on the provision of equitable public space. Ultimately, then, this investigation evidences the need to accommodate neurological diversity in public spaces. It advances several novel suggestions about how those who shape the built environment can work to more effectively recognise difference as part of the spectrum of normal. It suggests that there are opportunities to make adjuvant spaces in which more people can hear the voices of neurodiverse individuals, can make space for change by creating and adopting new neuro-spatial languages, and can make space for difference by provisioning new and better city forms.


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Copyright 2020 the author

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