Seed funded projects

The Disability Innovation Institute carries out research funded by competitively awarded grants. In addition, members of UNSW who have a formal association with the Institute often have their own research projects which contribute to the disability research community of UNSW. You can see our projects here.

The Institute has also given seed funding to a number of research groups across different Faculties at UNSW to support interdisciplinary, disability-inclusive research.


People with intellectual disability (ID) experience higher rates of mortality, preventable hospitalisations, and preventable deaths compared to the general population. Fear, discomfort, and anxiety are common barriers in accessing healthcare. 

This project aims to explore the utility and test the feasibility of immersive VR technology in enhancing healthcare access and experiences for people with ID. Specifically, we aim to: (1) Design and develop an immersive VR application for people with ID to prepare them for healthcare interactions; (2) Examine the impact of immersive VR exposure to reduce fear, anxiety, and discomfort in healthcare environments; (3) Establish a design framework and set of best practices for VR applications in healthcare settings for people with ID. 

Project team

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This project aims to enhance the integration of lived experiences of young people (aged 18 – 29) with developmental disabilities and their parents/carers in economic evaluations, ensuring these assessments reflect the true societal and individual value beyond mere cost savings.

Project team 

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The recent COVID-19 pandemic, floods and bushfires have highlighted that quick, accurate and updated accessible public health and safety information is critically important for people with disability. During these recent crises, there has however been little coordinated support for the organisations providing accessible information for people with disability. 

This project aims to address this gap by: (a) gathering information on the experiences to date of accessible information providers; (b) identifying the facilitators/barriers they experience; and (c) providing an actionable list of recommendations to address the barriers and improve the coordination and support of accessible information for people with disability in Australia, particularly for events such as public health crises and weather events.


Project team

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This project extends disability employment research between a South Australian disability organisation and two universities. Our collaborative research found that a co-designed, innovative model improved employment options for people with disability. The research aims address the next two knowledge gaps from the research about (1) factors that contribute to sustainability of inclusive employment model beyond short-term funding and (2) the influence of people with disability on the model’s success. 

The project team will observe an aged care industry community of practice (COP) and interview project participants with and without disability, in workplaces with successful employment outcomes. People with disability will co-produce all stages of the research as members of the research team, COP and workplaces.

Project team

Jointly funded with the Allens Hub for Technology & Innovation

This project will work with Australian-based disability organisations to develop a clear and transparent criteria for carrying out an accessibility audit of existing access to justice (A2J) and technology initiatives. The team will also develop research-based resources that will allow A2J technology providers to build in accessibility needs from the start of new projects and retrofit existing offerings to be more accessible for persons with disabilities.

This will occur alongside a mapping of existing A2J and technology initiatives in Australia.

Project team

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Jointly funded with the Allens Hub for Technology & Innovation

This project focuses on repairability in medical and assistive technologies and will include a review of review of current legislation (including the Therapeutic Goods Act and regulations and case law on medical devices relating to a right to repair; a review of disability policy and advocacy documents, media reports and other ‘grey literature’ regarding right to repair relating to medical devices/assistive technologies; and the preparation of academic outputs exploring these issues.

Project team

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Jointly funded with the Australian Human Rights Institute

People with intellectual disability in Australia are “anywhere between 40 and 300 percent more likely to be jailed than people without intellectual disability”. International research consistently demonstrates that people with intellectual disability are both at risk of higher criminalisation and relatedly poorer outcomes both during and after imprisonment, compared to those without intellectual disability. Despite this, there remains a general death of evidence, especially in Australian studies, examining the experiences and outcomes of people with intellectual disability who are in prison. 

This project aims to further fill knowledge gaps in the current needs, circumstances and outlook for people with intellectual disability in the criminal justice system in Australia. The following two research questions are the foundation of this project:

  1. Are people with intellectual disability in prison a homogenous group, or are there subgroups in terms of demographics, criminogenic risk and post-release outcomes?
  2. What are the predictors (demographic, criminogenic, health-related) of receiving disability support services after release from prison?

Project team


This project examined the systems businesses use to coordinate, manage, and improve accessibility for all users, and how these processes can be integrated into regular business practice and tailored to the nature of the business, its needs, objectives, and communities.

The project explored the feasibility of applying Management Systems Standards (MSS) to accessibility management, using a mixed methods approach and establishing an advisory group. The project team utilised their connections with disability advocates and hired a research assistant with disability to ensure an inclusive approach.

The multidisciplinary project team included experts from the fields of psychology, ergonomics and occupational therapy:

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This pilot project used a co-design and co-research approach to investigate gendered barriers to accessing personalised disability funding, interviewing 30 women from Victoria and the ACT.

Women with Disability Victoria (WDV) and Women with Disabilities ACT were involved in the design of the project and the development of interview questions, and a member of WDV (Ms Jen Hargrave) was subsequently hired as a peer interviewer. Ms Hargrave was also involved in the recruitment of participants and the planning of interviews and is still contributing to the project through the preparation of research outputs.

The project combined semi-structured interviews with a systems mapping exercise which helped participants create visual causal map diagrams of barriers, and the links between them.

“One benefit of our experience conducting inclusive research for this project has been a greater understanding of what is required for future research projects in this area, which assisted with our application for NDRP [National Disability Research Partnership] funding. Secondly, the project allowed us to demonstrate a track record of inclusive research in this area. The networks and trust we developed through the pilot project have also been useful in preparing this application, although the politics of inclusive and collaborative work in the disability sector can be challenging.”

The multidisciplinary project team included experts in the fields of gender research, disability support programs, complex systems and disability advocacy, and included firsthand experience of accessing disability support in Australia. The team consists of:
•    Dr Sophie Yates
•    Ms Eleanor Malbon
•    A/Prof. Gemma Carey
•    Ms Jen Hargrave.
The team partnered with Women with Disability ACT and Women with Disability Victoria.

Publications and presentations:
•    Yates, S., G. Carey, J. Hargrave, E. Malbon & C. Green (2021) 'Women's experiences of accessing individualized disability supports: gender inequality and Australia's National Disability Insurance Scheme', International Journal for Equity in Health 20(243)
•    Yates, S., G. Carey, E. Malbon & J. Hargrave (2021) ''Faceless monster, secret society': Women's experiences navigating the administrative burden of Australia's National Disability Insurance Scheme', Health and Social Care in the Community Early View:

The team is presenting at the Australian Political Studies Association conference in September 2021 and has been invited to submit their findings to the Disability Royal Commission ahead of its hearing on women and girls in October 2021.
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This project uses the latest in indoor positioning technologies to research, construct and test a highly accurate (<10cm), robust, discreet, wearable and cost effective wayfinding and navigation system for people who are blind or have low vision.

Two blind or low-vision research partners are deeply involved in the development of the system, and the team has developed, deployed and tested the ultra-wide band (UWB) system in the UNSW Roundhouse. The system will be tested by the blind and low-vision team members when COVID-19 restrictions have been eased.

“Collaboration is the key… Inclusive and interdisciplinary research helps all members to find new opportunities.”

The team has applied for a NSW Small Business Innovation & Research Program Hyperlocal Navigation grant.

The project team includes experts in indoor positioning and indoor navigation, developing wearable devices, mapping and spatial information databases, human-computer interaction, mobility and orientation for people who are blind or have low vision, and industrial design. The team consists of:
•    Dr Binghao Li
•    Prof. Sisi Zlatanova
•    Dr Eduardo Benitez Sandoval
•    Mr Euan Ramsey-Stewart
•    Ms Megan Taylor.

•    Li, B., Zhao, K. & Sandoval, E. B. (2020) 'A UWB-Based Indoor Positioning System Employing Neural Networks', Journal of Geovisualization and Spatial Analysis 4(2): 18.
•    Sandoval, E. B., Li, B., Diakite, A., Zhao, K., Oliver, N., Bednarz, T. & Zlatanova, S. (2020) 'A Visually Impaired User Experience using a 3D-Enhanced Facility Management System for Indoors Navigation', Companion Publication of the 2020 International Conference on Multimodal Interaction, October 25-29, The Netherlands.

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This project examined how disability support organisations facilitate and help peer support groups for people with disability and their families from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, and how that support is related to organisational cultural responsiveness towards people with disability and their families.

The team conducted 41 interviews with people with disabilities and their families and professional support workers, and six observations of online peer support sessions.

There were two key findings of the research:
•    Development and sustainability of disability peer support groups in CALD communities entails support across the whole of society.
•    Allocating bilingual staff does not necessarily lead to culturally responsive disability support.

The project team contained researchers from the fields of social policy and social work, and included two disability peer facilitators. The team consists of:
•    Dr Qian Fang
•    Prof. Karen Fisher
•    Dr Abner Weng Cheong Poon
•    Dr Jung-Sook Lee
•    Prof. Bingqin Li
•    Ms Julie Duong
•    Mr David Yang
•    Ms Amy Chan.

Publications and presentations:
A research report is scheduled for publication in November 2021 and two journal articles are planned for submission in 2021 and 2022. The disability peer researchers in the team have been invited to develop a report for CALD and disability communities, which will outline the key research findings and will be disseminated in English and Chinese.
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This project conducted preliminary research to explore the conditions and resources conducive to self-management in the interests of people with disability. It scanned the current conditions in Australia that facilitate or mitigate against self-management and identified other resources that show promise for including people traditionally left behind in the all-or-nothing approach to self-management.

The team analysed NDIS data on self-management, conducted case studies of self-managers, and held public roundtable workshops inviting people to contribute experiences and ideas about resources that support self-management. The team also used social media to elicit useful comments and advice from people with disability to add focus to the analysis.

The team plans to apply for an ARC Discovery Grant in 2022.

The project team included experts in fields such as economics, political science, law, education, disability studies and sociology, with one investigator working with a disability advocacy organisation (People with Disability Australia), and another investigator being a person with disability who self-manages their support funding. The team consists of: 
•    Prof. Karen Fisher
•    Prof. Sally Robinson
•    Dr Christiane Purcal
•    Dr Megan Blaxland
•    Ms Rosemary Kayess
•    Ms Frances Quan Farrant.

•    Blaxland, M., Fisher, K.R, Purcal, C., Robinson, S., Quan Farrant, F., Pearson Gotting, M., Kayess, R. (2020) National Disability Insurance Scheme: People who self manage their NDIS plan, Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney.
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This project involved training young people with intellectual disability as co-researchers on qualitative studies with inpatient children with intellectual disability.

Since the training was completed in October 2020 the team has continued to work together on several projects, and has completed a manuscript and a study protocol for experienced-based co-design workshops planned to commence in early 2022.

Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in Sydney, recruitment for the project had to be paused in mid-June 2021. However, a filmed interview had already taken place with a child with intellectual disability and their parent, and the research team is currently developing a vignette with the video.

“The interdisciplinary nature of our team has proved a powerful opportunity to bring these different perspectives for a wholistic understanding of the issues faced by children with intellectual disability. Through the experience of the team we have identified additional aspects of the hospital experience that will be important to explore. For example, how are we considering the social or educational needs for a child with intellectual disability in hospital as part of the hospital experience?”

The team has applied for grants from the National Disability Research Partnership and the National Health and Medical Research Council to further their research.

The project team includes experts from healthcare, education, participatory research methods and disability studies. The team consists of: 
•    A/Prof. Reema Harrison
•    Ms Laurel Mimmo
•    A/Prof. Sue Woolfenden
•    Prof. Joanne Travaglia
•    Prof. Iva Strnadová
•    Dr Michael Hodgins
•    A/Prof. Angela Dew
•    Ms Karen Phillips
•    Dr Kate Oulton
•    Ms Debbie van Hoek
•    Ms Maya Tokutake
•    Mr Matthew van Hoek
•    Dr Emma Nicholson
•    Dr Éidín Ni She
•    Dr Bronwyn Newman.

Publications and presentations:
Team members are co-presenting a 60-minute workshop at the BMJ International Forum in September 2021. A manuscript of the study protocol for the co-design phase of the project has been submitted for publication with BMJ Open and is currently under review.

The team has already presented at multiple conferences and plans to present at more whenever the opportunity arises.

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Disability employment and the fourth industrial revolution

Seed funding year: 2019

This project is an interdisciplinary comparative analysis of labour market exclusion of people with disability in Australia and China. It is background research to test the hypothesis that people who are excluded from paid work and the formal economy are more likely to take up new opportunities in the informal sector and increase economic participation in the digital economy.

Although the originally planned data collection in China was limited due to COVID-19 restrictions, the project was able to reveal distinct approaches to disability employment in both China and Australia through a study of national policies, funded activities and governing structures. The study also identified some significant gaps. The investigative team concluded that a higher-level national strategy that considers digital innovation within an accessible employment ecosystem could facilitate a coordinated approach to digital innovation as well as new disability employment opportunities.

The interdisciplinary project team included experts in the fields of economics, social work and social policy. The team consisted of: 

Publications and presentations:

Pathways to preventive care for people with severe mental illness

Seed funding year: 2019

People with severe mental illness (PWSMI) have poorer physical health and a shorter life expectancy than the general population. There is a need to improve their access to GPs to improve their physical health outcomes.

This project used qualitative methods to focus on the experiences and perspectives of PWSMI in establishing and maintaining positive relationships with primary healthcare providers. The findings are intended to inform how the investigative team can work with GPs, consumers and mental health service facilitators through consultation in the next stage of the project.

Through the engagement of a Lived Experience Researcher throughout the entirety of the project, the data was collected via:

  • Interviews with 10 PWSMI and 5 carers
  • A focus group with 10 PWSMI
  • A Knowledge Exchange Workshop with 30 stakeholders, including 3 PWSMI and 4 frontline service providers.

“Our experience of inclusive research has influenced how we apply for new funding. We now have greater capacity to argue for and include lived experience researchers. We used the experience of our DII-funded project in meetings with other disciplines/organisations about grant applications to argue for the value of inclusive methods and how to do it”

The investigative team included people with lived experience and experts from the fields of medicine, public health, social science and service management. The team consisted of: 

This seeding grant contributed to the following successful funding applications:

The study also contributed to our supervision of a Master of Health Data Science to conduct a secondary analysis of MedicineInsight (National Prescribing Service) data to provide a profile of people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in general practices in Australia. This is currently being written up for publication.

Mobile technology as a tool to increase social inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Seed funding year: 2019

The researchers investigated the use of mobile technology by people with intellectual disabilities and its capacity to improve their social inclusion, such as through experiencing valued social roles, being recognised as an individual, and belonging to a social network.

The investigative team used participatory methods to collect and analyse surveys from 114 people with intellectual disabilities, as well as conducting 12 Photovoice interviews and two focus groups with 19 people with intellectual disabilities. All research team members were involved in all stages of the study, and the team engaged an advisory group of people with intellectual disabilities for feedback and advice.

“Developing an accessible survey was a great learning curve for everyone, and a great outcome as well. Julie Loblinzk [lived experience researcher] had great ideas about recruiting that would not have appeared to academic researchers.”

The research team consisted of academic researchers from the fields of special education, disability studies and educational psychology, and a researcher with intellectual disability. The team included: 


  • Martin, A. J., Strnadová, I., Loblinzk, J., Danker. J. C., Cumming, T. M. (2021) 'The role of mobile technology in promoting social inclusion among adults with intellectual disabilities', Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities 34(3): 840-851.

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Embodied experiences of Syrian and Iraqi refugees living with disability: Through a lived experience lens

Seed funding year: 2019

This project used an Action Research framework to build the capacity of a person from a refugee background with lived experience of disability as a Bicultural Research Assistant. The overall aim was for the Bicultural Research Assistant to pilot a range of culturally appropriate arts-based research methods for use with people with disability from these backgrounds in order to understand their experiences.

The project team designed a quantitative and qualitative framework to gather data from young people participating in the program, which was presented at a conference. The program itself could not be completed face-to-face due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the project team intends to complete it when restrictions are eased. The program will be run with 7-10 Syrian or Iraqi young people aged 15-25 years with disabilities from refugee backgrounds. It will run for 7 weeks in partnership with the Community Migrant Resource Centre and builds on an existing psychosocial program, Digital Storytelling.

A Syrian man from a refugee background was engaged as a co-researcher and had input into all stages of the project.

The interdisciplinary project team consists of researchers from the fields of psychology, psychiatry, disability studies, refugee studies and social work. The team included: 


  • Wells, R., Murad, M., Higgins, M., Smith, L., Lenette, C., Lappin, J., Dew, A., Boydell, K., Bibby, H., Cassaniti, M., Isaacs, D., Raman, S. and Zwi, K. (2020) 'Exploring the intersection of human rights, health, disability and refugee status: An arts-based approach', Australian Journal of Human Rights 26(3): 387-404.
  • Dew, A. Lenette, C., Smith, L., Boydell, K., Bibby, H., Lappin, J., Coello, M., Raman, S., Velkou, K., Wells, R., Momartin, S., Blunden, H., Higgins, M., Murad, M., Barry, J., Mohammed, Y. (2021) ''To the Arabic Community Disability Is Not Normal': Cultural Understandings of Disability for Iraqi and Syrian People from Refugee Backgrounds', Journal of Refugee Studies 34(3): 2849-2870.

Data governance and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

Seed funding year: 2019

This project aimed to create a framework for future research mapping the structures, processes and accountabilities for gathering and using data in disability services and mainstream services accessed by NDIS participants, to identify the opportunities for data driven innovation to improve participant choice and control in the scheme.

The project team included researchers with disabilities employed as casual Research Assistants. All members of the team were involved in all stages of the project, and the researchers with disability are now co-authoring journal articles and working on new research related to disability employment and co-research, with one starting a PhD at LaTrobe University.

“The range of perspectives within the team was an asset in shaping the project and analysing the findings, and will extend its reach beyond its original scope. Members of the team are using the project findings in different ways and planning future research leveraging on the findings and framework.”

The project team included people with research expertise and work experience in law, public policy, public administration, public health, geography and psychilogy, and specialist expertise in governance, evaluation, co-research, and the design and implementation of policy related to disability and employment services. The team included: 


The project team has drawn on the findings of the seed funding project to varying degrees in the following publications and research.

Book chapters:

  • Olney, S. (2021) 'Not my problem: the impact of siloed performance management on policy design and implementation', in Blackman, D., Buick, F., Gardner, K., Glennie, M., Johnson, S., O’Donnell, M. & Olney, S. (eds) The Handbook of Performance Management in the Public Sector, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 28-41.
  • Gardner, K. (2021) ‘How can public service performance management be understood at a systems level?’, in Blackman, D., Buick, F., Gardner, K., Glennie, M., Johnson, S., O’Donnell, M. & Olney, S. (eds) The Handbook of Performance Management in the Public Sector, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 72-81.
  • Blackman, D., Olney, S. & Gardner, K. (2021) 'Governance and Systems: why public sector performance research approaches are changing' in Blackman, D., Buick, F., Gardner, K., Glennie, M., Johnson, S., O’Donnell, M. & Olney, S. (eds) The Handbook of Performance Management in the Public Sector, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 19-27.
  • Olney S (2020) 'Serving the Public, But Not Public Servants?', in Sullivan, H., Dickinson, H. & Henderson, H. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of the Public Servant, Basel: Springer International Publishing, 1-19.

Submissions and reports:

  • Olney, S., Deane, K. & Bonyhady, B. (2021) Melbourne Disability Institute Response to the National Disability Employment Strategy Consultation paper April 2021, Melbourne Disability Institute, University of Melbourne
  • Olney, S., Jacobs, P. & Bonyhady, B. (2020) Disability Workforce Data Project Stage 1 Report, Report commissioned by the Victorian Public Sector Commission
  • Olney, S., Jacobs, P. & Bonyhady, B. (2021) Disability Workforce Data Project Stage 2 Report, Report commissioned by the Victorian Public Sector Commission
  • Devine, A., Olney, S., Mallett, S., Dimov, S., Katsikis, G. & Karanikolas, A. (2020) Exploring the interface of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and Disability Employment Services: The influence on employment outcomes for Australians with disability, Melbourne: Brotherhood of St Laurence.
  • Devine, A., Smith-Merry, J., Kavanagh, A., Llewellyn, G., Dimov, S., Huska, M., Dickinson, H., Olney, S., Fortune, N. & Green, C. (2020) Response to the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability: Employment Issues Paper, August 2020.
  • Jacobs, P., Rangi, M., Megarry, J., de Vries, T., Bonyhady, B., Olney, S. & McVilly, K. (2020) Increasing employment of people with disability in Victoria: a report to inform the next iteration of Every Opportunity, Report commissioned by the Office for Disability, Department of Health and Human Services.

Related research in progress:

How do Disability Employment Services and the NDIS interact? (Alex Devine, Sue Olney, Georgia Katsikis, Pan Karanikolas)

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Achieving best outcomes for children with autism: What will work for whom?

Seed funding year: 2019

This project aimed to pool and prepare the data from the Child and Family Outcomes Study dataset and undertake preliminary analysis. Based on the emerging findings the research team worked with families with a child receiving Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre (ASELCC) services in NSW (KU Children’s Services in Western Sydney) and with policy makers and service providers on the co-design of a planned, much larger data linkage study.

Due to the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions, the project team was unable to host their proposed Art Workshop for the design of future research. Instead, the team distributed an online cross-sectional self-report survey, designed with some engagement of families and disability service providers of children with a neurodevelopmental disorder, including autism, and modified the topic to examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child mental health and socio-emotional and physical wellbeing.

The project team consisted of key leaders in autism research and clinicians from a diverse multidisciplinary background including psychiatry, paediatrics, psychology, occupational therapy, neuroscience and speech pathology, with extensive experience working with autistic individuals and their families. The team included:


  • Masi, A., Diaz, A. M., Tully, L. Azim, S. I., Woolfenden, S., Efron, D. & Eapen, V. (2021) 'Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the well-being of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their parents', Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 57(5): 631-636.
  • Manuscript entitled 'The mental health and well-being of children with neurodevelopmental conditions or rare genetic disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey of parents' under submission.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Harnessing virtual reality games for disability awareness

Seed funding year: 2019

This project aimed to create and showcase Virtual Reality (VR) videos that tell authentic life stories of people with disability, and to test the effectiveness of the videos in disability advocacy. People with disability are under-represented and misrepresented in mainstream media. Twenty-three people with disability were interviewed. The findings reflect their belief that VR can amplify their voices and represent their lived experiences from their own perspective. The interviewees suggest that VR can facilitate empathy and perspective-taking, and contribute to positive social changes about disability. 

Recruitment for the project was assisted by Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), YourSide, and the UNSW Disability Student Service. UNSW Community Reference Panel members with disability were engaged to review the recruitment notice and interview questions. Researchers with a disability were invited to join the research team.

The project team consisted of various academics from different disciplines, and included: 

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