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20 Mar 2024

Gunawan Tanuwidjaja: Inspiring Change Through Inclusivity Design

Inspired by the principles of inclusive design, Gunawan Tanuwidjaja, also known as Gunte, a PhD graduate in architecture from the Queensland University of Technology, has embarked on a transformative journey towards inclusivity through his teaching.

Upon his return to Petra Christian University (PCU) in Surabaya, Gunte actively integrated inclusive design into his teaching using a service learning approach. This unique method aims to serve individuals with disabilities, showcasing Gunte's commitment to making design accessible to all.

"I've been teaching Inclusive Design since 2012. Through this course, I aim to raise awareness about the importance of accessible design in various areas such as buildings, roads, public services, and more," Gunte explained.

Drawing insights from Australia’s inclusive ecosystem during his studies, Gunte observed the consistent provision of tools for inclusivity across various aspects of daily life. To deepen his understanding, Gunte actively participated in his professor's research alongside a team of Access Consultants.

During this time, Gunte found the role of Access Consultants particularly intriguing and recognised their potential to enhance accessibility in buildings more inclusively. Access Consultants, mostly people with disability themselves, assess whether buildings are accessible to people with disabilities, offering invaluable perspectives.

"It was fascinating to work with Access Consultants and gain first-hand experience. Their insights were incredibly valuable and applicable in realising greater inclusivity in buildings, transportation, and beyond," Gunte reflected.

"From this experience, I also aim to establish a community foundation by empowering people with disabilities. I hope that someday we will have Access Consultants who can contribute to inclusive design planning in Indonesia," he added.

Utilising University Resources for Inclusivity

In his drive to foster inclusivity on campus, Gunte initiated projects at PCU, underscoring the institution's significance and commitment to community service. A key endeavour involves enhancing the accessibility of the PCU library’s reading corner for students with disabilities, a collaboration supported by United Boards and PCU’s Service Learning Team. This space offers tools to aid visually impaired students in accessing books and journals, along with services to assist those with mobility challenges in locating materials.

The impetus for this initiative stems from Gunte's personal experiences during his PhD journey in Australia. Dealing with partial vision impairment due to uveitis—an eye condition causing blurry vision—Gunte encountered obstacles in his academic pursuits, necessitating a two-month hiatus for recovery. Despite the challenges, he persevered with unwavering support from his wife, Priskila Adiasih, and daughter, Katrina Amadea Tanuwidjaja.

Gunte’s journey was significantly aided by the Australia Awards Scholarship at Queensland University of Technology, which provided him with invaluable tools for listening to academic materials throughout his three-year study period.

"I noticed that these tools are usually quite expensive, but I was fortunate to access them for free. This support motivated me to stay focused on my study goals despite my limitations," Gunte noted.

Motivated by his experiences abroad, Gunte endeavoured to establish similar support systems within Indonesia. He spearheaded the creation of a dedicated reading corner for individuals with disabilities at Petra University's library, offering audio formats for books and journals.

"We currently serve one visually impaired student and several deaf students who regularly utilise this corner. With support from the university and student volunteers, we convert books and journal files into accessible formats. Due to budget constraints, this initiative operates purely as a community service," Gunte explained.

Through this initiative, Gunte not only facilitates students' academic journeys but also fosters an inclusive university environment.

Expanding Network and Educational Experiences

Gunte's time in Australia significantly broadened his horisons through networking and participation in various events within his field.

During his studies, Gunte engaged in three international conferences held in Brisbane and Canberra in 2019. These conferences offered valuable insights into universal design and qualitative research methods.

At the Universal Design Conference, Gunte explored accessibility design for individuals with disabilities. He also presented his research at the Indonesia Council Open Conference (ICOC) and the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (IIQM), enhancing his confidence and perspectives.

Maintaining contact with his professors, including Professor Jill Franz, Associate Professor Janice Rieger, and Associate Professor Connie Susilawati, has been vital. Associate Professor Janice Rieger, a mentor, notably spoke at the Digital and Empathic Engagement in the New Era For Architecture and Civil Engineering (DEACE) event at Petra University in 2021. Gunte expressed their shared aspiration to nurture ongoing collaboration into the future.

Returning from Australia in 2022, Gunte secured a grant from The Directorate General of Higher Education, Research, and Technology (DIKTI) for a project focused on tactile aids for mathematics, accounting, and architecture studies.

These tools include calculating aids featuring regular numbers and Nemeth-braille code, crafted using laser cut technology. The regular numbers are printed in bright colours to aid students with low vision, while the Nemeth-braille code is printed behind the tools to assist students with visual impairments.

"This marks the commencement of my project. My team and I provided these tools to YPAB School for the Visually Disabled and local book clubs that needed them the most," Gunte explained. "I hope to expand this initiative in the future and distribute these tools to more schools across Indonesia."

Gunte aims to secure more grants to support his ongoing research. He is also exploring partnership opportunities, including an initial proposal project with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and The Ministry of National Development Planning (Bappenas) through Knowledge Partnership Platform Australia – Indonesia (KONEKSI), as well as a double degree project with Queensland University of Technology, with assistance from his former Associate Professor, Connie Susilawati.

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