Our team in the sunshine is continuing to grow in numbers and by qualifications
We have an incredible talent pool at Architecture & Access, including our newest recruit in Brisbane, Felicity Mills.
Felicity has joined the Brisbane team as an Access Consultant. She is a registered Architect (since 2012) and completed her Master of Architecture in 2009.
Working in an architectural practice for 16 years, she has a profound knowledge of the built environment. ‘When the building code adopted AS1428.1:2009, there was a lot of confusion in the industry around accessible design. I was intrigued to learn more about it as it was something I had not previously encountered in either of my university studies or my role as a student or graduate of architecture’, explains Felicity.
Felicity was fortunate enough to be involved in some residential projects for a not-for-profit housing organisation who prioritised universal design in all their developments. This gave her a better understanding of designing for people with not only physical disabilities, but behavioral and neurodiverse conditions as well.
Felicity is an accredited Livable Housing Assessor, a Specialist Disability Accommodation Assessor and an Access Consultant. Felicity recalls, ‘My architectural background was invaluable during the training, and, equally, the education has subsequently made me far more aware of accessibility challenges during the design process.’
Working at Architecture & Access has exposed Felicity to a broad spectrum of projects in many sectors, including transport and sporting facilities.
When not at work and when she gets the opportunity, Felicity enjoys scuba diving and recently returned from a trip to Cairns to swim with Dwarf Minke Whales.
Natalie Serwanski , an Access Consultant in our Brisbane team, has been an integral part of the national access team for the past 3 years. Natalie has recently completed her Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (BAOccThy). A heartfelt congratulations to Natalie who has managed to juggle work, a young family and study whilst completing her studies. Natalie has provided some honest insight into her experiences as a foreign, mature aged student with a family, and discusses some of the difficulties she experienced, linking these to her personal development as an Access Consultant and her professional development within Architecture & Access. Her story really highlights the way an individual can overcome barriers to achieve something amazing.
The University Journey of an Immigrant.
In January of 2016, I decided to embark on a journey of obtaining a university degree in Occupational Therapy. I researched various pathways to commence a university degree and realised that the journey would involve significantly more work and time than I had originally anticipated. At the “mature age” (as deemed by the academic world) of 32 with a 7 month old boy in tow, I applied for the Tertiary Preparation Program (TPP) at the University of Queensland to obtain an OP (overall position) rank that would subsequently open the path to a Bachelor’s degree. The TPP is a 6 month program that allows students with a low score or foreign applicants such as myself to obtain a score to begin with. At the TPP I was blessed with truly magnificent teachers that nurtured my return to academia and I exceeded my own expectations obtaining mainly high distinctions in most assessments and final results. In October of 2016, I remember one of my final assessments, an English written exam, which was held in a room with tiered, fold out desks, I was about 8 and a half months pregnant with my second child, and I remember the desk didn’t fit over my belly and I had to write the essay with the paper half across my tummy. It really struck me how much of the built environment is not accessible to all abilities or circumstances. A couple of weeks after completing the TPP my second child, a beautiful baby girl was born. My first preference on my application to university was to study the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy. I was over the moon when I received the letter of offer, confirming I would commence my degree 4 months later.
My degree began with a bang, O week, a week full of activities orienting students to the campus program as well as the myriad of clubs that student life could entail. My daughter was only 4 months at this stage and my son who, was around 21 months, had suffered a stroke within the first few weeks of my daughter being born. I knew that my student life would be a very different experience to my peers where many were recent school leavers without young families.
I took advantage of the University’s summer semester to spread my course load and managed to complete the 4 year degree in the 4 year period originally intended. At the end of my second year of my degree, my third child was born. I vividly remember advocating for myself to be allowed to sit an exam at a later date due to the necessity of my children being delivered via caesarean section. I was advised that this particular type of assessment could not be offered at another date and I would have to sit the next year out and undertake the exam with the following years cohort. The very fabric of my existence is one of resilience and determination, so I scheduled the delivery of my child a week earlier and attended the unreschedulable exam 8 days after having had my third caesarean section. The exam was administered at a campus located an hour further away from my home campus. My partner drove me and our newborn baby boy, waited patiently in the car for me to attend the 15 min exam plus 4 hours waiting time and then drove us home. My eyes were glazed as I opted not to take pain relief for clarity of mind, and I was in a tremendous amount of pain. Naturally, I failed the exam.
Me and 7 of my peers were offered a second attempt scheduled some time later. I fail to recall the timeframe however I remember thinking at the time, that it was interesting that I was not allowed to attend the second session to begin with, considering my circumstances. It appears the unreschedulable exam was able to be rescheduled after all! The remainder of my university experience was much the same. It is ironic that, for a field that specialises in overcoming barriers for our clients, I had to run a marathon of hurdle jumping. I completed my university degree alongside my peers that I started the journey with 4 years prior. 4 years of missing social events, 4 years of missed catch ups, 4 years of sleepless nights, I had finally done it! I had finally completed a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy.
Occupational Therapy is a field that considers the person, the occupation as well as the environment this plays out in. The environment is multifaceted and includes a person’s social environment, cultural environment and of course the physical environment. The physical environment is what marries access and occupational therapy. The lens used in occupational therapy helps to see what barriers are there beyond a stair instead of a ramp. In the modern time, environmental barriers often encompass elements that are invisible to people unaffected by it, hearing loops, sensory sensitivities or even desk space large enough to accommodate a pregnant belly.
My employment with Architecture & Access commenced in the first year of my degree and I worked part time throughout my degree. Architecture & Access made many adjustments for me to accommodate the time off required for practice placements and exams. This approach is very much the air that the company breathes, how best to accommodate all, especially the needs of the users affected by our consultative advice. I often find myself in the middle of discussions with my peers throwing ideas around on how best to support a particular user group. No matter each of our educational or cultural backgrounds, or the very experiences that have shaped us into the adults we are, opinions are always valued as we collectively can make the environment better and more accessible to all abilities.
My story is one of resilience and gratitude, although it might not read as such. I am extremely grateful for all the barriers I had to overcome in completing my degree. It has made me a better person and an access consultant hungry to fight the good fight for an environment that is unlimited in its accessibility.