Absolutely Everybody? Not Just The Sporadic Few

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Absolutely Everybody

An Innovative Approach To Building Better Homes For People With A Disability Incorporating Universal Design.

A person with a disability has a right to self-determination in how they live and work within their community
. That's one of the twelve priorities taken from the consultation report entitled 10 Year Plan For Supporting Queenslanders With Disability published by the Queensland Government's Department of Communities (DOCs) - Disability and Community Care services. Part of the agenda is to highlight the government move to adopt universal design and ensure relevant changes to the building code.

Universal design is a term developed by the late US disability advocate and architect, Ronald L. Mace to describe how products and the constructed environment should be designed to be accessible by everyone. In homes, this would take the form of such things as adjustable toilets and usable bathroom accessories. Every home would have a specified width for a front door and there would be no restriction of movement to anyone entering an office or home.

Mace sought to achieve these designs at little or no extra cost because they would become the building standard. He did this by advocating change to legislation which was finalised under the US Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It makes universal design and the building code compliment each other. Thus pricing of products becomes stabilised.

In Australia, with no modification to any legislation as yet, the building code has remained static. The cost of an universal design home is prohibitive for most people. The cost of modifying a home to suit the person with the disability is enormous. When you look at the cost of say a wide door, you find the manufacturer charging twice the price because being universal design, the item is tagged as non-standard. Also, there are not a lot of Australian companies geared to supply specialised products and much of it needs to be imported. However, organisations such as the Queensland Action for Universal Housing Design, are lobbying for changes to the structural design codes.

The average home can be a potential danger to all involved in caring or having a disability. Basic day to day activities such as bathing can turn into a health and safety nightmare. A kitchen with a lack of wheelchair turning circle space is another example of poor modern Australian architecture.

Most people with a disability will never be able to have a home of their own. According to a recent Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers conducted Australia wide, from April to December 2009 the main source of income for 42.6% of people with disability aged 15-64 years was a government pension or allowance.

Let's also take into account that whatever change NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) may bring, it's still a long way off and we need to deal with the now; which is NDIS BC. Building a better future for families that are all ready in crisis needs an immediate action and innovative idea for change. Putting it off to wait for a NDIS is not an option (yes, a number of us are beginning to hear this excuse all ready on a wide expanse of issues).

This leaves Queenslanders living with a disability relying on the Department of Communities. The first step is to register with DOCs' Housing and Homelessness service, to be placed at the end of a very long waiting list. Once you rise to the top of this list, the department will modify the house for you at their cost based on requirement. However, if you have special requirements (they may refer to these as medical requirements), such as ceiling rails or air conditioning (a must in Queensland!) you then have to fight for additional special funding from external charities and fundraisers.

Part of the problem is that DOCs is divided into two areas, Disability and Community Care services (DCC formerly DSQ) and Housing and Homelessness
services. The latter must take into account all people that need housing.

However, the disability needs are vastly different to the average client of H&H. In our experience, H&H do not specifically cater for disability and have limited education on the requirements. The information tends to be ad hoc and is largely dependent on the individual consultant you are dealing with; how informed they are and their willingness to assist within their perceived area of participation. From what we've experienced, DCC has no houses. They need an allocation of readily available universal designed  homes. 

The relevant organisations and authorities can compile an individual's needs by consultation with their clients. Sadly, there appears to be a lack of knowledge and commitment within the department as a whole and this does not happen readily enough.

We've attended many forums and discussions on housing over the years with many DOC's specialists present. However, time appears to be spent replicating or updating documentation within government agencies without much consolidation. The end goal seems to be to publish the report, white paper or to define the housing policies. Endpoint. There seems to be a lack of follow through to implement the changes at a grass roots level. Lacking on the advisory boards are significant numbers of carers and people with disability as the main core drivers for change. It's not enough just to write about the problem.

This, of course, brings us to funding. The single most significant factor in improving standards. There appears to be a lack of funding allocation but how can this be? Almost daily, on Queensland television, we're reminded of the mining boom in advertisements stating "We’re on the cusp of the biggest boom in our history." It seems inconceivable that there is no concerted effort to redistribute the wealth from these exploits into projects such as sets of universal designed  homes or villages.

We know there is some funding given to Queensland from the federal government's Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan - Social Housing Initiative which is listed on DOC's website. It states :

"In Queensland, social housing is benefiting from an investment of $1.085 billion in federal funding, which is expected to deliver 4,000 new homes and support over 2,000 jobs per year over the life of the Social Housing Initiative. This significant investment will provide a much needed boost to Queensland's social housing and to housing administered by not-for-profit organisations."

Without the building code change how many of these homes currently constructed or in process meet universal design? It's almost as if the cart has been put before the horse.

Another state government initiative is the Urban Land Development Authority of Queensland. They build loft homes, rear lane homes, small lot housing mixes and medium rise apartments. From their website:

"Eligible people with household incomes of between $60,000 and $105,000 will have the chance to go into a ballot to buy house and land packages ranging from $250,000 to $360,000 across Queensland."

However, once again, without the universal design implementation, they may not entirely suit people living with a disability. In our experience, we know with certainty that it would be difficult to build a house for these prices with true universal design products. In our calls to the ULDA, we've been made aware that they are not geared for disability. Also, people with a disability would find it difficult to secure a loan to cover the purchase as they are more than likely on some form of pension.

From their report, DOC's statement on self determination cannot be met. Remember, A person with a disability has a right to self-determination in how they live and work within their community. It fails the person because the right to ever own their own home or live in a home designed specifically for them is restricted. They are at DOC's determination, not their own.

Home ownership, that great Australian dream, gives a sense of community. To achieve it for people living with disability there needs to be a strategy to level the playing field. With an innovative holistic approach to disability housing, we need to bring together banks/lenders, legislators, relevant government agencies and the people being provided for to develop a pilot scheme that incorporates universal design homes. Such a scheme could ultimately allow a person with a disability to partner in or ultimately take ownership of the home.

In a recent study, Australia ranked last out of 27 OECD countries for people living with a disability where 45% of people with a disability live in or near poverty, more than double the OECD average of 22%. Given those figures, we expect that the housing situation in other states is equally as frustrating as it is in Queensland.

Having migrated from NSW to Queensland to access the better support services for Jaden, we still believe this is the best state to be in. We've witnessed strangers coming to the aid of their neighbour's homes during the recent Queensland floods and cyclones. The spirit is definitely alive. This disability housing crisis can be addressed and we can achieve a
Ronald L. Mace vision of universal design. We do have the resources, infrastructure and people. Let's move to meet the approaching NDIS rather than waiting for it to slowly descend. That way, we can achieve self determination. The rights of people living with disability and their carers are as important issues as the right to vote and racial equality.  Anything less is passive prejudice.

Absolutely everybody... not just the sporadic few.

LogoqldgovAbsolutely everybody: enabling Queenslanders with a disability Logoqldgov
Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan - Social Housing Initiative

FAHCSIALivable Housing Design Ronald L. Mace - College Of Design - Universal DesignRonald L. Mace - College Of Design - Universal Design

Australian Bureau Of Statistics survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers
Australian Bureau Of Statistics Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers
National Disability Insurance Scheme - NDIS
National Disability Insurance Scheme - NDIS

Opportunities Queensland Featuring The Mining Boom Advertisements
Opportunities Queensland Featuring The Mining Boom Advertisements
Urban Land Development AuthorityUrban Land Development Authority

Queensland Action For Universal Housing DesignQueensland Action For Universal Housing Design OECD Report - Sickness, Disability and Work - Keeping On Track In The Economic DownturnOECD Report - Sickness, Disability and Work - Keeping On Track In The Economic Downturn

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