A number of Disability Royal Commission hearings so far have looked into issues related to the places we live – particularly supported, shared and segregated housing.
Public hearing 3 looked at group homes in Victoria from Monday 2 to Friday 6 December, 2019. You can find a transcript of the hearing on the DRC website, as well as video with Auslan interpretation and various documents mentioned in the hearing.
Public hearing 13, from Monday, 24 May to Friday, 28 May 2021, looked at a particular group home run by service provider Sunnyfield Disability Services. A follow-up hearing on 8 September 2021 presented recommended findings from Counsel Assisting and responses to that submission from the service provider, the NSW ombudsman and witness Eliza. Video and transcripts are available on the website.
For decades, people with disability have been shut away in institutions, group homes and other kinds of housing that non-disabled people never have to consider. We want the right to live in the community, just like everyone else.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 19), to which Australia is a signatory, makes this clear, saying that people with disability should “have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement.”
Much of Australia’s housing is unaffordable or inaccessible, meaning people with disability can be pushed into unsafe or unwanted housing, such as group homes or boarding houses, or even homelessness.
For housing to include all of us, it must be accessible, affordable and safe. Housing also needs to be separated from our disability supports.
People with disability need to have the same choices as non-disabled people, including about who they live with.
Many people with disability find it hard to find an accessible place to live. There are no mandatory accessibility standards, even on new buildings.
Current voluntary accessible housing guidelines are not working, with an estimate of less than 5% of new housing having basic accessibility features such as wider doorways, one entry point for wheelchair users, and a toilet on the ground floor.
Many people with disability live in poverty, including income support. Over 40% of people who receive Newstart are people with disability or chronic illness. Only 53% of people with disability of working age are in paid work, compared to 82% of our non-disabled peers.
People with disability have campaigned for an end to institutions for decades. Much of the early work of disability activists was about segregation and institutionalisation. Many disabled people were placed in institutions from an early age, went to special schools, then moved on to sheltered workshops.
This separation of people with disability from the community was partly because disability was seen as something to be ashamed of, to be pitied and to be hidden. People with disability weren’t seen as fully human, or as equal members of the community.
People with Disability Australia’s former President, Jan Daisley, talked about why this was so important for her:
The old disability system, before the NDIS, included many group homes. For many people with disability who lived in group homes, the same organisation provided disability support, as well as running the group home, controlling all aspects of a person with disability’s life.
Imagine your landlord also employs the person who helps you shower, and decides where you go for recreation, and what you eat for lunch. This can be the situation for many people with disability who live in group homes.
The NDIS was meant to change this – to separate these two different kinds of support, so that people with disability could have more choice. This would mean, for example, that if a person with disability isn’t happy with their disability support, or has experienced violence, abuse or neglect, they could get different disability support without putting their housing at risk.