Homes for Victorians

Homes for Victorians: Affordability access and choice.

Most of us are affected in some way by the spiralling cost of housing and accommodation across Melbourne. The media constantly run stories about the dramatic increase of people sleeping on the streets or in cars, and people renting face increasing costs and termination of leases as landlords cash in or sell to developers while first-time buyers struggle to put together a deposit.

We, therefore, welcome the release of the Victorian State Government’s Affordable Housing Strategy. It is high time someone took the lead on this pressing issue.

From the perspective of a provider that assists people with a disability there are two key points announced that are particularly welcome:

  • Making long-term leases a reality will give people greater security and an opportunity to plan their lives, and
  • Building and redeveloping social housing will help many people with a disability who are living at or below the poverty line.

Our housing support team regularly takes referrals from people with a disability whose lease has expired or are facing a change in their circumstances. Sometimes we are lucky and are able to source a property in a few weeks in other cases it may take months.

The Victorian government announcement will place pressure on the federal government to do something in this space. There are noises that there will be a statement that the costs are driven by the lack of housing and the solution will be to build more. However, a recent University of NSW study concluded there were around 83,000 properties vacant across Melbourne, many of these left deliberately empty. While under-supply is an issue, it is not the only factor driving up prices. Under the Victorian government plan, people who own a vacant property will be taxed.

The problem with making housing more affordable is that it becomes, by definition cheaper. Obviously, this will be unpalatable for those who have entered the market at inflated prices, and for those at the other end of the scale who are seeking to cash in and create a nest egg. However, a structured approach would be considerably more palatable than the inevitable crash that will be brought about through interest rates increases.

There is no easy (or cheap) solution. It is, however, good to see some action on this front at long last.

Message from the CEO

Jed Macartney CEO of Independent Disability Services.

Jed Macartney CEO of Independent Disability Services.

As we enter the new year it is a time to reflect on 2016, a year of significant change across the disability sector and for the team at IDS. Trying to keep abreast of these changes has been a real challenge for us all.

I am proud of what IDS has achieved over the last 12 months and very appreciative of all the hard work each and every one of our team members has put into supporting our clients. We have made good progress in many areas and can now look forward to the future with real optimism.

We have sustained our focus on developing our individual support program by seeking to offer clients a level of service over and above that provided by other providers. Integral to the program’s success is the quality and dedication of the staff we engage as support workers.

IDS took over the management of six independent living apartments in Ringwood in August. The apartments have been designed to enable people with a disability to live independently while sharing supports. This ensures they can maximise the hours of support they receive while retaining a high degree of independence and a flexible living style. I firmly believe this innovative program will form the cornerstone for housing provision for people who require high levels of support in the future.

We will continue to maintain a presence in the housing arena, supporting those in the community who are seeking appropriate and affordable housing. We are also committed to the further development of our Social Enterprise, IDS Business Services, seeking to develop other professional disciplines that will work alongside the bookkeeping arm of the program.

It’s Complicated: Disability and Employment

Independent Disability Services hosted a seminar about disability and employment recently. Three experts spoke at the event: Rick Kane, CEO of Disability Employment Australia; Mark Glascodine, from Bravo Consulting; and Amanda Lawrie- Jones, Independent Disability Services board member. The issues raised were complicated, members of the audience weighed in, and a great debate ensued. This article summarises the issues from the day, and asks the question: What needs to change?

‘Half of all people with disabilities [in Australia] live near or below the poverty line. Less than 40 per cent of us participate in the workforce…In fact, Australia ranks last among the OECD countries when measured on quality of life for people with disabilities.’ —Stella Young, Disability Advocate (1982-2014)

Australia ranks 21st out of 29 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in employment rates for people with disabilities. And as the late Stella Young pointed out, Australia ranked last out of 27 OECD countries regarding poverty rates among people with disabilities. Why does Australia rank so poorly when it comes to disability and employment? What should we be doing differently?

The OECD’s report Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers (2010) took a long-term look at disability and employment policy across thirteen countries, including Australia. The report found that in Australia almost one in two people with a disability or health issue lives in poverty; the rate is 45% in Australia compared to the OECD average of 22%.

Image: OECD's Sickness, Disability and Work report (2010)

Image: OECD’s Sickness, Disability and Work report (2010)

A graph from the OECD report (above) shows that employment rates for people with disability were highest in Sweden, Iceland, Estonia, Mexico and Switzerland. Danish sociologist Gøsta Esping-Andersen has a theory that there are three main types of welfare states in modern capitalist countries: Liberal, Corporatist-Statist, and Social Democratic. The countries with the highest rates of employment for people with disabilities tend to be Social Democratic. (Under this model, Australia is Liberal)

The cast of Danish drama Borgen: The Nordic countries excel at television drama, social democracy and disability employment.

The cast of Danish drama Borgen: The Nordic countries excel at television drama, social democracy and disability employment.

In Australia, if you have a disability and you are seeking work you will come into contact with Disability Employment Services (DES). But as shown by the experience of people like Amanda Lawrie-Jones, who experienced discrimination during an interview, DES is in need of an overhaul. At present, people with disabilities are worried that if they start a job, their Disability Support Pension (DSP) will be cut, and if the job doesn’t work out, they will be in a pickle. Mark Glascodine, disability consultant says, “There has now been nothing organised in the discussion about incentivising people on DSP to work: [introducing] a discovery period where you maintain your DSP and other allowances to persuade you to risk your DSP in going for work. That conversation needs to be talked about now.”

In Australia, only 54% of people with disability are employed compared to 83% of people without a disability. The Australian Human Rights Commission published The Willing to Work report which looked at discrimination both in entering the workplace and in the workplace, for people with a disability. CEO of Disability Employment Australia, Rick Kane, summarises the recommendations found in that report, “The expectation of leadership commitment; non-discriminatory recruitment and retention practices; building workplace flexibility; providing targeted education and training in the workplace, and to build healthy workplaces.”

In Australia one-third of employers already employ disabled people, one-third are thinking about it, and one-third don’t want to. So that middle group who are thinking about it are where some solutions lie. However, Rick points out that employers who are aware of the recommendations included in the Willing to Work report don’t know what to do next, “Employers by and large will look at things like the report and wonder ‘Well how do we do those things?”

The biggest barrier for people with disability is stereotypical assumptions and attitudes of employers about what people with disability can and cannot do. Misconceptions include the perceived cost of employing a person with a disability regarding workplace adjustments. (This one is ridiculous when you consider that under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 it is against the law for public places to be inaccessible to people with a disability.) Another barrier to employment is the employer’s fear that an employee with a disability will take too much sick leave. This misconception fails to take into the account the commitment and drive of some people with disabilities. Viewing someone like Amanda Lawrie-Jones as a liability is missing the point entirely. Another barrier to disability and employment is fear that other people in the workplace will say the wrong thing. This is easily remedied with some basic training; people with disabilities shouldn’t miss out on work because of other people’s ignorance.

Employers can assist people with disabilities by being flexible. Imagine that you are a wheelchair user. Do you want to catch a peak hour train that is packed like a sardine can? No, no you don’t. So why would you expect your employee to do so? Allow some flexibility around start and finish times, or tailor some work from home options. The best way to see if it will work out is to hire a person with a disability and see how it goes. (Judging from the calibre of people with a disability present at the IDS seminar it will work out).

Mark Glascodine has the following advice for people with a disability seeking employment, “Your disability is one of the things that makes you unique. You’ve got to find the employers who value that.”

Jed Macartney CEO of IDS.

Jed Macartney CEO of IDS.

Jed Macartney, CEO at Independent Disability Services says, “At IDS we believe there are a lot of very capable people out there who are not being employed simply because they have a disability. We don’t think that is correct and we try and do what little we can to counter that.” IDS employs people with disabilities when they get the opportunity and runs a bookkeeping business that has the aim of employing and training people with a disability to work as bookkeepers. “We are trying to model what our beliefs are,” says Jed.

In a nutshell—people with disabilities should not be excluded from society and barriers to employment should be torn down. Alan, an audience member at the seminar, points out, “The government is more subject to human rights legislation than anybody else. They have an absolute mandate to live up to.” He is right. Disability and employment present many a dilemma for the policy wonks, but as a signatory to The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Australian Government has a legal duty to fix the problems of disability and employment in this country.

Listen to the full audio from the IDS Employment Seminar here

An Independent Streak

At age four Wayne started having uncontrollable seizures. Following a series of unsuccessful experiments with different medications to treat epilepsy, the doctors prepared Wayne for brain surgery. Wayne awoke from the operation with an acquired brain injury, and cerebral palsy.

Wayne is turning 30 soon, until recently he had been living at home with his Mum, Karen. However, Wayne’s and Karen’s life has now changed as Wayne has moved into his apartment in Ringwood. “I’m very excited and appreciative for Wayne to have had the opportunity to come into a facility like this,” says Karen.

The independent living apartment, managed by Independent Disability Services (IDS) opened on 16 August. The team at IDS offer personal and community support in line with each client’s needs. This dovetails perfectly with our goal of supporting people with disabilities to live the life that they want in a neighbourhood environment. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is providing funding for ongoing resident support.

Karen found out about the Ringwood place when a lady working at the DHHS showed her a flier. “It was just lucky that she saw it. We put our expression of interest in, and I just thought if we get it, then we get it and if we don’t, we don’t. And we got it! It is meant to be.”

There are six apartments in the complex: two downstairs and four upstairs. They have been designed with autonomy and community connection in mind. Wayne’s self-contained unit has a kitchen, bathroom, double bedroom, living/dining area and laundry. It is light and airy, and the sounds of magpies warbling from a nearby tree drift in. Wayne’s bedroom is a Rolling Stones shrine, with framed prints of the band and a Rolling Stones bedspread.

Downstairs, there is a common room for residents, Karen says “Would be ideal for celebrating Wayne’s birthday and other occasions”. There are plans to add a BBQ and veggie garden adjacent to the common area.

Unlike other supported accommodation options, which have curfews and rules about visitors, Wayne’s family and friends are free to visit anytime. All the apartments are spacious and self-contained, so disruption to other residents is minimal.

The unit is age-appropriate, the four upstairs residents are all around 30 years of age. A huge improvement in a world where young people with a disability often end up in housing more suited to the elderly. The location is excellent, close to numerous shops and cafes, the aquatic centre, Jubilee Park, and the Ringwood train station.

When I visited Wayne, it was a busy time at the apartment, nearing dinnertime and the arrival of his support workers. In the hallway, a builder stops to have a chat to Wayne. The parent of one of the residents says a quick hello to Karen (another tenant), as he helps his daughter move in. While the IDS Case Manager visits another client, a resident with multiple sclerosis walks to the mailbox to retrieve some letters.

As with any new project, there are some kinks that need ironing out. The microwave oven near the corner door opens the wrong way, rendering it inaccessible to Wayne in his wheelchair. The lights, curtains and heating are controlled by an iPad, but Wayne cannot read. The placement of the button that opens the automated front door to the complex, and also the one that opens the elevator door, is difficult to access for Wayne, who doesn’t have the full use of his right hand, so he has to wheel up backwards to press it. And there is a collision between the path of Wayne’s harness and the shower rail. These are small things, but small things can be big things when you’re Wayne, or Karen, watching Wayne and hoping things pan out.

The units at Ringwood are generating a lot of interest. The project is a prototype for independent living for people with a disability. Different groups have been going there to have a look at what is possible for supported accommodation. Private investment firms are considering supported accommodation like that at Ringwood as an ethical investment option.

I asked Karen what she is going to do with all of the free time she will have. It is a naive question – the transition to independence isn’t going to happen overnight. Karen has been looking after Wayne continuously since he was born, she embodies the concern facing a lot of parents of children with a disability, “It has always been my worry. When I die, what is going to happen?” But if there is any place where independence for both Wayne and Karen can be achieved, it is these units. “I’m hoping it will enrich his life and enable him to live independently,” says Karen. The team at IDS look forward to seeing how Wayne and his fellow residents progress.


Disability Housing Development Opens in Ringwood

Responding to a clear need in the community, Independent Disability Services (IDS) in partnership with EACH Housing opened an innovative, six unit apartment in Ringwood on 16 August. The apartments have been designed to enable people with a disability to live independently while sharing the support that they each require from IDS. The development has been designed and constructed to provide independence and community connection for its residents – basic human rights so often lacking in shared accommodation.

Supported by a grant from the Federal Government through the Supported Accommodation Innovation Fund with land and other funding provided by EACH, the development provides residents with their fully self-contained unit with a kitchen, bathroom, double bedroom, living/dining area and laundry. While the focus of the building is on independent, self-contained apartment living, it also has shared areas for socialisation with family, friends and other residents. Importantly, the units are designed to be homes,

“This new development places the residents in control of their physical living environment as well as all decisions regarding their day-to-day supports. So often people with significant disabilities simply have to ‘fit in with’ the available accommodation as well as existing support arrangements.”

Statistics show that not only are there close to 6,500 young people with disabilities living inappropriately in aged care facilities. There are over 80,000 ageing parents struggling with the constant worry about who will support and care for their children when they no longer can.

IDS and EACH are committed to providing living and support concepts that will enable people with disabilities to live an age-appropriate and independent lifestyle. Facilitated living design, such as is embedded in the Ringwood project, unlocks capabilities for independence not previously realised by individuals with a disability and creates new opportunities for community involvement. On the other hand, parents and other family members, who may have had to provide continuous care, can also explore new opportunities such as study, employment or recreation. This is a far cry from the experience of many ageing parents and people with disabilities currently.

The Ringwood project has been built on a model of independent yet cooperative living with the provision of supportive technology and carer support. This development incorporates environmentally sustainable design and the latest in supportive technology including automated doors to apartments and balconies and tablet technology for important operations such as controlling heating, blinds and lights, allowing residents greater mobility and careful design of bathrooms and other facilities to facilitate care and independence.

“Like myself, many young people with disabilities just want to live independently in a home of our own and get our lives back. I want to live in a safe environment and be able to make everyday decisions about my life,” notes Cara, one of the residents.

EACH Housing’s mission is to provide a genuine neighbourhood environment for people experiencing housing insecurity which ties in perfectly with IDS’ vision to ensure people with disabilities have the support they require to live the life they want.

Independent Disability Services housing opens in Richmond

Jed McCartney, CEO of IDS, launching the independent housing project in Ringwood.

“The team at IDS has been working closely with residents, their support networks and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). We have taken the time to understand the resident’s needs and their preferences so that we can ensure the support provided is tailored to their individual needs and enables them to achieve their goals. IDS appreciates the support of DHHS for funding the work required to coordinate supports for the residents. This has enabled IDS to maximise the use of clients’ funding by sharing supports where possible.” said Jed Macartney CEO, IDS.

Our Staff – Simon Chong – July 2015

Why I volunteer – Simon Chong


People volunteer for many different reasons. Some people volunteer to gain career experience and develop new skills.

Others volunteer as a result of instilled values they have, that compel them to help others. And some people volunteer because they want a better understanding about different people, gaining an understanding of their community and themselves. Simon volunteers because he wants to give back to the community. Because he is grateful for the help, he received from others.

Simon is legally blind, Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) an inherited form of vision loss took away 90% of his sight when he was 18. As a child he enjoyed an idyllic life in Perth, making the most of the climate and outdoor lifestyle the city offers. Simon’s parents were aware that he and his brother might be affected by LHON – he has two cousins who contracted it in their childhood, as he reached his late teens it was hoped the disease had passed him by. 

He was coming close to finishing an apprenticeship when Simon realised something was not quite right. He started making excuses to his mates about driving because he wasn’t confident in his vision. However the day he had to ask a friend what colour the traffic lights were it hit home. The onset of LHON was sudden; it was November when he first realised something was not right, by February the next year the disease had taken its toll.  

His disability has not deterred Simon. He moved from Perth to NSW to experience life in the eastern states. The move to Victoria followed a heart-to-heart with a close friend about the direction his life was taking. Following this discussion, Simon decided to come to Melbourne and participate in Leadership Plus, a program that encourages diversity inclusion, fostering active citizenship. The program taught him a lot about how to navigate around business procedures, along with programs in public speaking and governance. 

Simon has a wide range of interests from politics to football (he is a member or the Fremantle  Dockers cheer squad and goes to most of the Melbourne games). He loves Melbourne’s healthy music scene saying,  “It almost makes up for the weather”. And he enjoys the diversity of the city and the range of entertainment options. “Perth’s idea of entertainment in a trip to the beach followed by a backyard BBQ. Whereas Melbournians’’ have to be more inventive about their social activities because of the climate” he says.

Simon has had a long relationship with IDS, initially as a housing client, keeping in touch with the team through our newsletter and other IDS clients. It was following an IDS Seminar on housing that Simon approached us to ask if he could offer his services as a volunteer. That was over 12 months ago now, and Simon has become an integral part of the team, undertaking a range of administration and support activities including the massive task of transferring our printed files onto electronic copies.

“I was looking for an opportunity to develop my computer and business skills, in an organisation that understood disability, who would support me, while giving me the time and flexibility to work things out for myself. The team have been great, and work hard on behalf of their clients. I would not have stayed on if I did not believe in the work they do and their obvious commitment” said Simon.

In an age where we are becoming more internally focussed it is important to acknowledge the work and commitment of our volunteers, without them many organisations would not survive.

Thank you, Simon, for the work you do on behalf of our clients and the team, from all at IDS.


Has the Disability Rights Movement Stagnated?

Let’s face it: Disability issues do not receive as much mainstream attention as other social justice issues. In their ways, other social justice movements are “hot topics” in the news these days, although often controversially. Feminism receives significant positive attention when Emma Watson talks about the HeforShe Campaign and negative attention when people dispute its relevance and accuracy in today’s society. Newsworthy topics regarding rights for racial minorities stem from the immigration debate to Ferguson, to a remembrance of the march in Selma that drew the participation of the president. LGBT rights continue to be covered as more and more states achieve marriage equality.

Social justice is never a competition, and each group has its unique challenges that should receive attention, so the recognition that these movements receive is extremely justified. But why don’t disability stories generate this kind of attention within mainstream society? The stories are there, ranging from heartwarming tales to major issues of discrimination and violence towards people with disabilities. PwDs are not significantly more privileged than any other minority. According to the World Health Organization, children with disabilities and adults with mental health conditions are four times more likely to be the victims of violence than their peers without disabilities. Forty percent of homeless persons in the United States have disabilities. A recent study in the UK found that 77 percent of recent graduates are afraid of disclosing a disability to their employer for fear of discrimination. Worldwide, barriers to inclusivity for people with disabilities continue to be significant. While various organisations work tirelessly to promote equal rights, disability rights just don’t seem to be captivating the public in the same way. Even on The Huffington Post, while specific sections exist for Women’s, LGBT, Latino and Black Voices, no dedicated news section exists for Disability Voices.

Why don’t disability issues generate mainstream attention? There could be a number of factors that contribute to its lack of momentum. First, there may be a greater perception that people with disabilities are less productive and able members of the public than people without disabilities. The fear of discrimination that was mentioned in the UK study was generated by the fact that some employers believe employees with disabilities will not be able to keep up with their job duties. Many people, including those who are not blatantly biased against people with disabilities, may believe that people with disabilities are less capable of taking care of themselves and carrying out major responsibilities. Meanwhile, the perception that women, racial minorities, and LGBT individuals are less capable is more isolated to those who are solidly prejudiced against these groups, and the general population is more accepting of the idea that these groups are fully capable of living and working at a normal level of ability (still, microaggressions and societal conditioning of prejudice against these groups exist and must be challenged).

Other issues that may affect the disability rights movement’s momentum are barriers to accessibility and participation. Because disability is a medical issue, many individuals with disabilities may not be able to fully participate because they are too busy overcoming their medical barriers to devote energy to disability rights. Many people with chronic conditions are familiar with “the spoon theory,” which explains that individuals with chronic conditions have to make tradeoffs and negotiate where using their limited energy (represented in the story as spoons) is important. People who are currently going through difficult medical conditions, which may be facing complications or relapses, must devote their attention to their immediate needs, including work, family and their medical needs, and may not be able to take up the responsibility of advocacy. It is also more difficult for people to congregate and advocate when they face barriers including accessibility needs even as simple as finding a wheelchair-accessible meeting place or disseminating informational videos that include closed captioning.

Finally, fear of increased discrimination may be one of the most significant barriers to disability rights. Unlike gender and race, disability in many cases can still be hidden. A large number of PwDs cannot be visibly identified as having a disability. People with invisible disabilities are told to hide their disabilities and to avoid disclosing anything about their medical situation, as they have a better chance of being treated “normally” if they do not let on to their conditions. This incentivizes hiding disability status, and so many people are afraid of speaking up because they feel that they will fare better and experience less discrimination. This is a fruitless action, as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the most frequent disability discrimination complaints came from people with invisible disabilities. Even people who are well-established in their careers do not talk about how their disability impacted their growth. There is a shocking shortage of mentors with disabilities in every field. Even those who have achieved greatly still seem to fear that they will be the subject of discrimination if they start to discuss their challenges.

Of course, not all PwDs have an invisible disability, and those who can be visibly identified are the subject of just as much or more discrimination than their invisibly disabled peers, especially early in the hiring process. The government places a special emphasis on hiring persons with “targeted disabilities,” which tend to be more noticeable conditions including paralysis, blindness, deafness, and intellectual disabilities. Its reasoning behind this policy is that these individuals face the greatest discrimination in employment and have a harder time being placed in a job. However, even when disability is visible, many individuals are told to avoid discussing it for the purpose of minimising its perceived impact on their lives.

The disability rights movement needs a jolt of energy. It deserves the recognition of the public. Significant barriers exist within and outside of the movement due to the stigma of disability, but people can overcome them by educating themselves and recognising that this discrimination is pervasive in society. Most importantly, individuals without disabilities should remember that they could become part of this community at any time and that generating discussion on disability topics could not only benefit the millions of people with disabilities but themselves and their loved ones as well.


Published in The Huffington Post , March 18, 2015.