At age 4 Wayne started having seizures. The doctors induced a coma and experimented with different medications to treat the epilepsy, but in the end opted for brain surgery. Wayne awoke from the operation with an acquired brain injury, and cerebral palsy.
Wayne is turning 30 soon. Up until last week, he had been living at home with his Mum, Karen.
Last week Wayne moved into his own apartment in Ringwood. “I’m very excited for Wayne to have had the opportunity to come into a facility like this,” says Karen.
The apartment block, built by Independent Disability Services (IDS) in partnership with EACH Housing. IDS has the goal of supporting people with disabilities to live the life that they want and EACH Housing’s mission is to provide a genuine neighbourhood environment for people. 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 which Karen says would be ideal for celebrating Wayne’s birthday. There are plans to add a BBQ and vegie garden to the common area.
Unlike other supported disability accommodation options, which have curfews and rules about visitors, Wayne’s family and friends are free to visit any time. 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, which is a massive improvement in a world where young disabled people often end up in housing more suited to elderly residents. The location is excellent. Wayne lives close the to day care, the aquatic centre, Jubilee Park, and the Ringwood train station.
It is a busy time at the apartment. It is nearing dinner time and the arrival of some care 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, as he helps his daughter move in. An IDS caseworker visits a 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 can not read. The placement of the button which 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 disabled people. Different groups have been going there to have a look at what is possible for disabled housing. Private investment firms are considering supported accommodation like that at Ringwood as an ethical investment option.
I ask Karen what she is going to do with all of the free time she will have. It is an ignorant question- the transition to independence isn’t going to happen overnight. Karen has been looking after Wayne continuously since he was a very small child. Karen embodies the concern facing a lot of parents of disabled children, “Its 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 really hoping it will enrich him to live independently,” says Karen. Here at IDS, we look forward to seeing how the first six residents progress.