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LISA... is a parent support and lobby group, for parents and families with a family member having an intellectual or multiple disability, and living in a supported accommodation group home in the State of Victoria, Australia.
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Accommodation Innovation - "What's New?"

The Innovation Frenzy

What is truly new in accommodation for people with disabilities? - Is there really a housing model or approach or design in accommodation that has not yet been tried?

“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten” – Marie Antoinette

The call for innovation

At a recent Myer Music Bowl event at which the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) appeared the program described the MSO as “innovative”.  A recently published book by former federal politician Tim Fischer describes Sir John Monash as an “innovative general”.  A tertiary institution recently advertised a Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation.  These are but just some examples among an increasing number that suggest that the word innovation is now the new ‘in word’.

Innovation in disability accommodation

Over recent years the call for innovation has become a catch-cry in the advertising of funding initiatives in terms of disability accommodation.  

By using the word innovation, it is as though those determining the outcomes of funding rounds are suggesting that there is some yet-to-be-tried solution in terms of accommodation types and accommodation shortages in the disability sector.  Although unstated, the hidden message seems to be that whatever has been tried in the past or is currently available will not be funded.  This is not because they are not still relevant and appropriate.  It is simply because they are considered not to be innovative.  Also because the decision makers determine that those models are now outmoded.  Or, in other words, if it is yesterday’s model it does not fit today’s thinking and thus will not be funded.

Educational institutions, health providers and companies seeking to attract the best and brightest graduates also now undertake what can be described as over-the-top advertising.  In announcing the availability of funds for accommodation initiatives in the disability sector, those writing the advertisements take on the same over-the-top creative word art as though they are promoters of new commercial housing developments.  The advertisements include emotive words that require submissions to be new and exciting, leading edge, collaborative and partnership-driven and of course innovative.  Thus among the marketing words used to promote accommodation funding, innovation stands like a beacon guiding those who believe they have an accommodation model that has not yet been tried or who seek to impress as to why their submission should be funded.

What does innovation really mean?

However, before blithely accepting the promotional type language of the marketeers we need to ask ourselves what is meant by the word innovation?  Does it mean there is a requirement for a completely new, never yet tried approach or model?  Must it be something original and more effective and something that breaks the mold?  Or does it mean taking an existing model and applying new technology?  Is it the underlying suggestion, that it must be new, never before tried but above all else it must be innovative in the true sense of the word of being original?  By a process of elimination this seems to suggest that submissions tainted by the ‘old’ or that dare reflect anything of yesterday’s models will not be funded. 

Therefore, if both current and yesterday’s models are knocked out of the running for new funding, the question must be asked - Is there really a housing model or approach or design in accommodation that has not yet been tried that is truly original?

The writers challenge anyone to point to those initiatives that have been funded to date and accepted under the guise of innovation to demonstrate how any one of those initiatives is truly sparkling new and never before tried.  Unless the miracle model can be found, the writers contend that the only thing that might be considered to be new and innovative is the language, where it seems as though terms such as: new, world’s best practice, leading change, exciting and inclusive must be used.  This is akin to no longer calling the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground a sporting stadium, but instead labelling it as an Innovative Multi-Purpose Activity Venue, or relabelling a degree in education as a Bachelor of Creative and Cognitive Instructional Pedagogy.

Legislated principles

Based on the legislated principle of people with disabilities being able to enjoy the same opportunities as other in the community, therefore it must be that accommodation options and services available to people with disabilities must encompass the same range of opportunities available to others in the community. 

What does innovation mean in terms of disability residential accommodation?

In order to address this question we must firstly ask:  What residential accommodation options are available in the community?  Then we must also ask ourselves:  What models or approaches are currently operating in the disability sector?  And further:  What models or types of accommodation are rejected under the new philosophy?

The following table provides a broad sweep of the types of accommodation settings available to non-disabled people and those known by the writers to have been applied in the disability sector.  As noted by the third column of the table, the options supported by current ideology are in effect reduced to three.

Accommodation Type/Model

Available to the Broader Community

Generally currently available in the Disability Sector

Available under the innovative approach to housing

Living with family in the family home

Yes

Yes

Yes

Single person living alone in a house or unit

Yes

Yes

Yes

Shared accommodation in a house or unit

Yes

Yes

No

Clustered housing as in a housing development

Yes

Yes

No

Medium/high rise units

Yes

Yes

No

Shared living arrangements as in individuals/couples sharing a house or unit

Yes

Yes

No

Individual supported accommodation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Group supported accommodation

Yes

Yes

No

Hostels

Yes

Yes

No

Boarding houses

Yes

Yes

No

Motel and hotels

Yes

No

No

Caravan parks

Yes

No

No

Blended accommodation

Yes

Yes

No

Nursing homes

Yes

Yes

No

Retirement villages

Yes

No

No

Intentional communities/communes

Yes

No

No

Although not applicable to all the above accommodation types, nonetheless the application of specialist fabric and design as well as technology can be applied in order to perhaps make them innovative.  For example, accessible features such as step-less dwellings, wide corridors, and sliding doors can be retrofitted.  Or perhaps technology can be applied, such as computerised lighting, blinds, and locks; and security cameras can be installed.

Further, the notion of personal supports as provided through others can also be applied to engender the notion of innovation.  Indeed, recent times has seen the growth of personal services such as home pick-up and delivery, home maintenance and gardening, as well as more personal supports such as in-home supports provided through local councils for people who are aged or who have disabilities. 

Therefore, given the above, it is likely that those making application for funding for accommodation where the advertisements require an ‘innovative approach’, will seek to describe or promote their initiative as being something new, simply by using the word ‘innovative’ or other promotional-type language.  This being despite the fact that their model is already in existence elsewhere 

The real issue is numbers

Despite the above commentary however, the critical driver pushing innovation is that of numbers.  Those so full of wisdom and knowledge about what is best for others will tell us what the “research” or the “evidence” says.  However, despite their reliance on the research they cannot point to research that categorically pinpoints a specific number that says how many people with a disability should be able to live in the same residential setting.  The best they can do is to apply a number that they themselves have determined.  So, now the numbers rule, and apparently “smaller is better”.  While a figure of no greater than ten people living together has been stated as acceptable, the reality is that any grouping, even now the once favoured five-person house, is shunned.  Shunned, too, is the proximity of residential settings being in the same street or even same locality.  Oh dear, how dare people with disabilities be allowed to live next door to each other - but of course it is OK for the non-disabled to do so.

The numbers that arise out of national data collection seem to be applied to what constitutes an appropriate accommodation model – though perhaps misapplied is more to the point.  For example, the 18.5 per cent overall incidence in the Australian population of disability – or 1 in 5 persons – has become the accepted “norm”.  Thus, there are those who seem to take the 1 in 5 figure and simplistically apply it by suggesting that any application for funding where multiple dwellings comprise the application should not be funded unless, for example, if there are five dwellings on a site, no more than one dwelling is for people with a disability.  Thus, rather than people with disabilities for whom the application is made being able to exercise their right to live where and with whom they choose, it is the numbers that dictate. 

Unless there is an immediate halt to the nonsensical use of the word innovation, it is clear that the policy direction is heading towards one person, one residential facility, one location, as if this is the ultimate innovation for people with disabilities. 

New models become old

Apart from governments wanting to make their funding advertisements sound innovative in themselves, perhaps because it is also a way of promoting the government of the day as an innovative government, could there also be another reason why the concept of innovation is so strongly promoted? 

In tracing the history of accommodation in the disability sector, and certainly in the Western world, it is well-recorded that those people we now call intellectually disabled, physically disabled or mentally ill were generally either ignored by society and left to fend for themselves, or were reliant on their family or friends or were accommodated in institutional type settings, albeit that these may have been known by various names such as asylums, workhouses, or institutions where these were run either by governments or, in many instances, religious orders.  Developments in Western society, particularly post World War 2, brought a focus on doing away with large institutions.  Their replacements were considered cutting edge because they were ‘in the community’ and provided small group living as opposed to the overcrowded institutional wards.  In Victoria, these new models of accommodation were known as community residential units or CRUs, and generally described a five-person house. 

The concept of de-institutionalisation and creating alternative accommodation in the broader community has been pursued vigorously in Victoria since the mid-1980s.  However, although de-institutionalisation was in part founded on a more enlightened community view, progressively the thinking in relation to accommodation options for people with disabilities has become more driven by an ideology held by a few, albeit those few wield considerable power and influence.  Many who are now in positions of power and who influence policy and thinking in the disability sector oppose the concept of shared supported accommodation as provided through the CRU model.  Instead they argue that accommodation options for people with disabilities should generally be concerned with individual living arrangements, which are scattered throughout the community. 

Given the significant influence that the ideologically driven academics and policy makers have on governments, then perhaps the other reason why the word innovation is now inserted into funding advertisements is because it is a way of road-blocking any initiative or proposal that does not fit their narrow model.  Despite all of this, an often ignored fact is that ever since the closure of institutions began, and alternative replacements being established, to this very day the largest provider of accommodation in the disability sector is still parents in the family home or siblings of people with disabilities.  This is a concerning fact, given that the innovative housing models being sought by the ideologues seem to conveniently ignore the ever-increasing problem of family members with disabilities living with aging parents.  In other words, forget the reasonable and necessary needs as promoted through National Disability Insurance Scheme, if it is not innovative it is out.

Equal opportunity

Along with the right to be treated like others in the community is also the much-promoted concept of choice, this being that people with disabilities have the right to choose where they live, with whom and in what type of accommodation.  Yet, despite this immutable right, if the option sought through a funding application is anything other than that deemed to innovative, it will be rejected.  The ideologues and policy gurus conveniently argue that choice has limitations.  Of course it does.  However, the limitation should not be manufactured as restricting the choice to only those models imposed, or approved by the decision makers, who, because they control the funding, make the choices.  After all, we do not impose the same philosophical restrictions of the rest of the community.

Equally, by rejecting reasonable models that already exist or exist for the rest of the community, where is the choice for those people with disabilities who want to move out of the family home?  Where is the choice for those aging parents who are forced to continue to have to care for their sons and daughters with disabilities in the family home because there is no other option?   And, where is the choice for those families who might join together and who seek other accommodation options, or who are self-starters and initiate submissions for funding?

Let’s stop the nonsense

Why is it that some bureaucrats, academics, watchdog entities, advocacy organisations and politicians are quick to mouth the words of rights, choice and anti-discrimination, yet when it is convenient to do so these same people draft these terms and concepts into a holding pen, on the basis that a particular funding submission does not meet the innovation test?  There may be a number of reasons why.

Perhaps it is to satisfy a particular ideology.  Perhaps it is to satisfy an academic’s need to keep him or herself relevant.  Perhaps it is to assist a bureaucrat to get a bonus by being innovative.  Perhaps it is to help promote a Minister’s image as being innovative.  Yet, none of these reasons stand-up to the choice test.  None of them stand up to the equal opportunity test.  And, none of them stand up to the same opportunity as the rest of the community test.

So, let’s stop the nonsense of pretending that innovation is the only test against which funding for disability accommodation is to be allocated. 

***********************

Max Jackson                                                            Margaret Ryan

Max Jackson                                                                                    Margaret Ryan

Partner                                                                                             Partner

JacksonRyan Partners                                                                       JacksonRyan Partner

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