Australia – A seismic shift in disability support: the National Disability Insurance Scheme

To read on The Age Victoria website:

A housing problem solved is a pleasure shared

Miki Perkins

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This solid Geelong brick house – its front garden home to a pink flamingo statue and a fruiting pomegranate tree – might not strike you as a setting for a quiet revolution.But that’s how the three women who live here, and their parents, regard the successful experiment that has unfolded within its four walls. It is one that could soon be replicated across Australia.

Belinda Cini, 31, Melanie Saleh, 39, and Jessica Shea, 32, were among the first generation of people with intellectual disabilities to attend mainstream kindergartens and schools.

When they did use specialist services, they were always « groundbreaking » ones that encouraged independence.

Sadly, when they got to adulthood, it was a different story. Their income – the disability support pension – was not enough to cover a suitable rental property and the support needed to live in it.

Despite wanting independence for their daughters, their families had little option but to keep them at home.

But over the past three years their hometown of Geelong has been a trial site for a seismic shift in disability support: the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

For the first time, when they drew up their yearly support plan, the three women and their families were asked what « a good life » would look like.

Belinda was clear, says her mum Helen Cini: « She wanted to move out of home. She wanted to learn to cook, be independent and be like her brother and sister. »

From left, Melanie Saleh, Belinda Cini and Jessica Shea at their share house in Geelong.

From left, Melanie Saleh, Belinda Cini and Jessica Shea at their share house in Geelong. Photo: Eddie Jim

 

So their families, who met through a local service provider, arranged a successful camping weekend away with « the girls », as they call them.

And then they took out a shared lease on a comfortable house in the suburb of Newtown. The pink flamingo in the front garden was a house-warming present for Belinda.

« The girls are all very different; my Belinda is as loud and boisterous and big and bold, Jess is tiny and quiet, and Mel’s in the middle. They’re like the three bears, » says Cini.

Unlike the disability pension, the NDIS allows recipients to pool funding. This money has been used to hire support workers who are in the house whenever the girls are home.

Unlike supported accommodation, families have the opportunity to meet new staff when they are hired.

The workers encourage the girls to learn everyday skills like cooking, house chores and socialising. They all cook dinner for their household, and Belinda has perfected a mean tuna casserole.

This week they celebrated the one-year anniversary of their share house over homemade pizza with friends and family.

Melanie, Belinda and Jess prepare food for their party to celebrate one year of living together. Photo: Eddie Jim

Melanie, Belinda and Jess prepare food for their party to celebrate one year of living together. Photo: Eddie Jim

« I like to cook dinner and make a cup of tea, » says Belinda. « It’s much nicer and quieter, my brother and sister can be noisy. »

Australia’s biggest social reform in decades will begin in earnest on July 1, when the NDIS expands to include Melbourne’s north-east. It will be introduced progressively across the state over the next two years.

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