Housing: Access, Income, Education, Availability – By Halley


From: Women and Disability – An Issue. A Collection of writings by women with disabilities. This booklet was produced by the Melbourne based Women with Disabilities Feminist Collective in the late 1980’s. The exact publishing date is unknown. Copyright.


 

Five years ago a band of squatters sang:

“All I want is a house somewhere,
Far away from institutional care”

The squatters were a group of people with intellectual disability and their supporters, the house a fairly ordinary terrace in Carlton which had been lying idle. What the squatters were demanding was decent community based housing for all disabled people. A fairly reasonable demand, after all we have a right to reasonably priced shelter in the community.

So, why after all the demands, protests, and pleas for reasonably priced decent housing do we still remain locked away in institutions, at home dependent on parent’s goodwill, or dependent on welfare services?

Availability

As women with disabilities we have all experienced the shortage, or non-existence, of housing which meets our needs whether it be because we have children, a wheelchair, we are single, or wish to live in a de-facto relationship, or we are married and wish to leave our husband, or we have a physical or intellectual disability.

Any community based housing is very dependent upon our knowledge of it, and our being dependent upon a welfare agency to enable us to have access to it. Being able to get the house/flat over and above other people in the community, or, if it is a house for disabled people being able to compete with them supposing that we do want to live with other people with disabilities, and with the prior occupants particularly.

The solution of these problems is more accessible community-based housing at a reasonably priced rental rate. This would allow a choice of lifestyles and personalities. The widely promoted Attendant Care Programmes will enable us greater mobility and independence. Attendant care is a scheme which allows people to employ a person of their own choice to ‘do’ for them as they see fit. That is a person who will assist you to dress, shop, feed, shower, drive your car, travel with you budget, etc. In other words assistance where and how you need it. There are several pilot schemes operating around Australia, unfortunately too few, due to lack of Federal Government commitment to change welfare spending from institutions to individuals or community groups.

We also need equal access to existing housing services, especially as women. Because like other women we are often bashed and raped. We, therefore need to seek refuge, or other types of emergency housing.

Often existing services still exclude us as a result of our disability instead of recognising that all women face similar oppressions which can be catered for by the same service. Women with intellectual and emotional disabilities have successfully been assisted by some women’s refuges. We need this support if we, like other women, are to escape oppressive situations.

We need access to transitional type housing which will enable us to learn the skills necessary to move out of institutions into community type housing. Skills such as cooking, budgeting, and travelling on public transport. Access to decent places which help us cope with pregnancy and looking after the child after it is born; with the necessary supports to enable us to keep the child and remain physically independent.

Education

Lack of education for many disabled women is another factor which inhibits our access to housing. We are often denied education because we are girls and therefore not encouraged into higher education which will lead to better paying jobs and therefore better housing, more independence from men, and from welfare services.

Institutions and special schools usually don’t offer much support for people wishing to seek an education past primary school. This in turn excludes us from the information we need to fully realise our options. Many women are not aware of the illegality of many types of discrimination against disabled people i.e. landlords and agents cannot refuse you a place to live on the grounds of your disability.

Institutions don’t teach people the skills necessary to find a place to live or how to survive in the community. We are only taught that as people with disabilities we shouldn’t have the same rights as everybody else.

Income

Many of us are dependent upon Social Security payments for our income. Current rates of payment do not give us access to decent housing and any necessary assistance we may need to employ an attendant. Added to this if we marry or take up residence with a man our payments are reduced as if by some clever trick of the mind we are no longer disabled. This hideous situation forces us to become of necessity, dependent on our men-folk; and only serves to complicate things if we decide to leave the relationship.

Despite all these hindrances women with disabilities are becoming more independent and outgoing. We are developing our own services such as the attendant care programme. However this is more due to individual and collective strengths rather than any official supports available. I can only surmise the government and charities fear our freedom because they recognise our strength and once unleashed the outrage we will create. We will fight in spite of them.