It seems bizarre to have to spell this out, but it is apparently necessary: forcing a person with disability to live with another person with disability is not “inclusion” or a form of “companionship”.
Advocacy for Inclusion is currently working on a number of cases where NDIS participants who are going through the planning process are being pressured by the NDIA planner to cohabit with another person with disability. Both participants are currently living alone and are very happy living alone. However, the NDIA planner is insisting that the person with disability should live with another person with disability as this is more “inclusive”.
What if they get lonely? Who will be their friend? – these are the sorts of questions the NDIA is asking. The NDIA staff referred our advocate to Operational Guidelines; specifically to the principle of supporting people with disabilities “to be included in the community as fully participating citizens” to back their approach.
Inclusion means genuine access to and participation in the community on an equal basis with non-disabled people. It means having access to accommodation options on an equal basis to the non-disabled community, which is a fundamental human right. Companionship involves freely given relationships with family, friends and other community members, and perhaps mutually chosen housemates. Real companionship cannot be forced onto people – it is something that evolves organically.
It should go without saying that inclusion and companionship does not mean being pressured into a permanent living arrangement with a stranger with disability against your will, based on an extremely outdated and oppressive assumption that if you’re a person with disability, you are better off being grouped together with other disabled people to live, work and be educated. With the control and choice principles underpinning the NDIS, how is this being misunderstood by NDIA staff?
The issue is quite clearly not about “inclusion” or “companionship” but about the functional purpose of pooling funds; that is, cost cutting. When two or more people with disabilities are accommodated together and share their supports, they generally require a smaller funding package each as it can be pooled and the support workers shared. The pre-NDIS block funding model forced people into these arrangements, because the funding was attached to service providers rather than to individuals, and there was significantly less funding available in general for disability supports. The NDIS is meant to revolutionise this not pour funding into holding up the old broken system, which left people with disabilities excluded, marginalised and at risk of harm.
Forced cohabitation promotes unhealthy and at times violent relationships. When people have no control over their living arrangements they can become trapped and exposed to violence for extended periods. It is misleading and unethical to pressure disabled people into cohabitation and call it “inclusion”, because it is very much the opposite. It is a human rights breach and a form of small scale institutionalisation, which is exactly what the NDIS is meant to move away from.
This is a hugely concerning issue, which from what we hear from our colleagues interstate may be emerging as a pattern across the trial sites for people with high disability support needs. Our advocate continues to negotiate with the NDIA alongside our consumers to secure support for them to live in the arrangement of their choosing.