I’m pleased to be able to be here with you all today.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Wangal people, and pay respect to their Elders both past and present.
There are really only a few things that are more fundamental to us than having a place to live.
The right to safe and suitable accommodation is a basic human right, a right long recognised for all people, and that includes people with disability.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises, through article 28, the right for people with disability to an adequate standard of living.
And that Convention promotes the right for people with disability to live independently in the community .
Even earlier than the Disability Convention, a right to adequate housing was recognised.
Through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and then later in the International Covenant on Social and Cultural Rights, the right for people to have access to adequate housing has been long established.
This right to housing that is adequate, and housing that we choose freely must be implemented with the respect and recognition of the diverse nature of disability.
People with disability do not consist of one homogeneous group and so any housing programs that effectively support people with disability must reflect this diversity.
A person may use a mobility aid such as a wheelchair, or may have a vision impairment or an intellectual disability, and so the housing arrangements need to accommodate this diversity to ensure all people regardless of the particular disability have stable and adequate housing.
In addition to recognition of the diversity among people with disability, we all need to promote and protect the right of people with disability to exercise choice in the type of housing and accommodation available to them.
For too long, many people with disability were denied the right of choice, the freedom to choose where they may live, with whom they live, and the way they spend their daily hours.
Indeed, in 2013, the CRPD Committee, in their concluding observations on Australia’s report on our implementation of the Disability Convention, recommended that Australia take action to ensure that people with disability have free choice of where they live and who they live with.
The Committee also indicated that there should be various types of living arrangements, based on the needs of different people.
We are seeing some progress.
The importance of appropriate housing for people with disability is reflected in Australia’s own National Disability Strategy, which includes a priority for inclusive and accessible housing within its six main policy areas.
In a recent meeting I had with the NSW Minister for Disability Services, the Hon John Ajaka, we spoke about housing accessibility and affordability for people with disability.
I was pleased that the Minister confirmed that the NSW Department of Family and Community Services Disability Action Plan, from 2015 to 2019, commits to a progressive increase in accessibility of the social housing portfolio, reflecting required standards.
The Department of Family and Community Services I understand, is working closely with existing tenants, their families and support services, to ensure that dwellings meet the needs of individual tenants.
I have also been made aware of the Communities Plus Program, which will see ageing social housing dwellings transformed into diverse communities with liveable design features benefiting all.
This is particularly important for people with disability, who usually wish to live in a mixed, integrated and vibrant communities.
It is reassuring that the relevant NSW government department FACS is preparing for the NDIS and in doing so it is reviewing social and affordable housing policies to ensure it is prepared for the new demands resulting from disability reforms.
Today’s symposium fits right into these preparations. It is an important opportunity to showcase innovation in the housing sector, including government innovation.
The symposium is also an opportunity for people with disability themselves, carers, families, housing providers and others to understand how housing can be made accessible to support the independence of those who reside there, irrespective of disability.
To achieve the goals we all share, and are obligated under the Disability Convention to achieve, we do need innovation.
We are living in an era marked by a dazzling and ever increasing range of products and services arising from new technologies.
IT innovation is changing our world. It has the potential to change the world for the better for people with disability, and transform housing provision.
Is this happening?
That is what we hope to learn about today, and I hope we can go way inspired by what is available.
All of us understand accessibility and most of us take it for granted. When it comes to suitable housing for people with disability, it cannot be taken for granted. If accessibility is not a feature the housing in fact cannot serve its purpose.
Accessibility is a precondition for participation, and ensuring a person’s home is accessible is the fundamental step to enabling them to function independently, raise a family, engage socially and live comfortably.
To make housing accessible, changes to standard housing will be needed.
This can mean adapting a house to change its physical structure or to add technology that adapts the environment to someone’s abilities.
Accessible housing should provide specific features or technologies that reduce the physical barriers of the built environment.
These features may include the more well-known ones such as a ramp at the entrance to a home, or a modified bathroom to enable a person to use a wheelchair inside.
But there are many more features of accessible housing such as lowered benchtops for people who use a wheelchair to be able to access all the kitchen spaces.
Stoves and sinks may have spaces underneath them to enable a wheelchair user to move in under them and safely use them.
Light switches may also be lowered to also enable people seated in a wheelchair to be able to operate them more easily.
Of course the physical accessibility of housing is only one aspect of truly inclusive housing models.
Inclusive housing involves location.
Homes for people with disability should be available in areas that are serviced by accessible public transport, and have shopping areas and other basic facilities close by.
Housing models designed for people with disability must recognise the barriers outside of the immediate physical structure of the house so that people can live independently and participate in their communities.
In addition to accessibility of housing, the affordability is a huge consideration and worthy of exploring at this symposium.
It’s reported every day in the media that Australia is experiencing a housing crisis.
The affordability of housing is a major issue not just for people with disability, but for many Australians of all ages and circumstances.
For people with disability the shortage is different and more critical again. Some people may require particular accessibility features. Some may be priced out of the market because of dependence on the disability support pension.
Some may require daily assistance to maintain their independence and this requirement may have cost or design implications.
Research by the Productivity Commission has found that people with disability are among the most disadvantaged in Australia.
In Australia, around 45 per cent of people with disability live on or near the poverty line.
This is two-and-a-half times the rate of poverty experienced by the general population.
People with disability who are dependent on a disability support pension are thus limited with regard to the open market, particularly in a city like Sydney.
Here rents are often higher than the maximum basic rate of the Disability Support Pension, so affordability is a massive issue for these renters in the open market.
New housing options must take into account the relative economic disadvantage of many people with disability.
People needing such housing represent a growing market. It is important that governments in their housing, planning and development policies take account of the particular affordability needs of low income people such as those living on the disability pension.
The demand for affordable and accessible housing is growing rapidly. The investments that are now being made through the NDIS will support more people so that they become able to seek independent living within their communities. This increased capacity for independent living is a highly desirable outcome of the NDIS, but as more people with NDIS support become able to live independently, suitable housing must be there and be available for them.
Adequate, appropriate and secure housing is the foundation to a person’s ability to successfully engage in their community and live with the degree of independence and security envisioned in the International Disability Convention, the document which must guide all of us in how we develop opportunities for people with disability.
Despite the challenges in accessibility and affordability of housing in Australia for people with disability, change is upon us.
The sweeping social reforms that are taking place through the NDIS are positive. They provide opportunities for us to examine the barriers of accessibility and affordability and look for solutions.
This symposium today is an example of the progress we need. I am looking forward to learning from what today has to offer, and continuing to work towards ensuring adequate housing for all Australians with disability.