Housing and Programmes for the differently-abled
(Written during the 6 week Eisenhower Fellowship in the U.S. in 2012)
The housing programmes in US, as I could understand a bit, are mainly developer led. Thus a developer forms a proposal, which includes varying components of ‘affordable’ housing in consultation with the city government (a process facilitated by a non-profit usually), and then applies for grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD does not, by themselves construct houses. Usually, the owner (poor socio-economic status, elderly) pays about 30% of his/her income (which means he has no incentive to increase his income?) for the house, and the rest comes as grant. There are public housing boards as well which do some projects. In an economy, when banks are reluctant to extend loans, HUD plays an important role in pushing the construction activity. Efforts to have such models (Slum Rehabilitation Authority) in India, where a private developer develops low-income housing in lieu of higher FSI for private residences has met with varying success. The issue is very contextual. But the direct model of government constructing houses for the poor vs. the private developer model needs further exploration.
Edward Verne Roberts (January 23, 1939 – March 14, 1995) is considered the father of disability rights movement in America. He was the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of Berkeley. Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley now houses seven different centers which cater to different aspects of disability issues. The center itself is an architectural marvel- fully accessible to differently-abled people. From the door opening switches at the bottom to wide enough ramps (to allow two persons on wheel chair simultaneously) to flowing water to help the blind- everything has been designed keeping in view the needs of the differently-abled. The centers here believe in and promote the ‘non-pathological’ approach towards disability. This approach, as opposed to the ‘medical’ approach believes that differently-abled may have some special requirements; however most of them are capable of an independent and productive living. The Center for Independent Living (CIL)’s mission is the same. One of the programs they run is a mentor-mentee program, where a senior young person helps a high school mentee with the concept of ‘independent living’. A mentor mentee relation is best poised to tide over depressions that may be associated with disabilities. CIL helps the differently-abled through assistance with housing, employment, assistant technology, referral, policy advocacy and training on independent living skills.
An amazing thing is that most of the people working in these centers themselves have some form of the disability. They are thus best poised to understand the issues and sensitivity required to work in this area.
The Center for Accessible technologies trains the differently-abled in various friendly software/computers to enable them to take up independent living.
‘Through the looking glass’ (TLG) is another center at Ed Roberts founded by an amazing person, Dr. Megan Krishbaum. She and her husband, who has Multiple Sclerosis started working with the parents who themselves have disabilities or have differently-abled children (not uncommonly both) way back in 1980s when they had a child who they suspected was differently-abled. (Fortunately, except a curable heart problem which was treated, he has no disability). For the last 30 years or so, the couple have worked tirelessly and with passion, providing services to such parents. Their mantra is early intervention, and they have firmly believed based on their work, that it makes a huge difference to start working with parents when their children are very small. Besides the direct home service to about 400 families through their 60 person staff (most of whom are Ph.Ds. and Masters degree holders!), TLG has done an appreciable work in leading the way for policy and demonstration of best practices. Their publications in their field are sought internationally.
World Institute with Disabilities (WID), also located here works for policy advocacy for disability.
The American society does seem to be sensitive and helpful towards the differently-abled. A prime example is the convenient accessibility in each building. Wanda at the CIL believes that with more inclusive education- differently-abled children getting to study with the rest in schools- there is a greater inclusion of differently-abled in the society (this contrasts with some concerns that the generation gap is increasing and care for the elderly is decreasing in this society). India has a robust legislation called the ‘Persons with Disabilities (Equal Protection of Rights and Full Participation ) Act, 1995. A new draft legislation for persons with disabilities is also before the Parliament now. A significant component of Indian legislation is a horizontal reservation for the differently-abled in government jobs.
Blessed are those who get an opportunity and work for the differently-abled!