My Home My Community—improving inclusion for people with intellectual disability

For many, local government is associated with bins and building permits, but local councils can also help create more welcoming communities for those with intellectual disabilities, says Phillippa Carnemolla, Senior Research Fellow at UTS’s School of Built Environment.

As project lead on My Home My Community, Phillippa has spent the last 12 months developing resources, with the research team, to help Australian councils become more inclusive. And consultation has been a big part of the brief.

“If you were boss of your council, what would you do?” is one of the key questions asked of focus groups with people with intellectual disability run by Jack Kelly, research advisor on the project. The responses have, by and large, been consistent—increase safety and respect, provide simpler easier-to-read information, particularly about community events, and improve the availability of clean public toilets.

Jack, who prior to coming to UTS, worked at the Centre for Disability Studies at The University of Sydney, currently also works with the Council for Intellectual Disability (CID) NSW. He has cerebral palsy and passionately believes that the time has come to stop pigeon-holing people.

“Holding an event one day a year for International Day of People with Disability does not make your council inclusive,” he says. “Events are good but there have to be more where the disability is not the focus. I mean having another disabled disco? Why does it have to have the word ‘disabled’ in it? Can’t it just be a disco?”

As Phillippa puts it, “Having more accessible, easy to understand information in a range of formats about events, activities and how to participate will mean that everyone who wants to get involved, can.”

“Clarifying and simplifying wayfinding signage also helps makes things easier for those who may not have mobile phones, read maps or be able to access the internet,” she says.

The project team hopes that My Home My Community is one small step towards addressing some of these issues experienced by people with intellectual disability, with the resources the team has created not only having practical benefit but also giving people the opportunity to have a say in their local neighbourhoods.

“For many [focus group participants], it was the first time anyone had ever asked them about their local community, about what they’d change. They really enjoyed that experience. I think that’s actually one of the main pieces of advice we’d give to councils—you need to go out to speak to people with intellectual disability in your local area. The resources [we’ve created] are about helping people to do that.”

The My Home My Community team has garnered the views of 50 people with intellectual disabilities through focus groups and workshopped ideas with 15 Sydney metropolitan councils. Other resources to come out of the project include datasets to better understand the demographics of different LGAs (in partnership with UNSW) and examples of successful projects undertaken overseas (in partnership with Flinders University).

My Home My Community is funded by the federal government through the National Disability Insurance Scheme Information Linkages and Capacity Building (ILC) Grants Program.

The Problem

People with an intellectual disability can struggle to access social events and services in their community. Local councils are in a position to improve the situation, but can lack accurate data on numbers of people with intellectual disability living in their LGA, and a clear understanding of what their needs might be.

The Response

The My Home My Community team held focus groups with people of intellectual disability to determine what they wanted out of their local council, and interviewed and hosted workshops with local council representatives—this information was then used to design resources to support council’s to become more inclusive. In partnership with UNSW, the team has also developed datasets to better understand the demographics of different LGAs.

What helped accomplish this?

Making the most of networks and engaging with not-for-profits, for profits, advocacy groups and other universities, as well as with the CID and Local Government NSW, has been a big contributor to the project’s success—as has having people with lived experience on the project team.

What has changed as a result?

Resources developed by the project will improve local government capacity, supporting councils to become more inclusive of people with intellectual disability in their LGAs across all services they provide. The datasets developed will also enable better targeting of resources and help councils to apply for funding for future initiatives.
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