Families of people with disabilities should be looking to the community for support as the government prepares to close respite services, advocate Jan Kruger says.
Ms Kruger, whose son Jack has a developmental disability, said the community would become increasingly important for families of people with disabilities as the ACT government prepares to close or offload respite services across Canberra.
The Elouera respite house will close in November, after the government announced it was consolidating respite services before next year's switch to the disability insurance scheme.
The impending closure has prompted backlash among some sectors of the community, but Ms Kruger said it should be viewed as an opportunity to move towards the mainstream.
“It's important that people see there are other options than facilities,” she said.
“The community tends to be the last place we go looking, rather than the first … We need to be supporting people to be involved in the mainstream.”
Ms Kruger said her O'Connor family did not use respite services, choosing instead to immerse 11-year-old Jack in the community through sport and through organisations like the Scouts.
She said the engagement with mainstream society had benefited her son, but was only possible because of her and her husband Paul's willingness to open up to the community.
“That's where people need to be looking for their respite because it's also something meaningful for our son,” she said.
“I think the families should take authority and look themselves, with support from the community. I think there are a lot of families that have lost hope. It needs to be reinvigorated.”
Ms Kruger said the concept of a connected community where people with a disability played a valuable part was something highlighted by her advocacy group ImagineMore, which would also be hosting an inclusion and integration conference in November.
The Elouera respite house, a six-bed facility that offers respite services for adults with intellectual disabilities, is set to close next month as the government prepares to shift additional services to the private sector.
While some families have labelled the closure an “absolute disgrace”, ACT Council of Social Service director Susan Heylar said the impending shift to the National Disability Insurance Scheme necessitated the move.
Ms Heylar said the current services for people with disabilities were marginalising and forced people to share tenancies and activities.
She said the new service framework enabled by the NDIS would allow people to be involved in ordinary activities in their community, offer diverse housing options and build natural supports and relationships.
“For too long, people living with disability have had to shrink their expectations,” she said.
“They have been told there is never enough to meet their needs so they stop imaging what they want or hoping for fulfilment. In this context people have never had the chance to imagine a future in which they could ask for and expect to access what they need and prefer.”
Ms Heylar said the emphasis should now be on ensuring families have access to resources for individual advocacy and supported decision-making.