Monica McGowan Hughes, service coordinator with Athlone Irish Wheelchair Association.

"Silent crisis" of accessible housing shortage highlighted by Athlone advocate

OPINION: Monica McGowan Hughes of Athlone Irish Wheelchair Association says Government must face up to 'home truths' on issue

By Monica McGowan Hughes

Housing shortages in Ireland have been well documented and highlighted. But every day here in Athlone I meet people with disabilities who are facing a deeper, silent housing crisis that doesn’t have the commitments or resources from Government and local authorities to address them.

Working with Irish Wheelchair Association across the Midlands, my colleagues and I regularly meet people who are living in unsuitable housing that is dangerous and damaging to their health.

We meet young people who cannot figure out a plan for where they will live when their parents get older. And we meet parents who are struggling to care for their adult children and are worried about the future.

But what choice do they have? Finding housing that is ‘wheelchair liveable’ is impossible across Ireland, let alone in Athlone.

Today if you go onto any property website looking for wheelchair liveable accommodation in Athlone, you will find next to nothing. Yes, a property might be accessible, meaning it is possible for a wheelchair to get in the front door, but it doesn't mean a wheelchair user could live there; use the bathroom, kitchen, bedroom. This is why social housing is so vital for people with disabilities, because there are no private rental options there for them.

Irish Wheelchair Association’s latest national ‘Home Truths’ campaign is hoping to keep accessible housing on the agenda for local authorities and local politicians. There are many committed individuals in our local authorities who work hard to make sure people with disabilities are included in local housing rollout.

But overall, as Government and local authorities remain committed to building more and more houses, people with disabilities remain excluded. Unfortunately a report published in January by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Disability Matters found that Ireland’s provision of independent living and inclusion in the community has worsened in recent years.

The committee was reporting on Ireland’s performance under the UN treaty that Ireland signed in 2018, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. At a time when Ireland is building houses at historic levels it is shocking to see opportunities for independent living and accessibility being squandered and missed.

Successive Governments have failed to deliver on commitments to provide housing options that are accessible and adaptable, for people with disabilities, across our communities. For example, according to the National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2002-2027, people with disabilities have the right to live independently with supports, but the strategy has not been implemented or funded adequately.

For people reading this who have a disability or support a person with a disability, there is always hope when it comes to housing. Irish Wheelchair Association’s ‘Home Truths’ campaign is a time to refocus on accessible housing, figure out what you need and find the support you need to make a plan. The process may be slower and much harder than it should be, but there is support along the way.

It is important to apply for social housing to be included on your local authority housing list. Your local authority will have those details. Irish Wheelchair Associations supports many of our members around housing applications as do many other disability organisations. Ask as many people for advice and help as you can. No-one can do it alone.

It is also important that when our local politicians call to our doors in the coming weeks looking for our vote, that we raise issues of accessible housing with them. What are they doing? How can they help?

Access to independent living, with independent living supports and wrap-around services, is a right for disabled people who need it. Or what is the alternative?

Three years ago a report from the Ombudsman found over 1,300 people in their thirties, forties and fifties who are living in nursing homes for elderly people, because of their disability and the lack of any wheelchair liveable accommodation for them. Independent living is a critical pillar of our society and our government and local authorities need to make this happen.

* More information on the Irish Wheelchair Association 'Home Truths' campaign is available at: