Disabled find their place

By Boris Jancic

Journey to independent living was difficult, but the results are astonishing, says mother

Travers Brown (left) at home with his flatmates Richard Bisley, Daina MacRae and Susan Godsall. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Travers Brown (left) at home with his flatmates Richard Bisley, Daina MacRae and Susan Godsall. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Like most young people, Travers Brown wants his independence.

But Mr Brown, 33, has Down syndrome, which means he is unable to do everyday things like read, write or drive.

Despite that, he now flats happily with three other adults with disabilities in Howick, and the journey he took to get there is behind a new resource aimed at helping families in similar situations.

His family set out on an ambitious project to engage a variety of charities, government bodies and private companies to create a shared, independent living space for their children.

Mother Colleen Brown, a former Manukau councillor, said as the second of four, Travers wanted to move out like his siblings had.

"He'd been brought up as part of a community and he wanted to do what everyone else in that community does."

A care facility didn't seem good enough.

"We wanted him to have control of who he lived with, about other aspects of his life."

After two-and-a-half years the parents - with three other like-minded families - achieved their goal.

Mrs Brown said they had no regrets.

"Leaving home was hard for all of us but the outcomes for the young people and their development has been astonishing."

Mr Brown and his flatmates Susan Godfall, Daina MacRae and Richard Bisley are now enjoying being part of the community. They play pool at the local RSA, have a favourite coffee place, are training for a Special Olympics event at the local pool and attend vocational programmes.

"We don't want them to be viewed as people with disabilities. We want them to just be viewed as part of a community and that's what they have here," said Mrs Brown.

"They are really confident about where they belong in society."

By pooling the money they get through grants, the families can employ their own small staff of carers to assist the flatmates with anything from cleaning and cooking to assisting with showering, gardening and transport.

The rewarding results have prompted the parents to chronicle their ups and downs as a guide for others in New Zealand.

Yesterday, the Parent and Family Resource Centre launched the new handbook and DVD Four Go Flatting, for parents who want to know more about navigating the individualised funding model.

Centre director Lisa Martin said various charities, organisations and government departments across the country provide means-tested grants to disabled New Zealanders, but finding and co-ordinating them was a difficult task.

Work and Income New Zealand, Housing New Zealand and Taikura Trust all provide assistance for the disabled.

The handbook has been funded by the Ministry of Health.

Making it work

Parents with disabled children seeking advice on navigating the funding system can contact the Parent and Family Resource Centre at http://pfrc.org.nz/

- NZ Herald

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