Tech-enabled homes give people with disabilities independence

At 16, Bree Synot was feeling ready to give up on life. Born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bones, the prospect of finding a wheelchair-friendly house suitable for her needs was always going to be tough.

Her mother knew some tough love was needed. Bree moved out of the family home and into two different respite homes. But the next 6½ months would be “painful”. Every Friday Bree would pack up her room at Bacchus Marsh, more than an hour away from Melbourne, to spend the weekends at a separate respite home in Altona.

“Not being settled and having a ‘home’ to go to, shifting between houses, not seeing family that often and feeling alone is the worst feeling I have ever felt,” Bree says.

More recently, Winkler decided to “get her hands dirty” and the Summer Foundation bought two units to prove that “if you provide really good quality housing that is well designed, in a good location and incorporates technology, it fosters independence”. The demonstration project involves six apartments for people with a disability spread throughout a 50-strong apartment complex. The four other apartments are funded by the Transport Accident Commission.

Bree’s case manager contacted the Summer Foundation to see if she would qualify and, after a tense 6½ months waiting, the happy phone call came. In July 2014 Bree moved in.

Privacy and the freedom to burn a candle were the two things Bree immediately enjoyed. But the longer-term changes were transformative. In just a few months, Bree was no longer relying on her mother to change her bed and do the washing. She was indulging her lifelong passion to become a chef and cook regularly. The ability to look after herself, all made possible by her custom-fitted apartment gave her confidence. She tried her hand at volunteering and welcomed a bichon frise puppy into her home.

Thanks to her iPad app connected to her home’s locks, airconditioning and blinds, she could let visitors in without moving from her bed, the couch or her chair. On one occasion she was able to let a support worker into her apartment from her hospital bed.

To read the rest of this article, published in The Sydney Morning Herald, please click here.