Three years ago I moved into independent accommodation after a 10 year battle for my independence. That was hard enough. The journey was long and torturous, and though I had been looking for a long-term relationship for just as long, this had remained secondary to my desire to move out of the family home.

When I first moved into the Youngcare Apartments in the Western Suburbs of Brisbane, I had always imagined that despite my efforts on the dating front, I would always be living on my own.

Searching for someone to date was to me like finding a magical unicorn. Not only would we have to be compatible, but she also would have to be tolerant and accepting of my disability. Luckily for me, I found that person in my partner Kat, who personified that magical unicorn: a type I had only read about, but was not exactly sure existed.

Our relationship progressed quickly, but with a surety that I had never experienced before.  Kat would spend several nights a week over at my apartment as she lived on the other side of town, in a house that was not wheelchair accessible.

It did not take us long to decide that we wanted to live together on a permanent basis. Kat and I entered this relationship knowing that we wanted it to last years, not months. We both think in the long term. However, that decision provided its own unique set of challenges.

An important question had to be tackled: How can an able bodied partner successfully move into a complex specifically designed for people with disabilities, who are expected to live by themselves?

This is why my unique circumstances are exceptional. Youngcare, who built my accommodation, and Wesley Mission Brisbane (WMB), who provide the staffing to help with my physical support, both agree on the same principle. I am a young person living a young life. Part of living a ‘typical’ young life is finding a long-term partner, and moving in with them. This is exactly what we have done.

WMB could have made it extremely difficult for Kat to move in, or they could have ultimately said no. This would have been outrageous to me if they did, but many other organisations would have. In fact, a few months ago the Manager of the Apartments and the Clinical Care Nurse were the people who first suggested that this living situation would be possible. Kat and I had not contemplated moving in together at that stage.

I talked with management again about a week before Kat moved in to see if the option was still viable. They said it was, and then we convened a meeting to organise a few particulars. This meeting was not about restricting my options, but rather ensuring my safety and our privacy.

It was important to recognise that though we live in our own apartment, that we respected WMB as an organisation, as well as the other residents that occupy the building.

Kat was assessed to ensure she complied with all of WMB’s workplace health and safety practices. Though I taught her how to perform the necessary personal care duties, which are essential to my daily routine, and I was confident of her compliance, we were only too happy to accommodate WMB’s wishes.

WMB also wanted to ensure that if Kat was to do the majority of my physical care (she always wants to, despite my long term reservations) that Kat, the organisation, and I were legally covered.

We also took further steps to ensure extra privacy, such as extra locks on the bedroom and bathroom doors, which were provided by WMB.

Lesser organisations would have framed these types of discussions as too difficult or inappropriate. WMB have not.  All of the staff members who work in the building, which is more than 50 have gone out of their way to communicate with Kat and I appropriately. She is not just a ‘friend’; she is my equal partner in every respect.

Kat and I are trailblazers even though we do not want to be. Prior to her moving in WMB had not confronted this situation. An able bodied person had never moved into shared accommodation with a person who has a disability before.

This factual reality is not WMB’s fault. My situation simply had never occurred. I’m lucky that the management of my apartment building is so forward thinking. Other organisations, service providers, and their employees are not.

Society, in general, believes that people with disabilities are unable, incapable or undeserving of love. Nor do they believe that a person with disability can be an equal partner in a loving relationship. These are not the first barriers we have had to overcome, and they will certainly not be the last.

Todd Winther

Todd Winther is a Masters candidate in political science. His work as a political commentator has been published in The Conversation, Brisbane Times and ABC Online. He blogs at http://toddocracy.com. This is Todd’s second article with Clickability – read his article Beyond Employment, the Fight for Credibility here.

You can now read Kat’s account of the move on Clickability too!

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