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Galway graduate and wheelchair user inspires others on independent living

A graduate and Galway city wheelchair user is telling her story to inspire others to think past any perceived limitations to living a fully independent life.

Yvonne Fahy is fronting a national housing campaign this year by Irish Wheelchair Association, focusing on social housing for people with disabilities.

Think Ahead, Think Housing is an awareness campaign for people with disabilities, encouraging them to apply to their local authority for housing sooner rather than later.

Yvonne Fahy is a wheelchair user who has been living independently in Galway city for over twenty years.

Earlier this year, she completed a Master’s in Public Advocacy and Activism at University of Galway and decided to support Irish Wheelchair Association’s housing campaign to encourage people like herself who don’t feel they have options or opportunities when it comes to housing.

“I never thought that it would be possible for me to live independently, because I didn’t have the confidence and courage in myself to do so,” said Yvonne.

“I was worrying how would I pay my rent, being part of the community, how would I integrate into society… However, it was the best move I ever made,” she added.

But that’s not an experience enjoyed by everyone dealing with disability.

“Unfortunately, many people believe wheelchair liveable social housing is not available and therefore don’t apply to their local authorities,” admitted Irish Wheelchair Association’s National Housing Programme Manager Jean Coleman.

“In turn, local authorities don’t build wheelchair liveable housing because they don’t feel the demand is high enough locally.

“Think Ahead Think Housing is Irish Wheelchair Association’s annual housing campaign, to break that cycle and encourage disabled people who need housing to apply to their local authority social housing. Their voices and needs need to be recognised and included,” she added.

Yvonne is realistic about the effort it took at the time for her to get her own home, but she is encouraging and hopeful that there is help available for anyone who wants to live independently.

Yvonne is adamant the rewards are worth all the effort.

“I’ve been living independently since I was 25 and it’s been onwards and upwards since then,” she said.

Yvonne was always a wheelchair user, but she was forced to spend time in the National Rehabilitation Centre after being involved in a car accident.

“At the time when I was in the Rehab, there was great resources over there, there was a social worker who worked on my case as such….she was the one that informed me about what my social welfare entitlements were; the fact that I could put my name down for a house in the first place…… But she gave me all the information and from then on, I realised, well yeah actually I can do this really.”

According to Yvonne the most important part of looking for a home is to get started and look for help.

“The main thing would be to put your name down for a house with Galway City Council, Galway County Council or wherever you are,” she revealed.

“Then definitely I’d look for your Public Health Nurse, speak to your GP, maybe they can offer more advice, but definitely your Public Health Nurse, she might be able to advise you on your medical needs for example, say for your housing needs for example.

“There’s also the Irish Wheelchair Association or whatever association you are attached to. They’d be a great resource.”

Think Ahead Think Housing is highlighting the latest local authority social housing process, which allows people with disabilities to highlight their needs and requirements in their application. In turn this will help local authorities to plan for the accessibility needs of their community into the future.

“Currently in Galway and across the county little or no wheelchair liveable housing available, through private rental or local authorities,” said Jean Coleman.

“We know that in Galway and across Ireland there isn’t an accessible housing shortage, there is a complete absence of any wheelchair liveable housing options for people with disabilities.

“As a result, 1,300 young and middle-aged people with physical disabilities have been forced to live in nursing homes for older people because of the lack of accessible social housing.

“This cannot be the future and there is a lot of work to do locally and nationally for our housing campaign. Think Ahead Think Housing is one of many steps that is needed.”

There has been some success to date for disability campaigners. In 2021 Irish Wheelchair Association was part of a successful campaign to have ‘wheelchair liveable accommodation’ included as an option on social housing application forms.

Before 2021 it has not been possible for a disabled person to include their disability requirements in their local authority application.

Now in 2022, all local authorities have new application forms with options to include and register accessibility needs.

“This was the first step of our housing campaign,” said Jean Coleman.

“Now people can register their needs in their housing applications and local authorities and disability organisations can track the specific needs of people on our social housing waiting lists. At Irish Wheelchair Association we have even more ambitious plans to change Ireland’s out-dated inaccessible building regulations.

“But we need disabled people who want to live independently to contact their local authority, get included and be seen. We can only achieve change together. People with physical disabilities must be included in Ireland’s social housing strategy like never before,” she added.

Yvonne Fahy believes a lot of bravery and hope is needed to get the home and the life you want.

“Look – once you get into your home you get to actually have fun. And it’s only then that you actually relax and just realise that you kinda wonder why you waited so long to do something like this. So yeah, definitely go for it,” she said.

‘Think Ahead, Think Housing’ campaign is working directly with local authorities, the Housing Agency, Irish Council for Social Housing, HSE, Citizen’s Information and Disability Federation of Ireland among others to ensure people with disabilities are included and represented in social housing planning and delivery.

For more info, click HERE

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