By Jeremy Einbinder
Group homes are a prevalent housing option for people with disabilities, but they often fall short in meeting the needs and desires of those they are meant to serve. Group homes can provide a roof over one’s head, but they frequently lack privacy, are isolated, and disconnected from the larger community.
This institutionalization of disabled people perpetuates the systemic barriers they already face, hindering their full participation in society and denying them the right to live in a home that truly feels like their own. The current housing model, with its focus on profit over people, has resulted in this unacceptable situation for disabled people and it’s time for a change. Group homes are often seen as the only housing option for disabled individuals, but they have a variety of problems.
In 2019, the National Council on Disabilities (NCD) conducted a comprehensive study on the state of group homes for individuals with disabilities. The NCD found that group homes, which have traditionally been the most common form of institutional living for people with disabilities, are often not designed to meet the needs of the individuals who live in them.
According to the NCD report, many group homes lack basic amenities such as accessible bathrooms and kitchens, and the physical spaces in these homes are often cramped and poorly equipped. Additionally, the NCD found that many group homes are not staffed with adequately trained professionals, which can lead to neglect and abuse of the residents.
Furthermore, the NCD found that group homes often isolate individuals with disabilities from the wider community, depriving them of opportunities to participate in community life and form meaningful relationships with others. This can have a negative impact on the mental and emotional well-being of individuals with disabilities.
The NCD also noted that despite these shortcomings, the use of group homes continues to grow, as they are seen as a cost-effective solution for states and communities facing budget constraints.
The report emphasizes the importance of ensuring that individuals with disabilities can live in the community, participate in community life, and have their housing needs met in a way that is tailored to their individual needs and abilities.
There are several alternatives to group homes for disabled people seeking accessible housing. One option is co-housing, where disabled individuals live in a community with other disabled people, sharing common spaces and services, such as meals and transportation.
Another option is supported living, where disabled individuals can live in their own homes with assistance provided by trained staff.
A similar option is integrated housing, where disabled individuals live alongside non-disabled individuals in the same complex or community, promoting inclusiveness and integration.
Perhaps most prohibitively, there is the option of accessible apartments or homes that have been specifically designed or adapted for people with disabilities. These homes often include features such as wider doorways, lower countertops, and grab bars in the bathroom to make daily life easier for disabled individuals. These alternative housing options allow disabled people to live more independently, with greater control over their lives and increased privacy.
While co-housing, supported living, integrated housing, and accessible apartment buildings all offer varying degrees of independence and support for disabled individuals, a universal approach could potentially combine the best aspects of each to create a truly inclusive and integrationist housing option. This could involve disabled individuals having access to their own homes or apartments within an inclusive community, with the option for shared spaces and support services provided by trained staff available to all residents. By offering a variety of options and individualized support, this solution would prioritize dignity, autonomy, and integration for disabled individuals in their housing choices.
Bizarrely, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to private residences, leaving disabled individuals and their family often scrambling to find very niche solutions. Accessible housing is then essentially an exceptional undertaking, rather than a standard practice. Compliance with accessibility standards should instead be a baseline in all housing construction, and any specialized needs could then be swiftly and efficiently integrated into any project. Housing codes, such as they are, exist as a normal aspect of construction. Accessibility standards should be treated the same way.
Pertaining to socioeconomic issues, the fact remains that housing is an already expensive and complicated proposition, and people with disabilities are disproportionately poor. To ask each individual person or family who needs accessible and inclusive housing to find it on their own can be a logistical and financial nightmare.
This brings us to a glaring problem that demands a straightforward solution: Currently, a home is a commodity to be bought and sold. For people with disabilities to be fully integrated in society and seen as equal to their non-disabled counterparts, that must change.
The idea of charging for housing and the services required for a dignified home life reinforces the notion that disabled people are a burden on society and not deserving of equal opportunities. It perpetuates the idea that disabled individuals cannot be fully integrated members of society unless they are isolated and warehoused in environments like group homes.
The complete decommodification of housing would mean that all people, regardless of ability, would have access to a safe, accessible, and affordable home without having to pay for it. This approach would challenge the ableist ideas that disabled people are a burden on society and instead prioritize the belief that all people deserve the right to a dignified home life. By doing so, it would make the case for a more inclusive and equal society, where all people can live with autonomy and independence, free from the constraints of poverty and the commodification of basic needs.
It is imperative that we create a world where everyone, regardless of disability status, has access to the resources and support necessary to live their lives as they see fit. This can only be achieved through a complete decommodification of housing and the rejection of the ableist ideas that have perpetuated the current systems.
National Council on Disabilities. (2019). Group Homes for People with Disabilities: Issues and Concerns. Retrieved from https://www.ncd.gov/publications/2019/group-homes-people-disabilities-issues-and-concerns
Alternatives to Group Homes for People with Disabilities.” National Council on Disabilities, ncd.gov/publications/2019/alternatives-group-homes-people-disabilities.