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Feb 07, 2024

Inclusive approach for people with disability

Housing News

“Everything that NI does is co-designed with people with disability, so we wanted to make sure our lab’s steering committee – whose role is to direct and shape the work of the lab – is a place where people with disability, characteristic of those living in Northcott’s disability housing, have a genuine seat at the table,” explains Sam Frain, Executive Director of NI.

This meant adopting an inclusive governance approach. Residents with complex needs and intellectual disability (who represent the majority of Northcott’s supported accommodation residents) were invited to join the committee, alongside staff from NI and Northcott’s Housing and Operations teams.

“The majority of the residents on our committee have a significant intellectual disability, some are non-verbal communicators, and some have complex support requirements. This differs from typical inclusive governance which tends to mean including people who have disability that doesn’t impact their understanding and participation,” Sam says.

“The style and format of our meetings, the minutes, the papers, the conversations, and the methodologies we use, are all matched to the support requirements of every individual on the committee. Additionally, our committee has a flat governance structure, so there’s no hierarchy. Members with disability have the same committee roles and responsibilities as other members, including those who hold senior positions at Northcott,” explains Sam.

Inclusive practices

Due to its unique membership, the steering committee operates very differently to other committees.

To make the meetings as accessible and inclusive as possible, significant preparation takes place. The meeting agenda and minutes are developed, then simplified to include visual aids such as photos and icons.

Each committee member with disability meets with Liz, Northcott’s Inclusive Practice Manager (also a committee member) prior to the meeting. Liz supports them to understand about the committee, the upcoming meeting’s agenda and what they might like to contribute. Liz also de-briefs with each resident after each meeting. To ensure their full participation, some committee members attend with support workers who understand their personal communication methods.

The meetings are as informal and visual as possible. The group avoids using disability or organisational jargon and they break into smaller groups for discussions or activities. All members are encouraged to contribute through verbal communication, Key Word Sign and at times even drawing. With one member unable to meet in person due to their geographic location, at least one other member also attends every meeting via Zoom so that nobody feels excluded.

Although there are challenges during every meeting, Sam believes NI and Northcott are gaining important insights about how to improve quality of life within disability housing. All committee members, including those without disability, are also gaining skills and getting new experiences.

“I’m proud the committee exists and that Northcott is committed to investing in it. You can genuinely see that all committee members love being a part of it.”

What the committee means to Marisa

Marisa lives in a Northcott home in Western Sydney. She has an intellectual disability and doesn’t use speech to communicate. She is supported to participate in the steering committee by Maree, her Northcott Nurse Unit Manager. Maree shares her observations here:

Marisa gets so excited to go to the meetings. Any talk about it, she beams with excitement – she loves it. But she is getting more than that. She’s being listened to; she’s being heard.


“After a meeting, Marisa carries a booklet with the agenda and minutes. The support staff have conversations with her about what happened. She points to pictures and she wants to interact more.

“I feel that Northcott isn’t just ticking boxes to say we’re inclusive. To me, [the steering committee] feels like we are really doing it, which is exciting.”

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