Already successfully supporting thousands, the NDIS Specialised Disability Accommodation program is poised to get a massive upgrade with Ariel Care’s tech innovations.

One of Ariel Care’s first Pilot Program participants, Richard,* wasn’t born with a disability. Like many people living with disability that require a high level of care, there is a before and an after, both of which include a wife and a daughter. He can no longer communicate with them, but his wife worries much less about him now that he is living in a Specialised Disability Accommodation (SDA) home.

After his injury, she fought hard to get him out of the nursing home and into a normal home. But in that house, the tiny bedroom barely fit his bed. To get in and out of the room, his carers would have to push his bed against a wall where there was a window. One of the carers forgot to move the bed out of the sunlight, resulting in a terrible burn down one side of his body. Unable to move or communicate, he had to wait there, trapped.

Waiting for an upgrade

Richard now lives independently in an SDA home, typically with one or two other tenants. His large bedroom has plenty of room for his bed and supports. It also has automated roller blinds that can be controlled via a tablet in his room. With Ariel Care’s iSaint Assistive Technology 2.0, he will be able to use an innovative eye-gaze tracker and built-in communicator to control the blinds, lights, aircon, and, most importantly, express himself.

“We see the frustration in the tenants,” says Emma Hocking, General Manager of SDA Smart Homes Australia, an Ariel Care partner. “You can see it in their body language.” She talks about how Richard nonverbally communicates his dissatisfaction by bending his neck to the side and looking away.

“When they’re communicating and less frustrated and feel like they are being heard, that’s going to be the biggest game changer for us,” says Ms. Hocking about the impact Ariel Care will have. The health alerts are vital, she says, but she is most looking forward to the communication tools that will help tenants reintegrate back into their families, communities and society in general.

Overcoming the challenges

When David Beard announced that he was taking Property Direct in a new direction , he asked his team who was coming with him. Like the famous scene from the movie Jerry Maguire, Ms Hocking, then Operations Manager, joined him to build a new business. She has experienced first hand the wretched and inappropriate living situations of many Australians living with disability. 

Ms Hocking speaks about the multitude of challenges confronting the thousands of NDIS participants that qualify for the SDA program but are still waiting. Back in 2016, the support program was forecasted to cover 30,000 NDIS participants by 2025. It’s nearly 2023 and over 10,000 are still waiting to be placed in SDA housing.

Another major challenge to providing SDA housing is the unavailability of land for development — just one part of the housing shortage crisis Australia faces. “We have a line of villas that we were really hoping to start building, but we’ve spent a year trying to find a suitable block of land,” Ms Hocking says.

Land acquisition has also been thwarted by developers not allowing enough time to ensure NDIS compliance or disqualifying the homes based on occupancy rates or build footprint. The competitive market means that estate governance teams have their pick of investors. SDA homes seem to get overlooked despite the case Ms Hocking makes that an SDA home “will probably be the most expensive house in their estate” with high-yield rental income opportunities.

Hope on the horizon

As land begins to open back up and state governments invest billions in social housing, SDA Smart Homes is well positioned to meet the demand. In partnership with V-TOL Aerospace, the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology, their joint venture, Ariel Care, is incubating health care technology that can radically enhance lives.

Finally, Australians living with disability will be able to access beautiful, purpose-built homes with assistive tech that provides dignity, independence, empowerment, and hope. With a fully funded pilot underway, Ariel Care is currently accepting expressions of interest from SDA participants. 

Learn more about Ariel Care’s Pilot Program:

*Name changed for privacy reasons.