At the ages of 11 and 9 respectively, Jamie and Sam were diagnosed with Friedreich Ataxia; a rare neuro-muscular condition leading to loss of co-ordination, fatigue, impaired speech, hearing loss and heart problems. As with many degenerative conditions, the symptoms of Friedreich Ataxia take time to manifest and, in the early stages, did not prevent the girls finishing high school at St Stephen’s College on the Gold Coast, before going on to study journalism and business at university. As their symptoms progressed however, the issue of finding appropriate housing became increasingly urgent.
Of the many problems characterising Australia’s housing system, perhaps the most egregious is the lack of suitable options for young people with disabilities – something the Dwyer sisters can attest to firsthand.
Having these apartments has changed our lives so much. It’s meant proper independence. We each have our own apartments, so we are truly living on our own.
“Before we got these apartments, we spent two years living in a place that was more like an old people’s home,” Sam says. “It was really hard, and we were really unhappy. The longer we stayed the worse it got. Because we were the youngest people there by a long way, we felt like a lot of the other residents and staff resented us. It was horrible.”
It’s not difficult to imagine the debilitating effect of these living arrangements on the mental health of such fiercely independent young women. Above all else, it was the lack of choice and control that was the hardest to bear.
“In the past we had no control over who our carers would be from one day to the next,” Sam says.
“Sometimes in the past, depending on which staff were on duty, I wasn’t comfortable asking for certain things, like having my hair done, because I was worried they would get mad,” Jamie says. “I would end up just asking for simple things to avoid trouble.”
After two years in this environment, the sisters obtained specialist disability accommodation through Summer Housing who Home in Place is supporting to deliver SDA outcomes, both now say they couldn’t be happier.
“Having these apartments has changed our lives so much,” Sam says. “It’s meant proper independence. We each have our own apartments, so we are truly living on our own.”
“We’ve been able to hand pick our carers and we love them all.”
Living in the heart of Brisbane’s entertainment precinct has also opened up a world of possibilities and the sisters are making the most of the area’s plentiful cafes and restaurants.
“I celebrated my 30th birthday last month,” Jamie says. “For the first time in ages we were able to go out somewhere close to home which was really good. It was nice to not have to take a 30 minute taxi ride to the city.”
Jamie and Sam are living proof of the transformational power of appropriate housing and that is no one size fits all approach.