For 20 years, Grace Dlabik has been seeking an accessible rental property suitable to live with her son Elijah, who has cerebral palsy. Elijah is quadriplegic, and uses an electric wheelchair that’s too wide and heavy to move through most Australian homes.
‘Wheelchair accessible rental homes are very hard to come by, and we’ve lived in compromised conditions for Elijah’s entire life that have not at all been adequate for his needs,’ says Grace, who is a creative director, artist, and director of creative agency BE. ONE, and furniture business Slow Haus.
‘Basic things like showering/bathing and access throughout the house have not been accessible, so we have lived in unsafe and stressful conditions… Home should be that place where you can rest and recoup, all in a safe space.’
The search for a suitable home has been nonstop, which is how Grace discovered this large 1970s property just after Christmas 2022, on her daily online search of rental listings. ‘We came across the listing on December 27. Only desperate people like us who never stop looking for an accessible home are looking on December 27!’
While not technically designed to be accessible, this Donvale house (in Melbourne’s east) has the features to support Elijah’s everyday life: wide halls and doorways; open-plan living zones; hardy brick flooring; a double shower; and gentle lighting. ‘When I found this one, I knew instantly that while it’s not a fully accessible home, it’s the closest we will get on the rental market,’ says Grace.
Not only that, it’s an incredibly beautiful brick home designed by Australian modernist architect Charles Duncan, who was inspired by the principles of Frank Lloyd Wright. This particular house was designed in collaboration with the original artist owner, as a place for showcasing and creating art, complete with an in-home studio/gallery and workshop.
Grace has returned the house to its origins, nicknaming the property Art Haus, and filling it with contemporary art, and hosting events on site including her upcoming sculpture exhibition. ‘Our home is buzzing with creativity basically all day, everyday,’ she says. The spacious gardens and pool are just the icing on the cake.
This is a good news story, but it’s also a reminder of the dire lack of accessible and affordable housing for people living with a disability in Australia. Grace says, ‘There desperately needs to be universal accessibility standards in homes and there should be initiatives by our government to support those standards so that families are not forced to relinquish care for their family member who requires an accessible home just because there aren’t any other options.
‘Breaking up families is a band-aid solution and does not centre on a holistic approach where love and care is at the core of a family unit.’
At last, every day feels like a holiday for Grace, her partner Morganne Blackburn, and Elijah, who are generally unable to travel due to a lack of accessible accommodation.
Grace says, ‘The feeling you get from our home is like you’re on a retreat … A beautiful sanctuary you can enjoy with every room inviting you in to enjoy its offerings of art, nature, and its expansiveness.’