A Participant’s Guide to SDA

Specialist Disability Accommodation is complex. Clickability’s Tristram uses his own experiences to explore how providers can make the process better for participants.

By Tristram Peters

Updated 15 Apr 20244 Nov 2020

For many NDIS participants like myself, Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) is an opportunity to move out of home and live as independently as possible. Cool, right? Definitely! But despite the game-changing impact it can have on participants’ lives, the mechanics of it often remain steeped in mystery – for providers and participants alike. 

I know this firsthand because I’ve just moved into my first SDA home. And beyond keeping my plants alive and discovering I’m a passable cook (I do a damn good Mediterranean chicken, thanks), I’ve been reflecting on my SDA journey and what it’s taught me about the process. Simply, I wish I knew someone who had done it prior, so I could have absorbed some of their wisdom. 

So, given my burgeoning experience, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned, for those participants and providers who are unsure how it works.In my role at Clickability, helping participants find and connect with services, I’ve also discovered providers who are experts in the field. Consider this article, then, a starter into the world of SDA. Let’s unravel some of the mystery.

How does SDA work?

People often refer to SDA as the ‘bricks and mortar’ of the NDIS. This is because it’s an NDIS-funded support for a participant’s home – not the supports withinthe home. For this reason, it’s often labelled housing, but let’s think of it as long-term, accessible accommodation.  

SDA includes all the modifications or general upkeep needed for someone to live as independently as possible within a home. For instance, a powerchair user (like me!) might need automated front door, height-adjustable benches, and more. The SDA will fund these. 

However, SDA won’t put money towards ownership or rent; that’s right, a participant pays this out of their own pocket. Look at it as the SDA paying for the disability-specific requirements in the home, while participants pay for all the everyday things, including electricity, hot water, and the interwebs. (For more on SDA home ownership, check out DSC’s upcoming webinar. Seriously, do it…) 

The truth is, not many people are eligible for SDA. The NDIS say it’s for those with ‘extreme functional impairment or very high support needs’. Simply, people are only eligible if they can’t receive enough help from their existing informal supports, or these informal supports can’t help them achieve their specific NDIS goals, and no other housing options are easily accessible.

And that’s it! For me, as an NDIS participant, SDA was an opportunity for me to achieve my very first NDIS goal: move out of home and live more independently, in a place made accessible to my specific needs. I am a powerchair user who needs support to do most of my personal care and more, but I couldn’t find an accessible home that would suit. SDA was the answer.

What’s involved in the application process?

Applying for a positive SDA outcome can be a slow process, with a lot of research involved to get it over the line. This is why participants will need to be heavily supported by providers. But broadly speaking, you’ll find the same steps for each application. Although cases can differ, the best way to explain it is to share the process I went through to get my SDA home. 

Through a mutual friend and work, I discovered Summer Housing, an SDA provider, was offering units near my work. I applied to Summer Housing and received a conditional offer to live in one of the units. Of course, this offer was dependent on my getting a positive SDA outcome. And yep, this is where all the fun began! (Only slight sarcasm intended.)

With my Support Coordinator and Occupational Therapist, I completed a Housing Application to prove that I was eligible for SDA. This Housing Application included evidence that no other house or unit was otherwise suitable for me, with my Support Coordinator spending hours trawling real estate sites with me. My OT, then, completed a functional assessment, demonstrating all the bits and pieces I could do independently in my home, and those things I couldn’t. It demonstrated my impairment and why that impairment made SDA my only suitable option at this time, for my goals.  

The Support Coordinator and OT, then, are the two big hitters when it comes to the Housing Application. As mine did, they spent enormous time researching what was available in market and painting a full and accurate picture of what my disability entails day to day. However, this was also complemented by my SDA provider, who was regularly keeping me updated on the application process and any changes to my (hopefully) soon-to-be property. 

Equipped with this arsenal, my Housing Application was submitted to SDA through my NDIS Planner. The waiting game ensued, as the SDA Panel met to decide whether I met the criteria. Unfortunately, I received the wrong outcome – instead of giving me my own unit, I was given a shared unit with two other participants. With the aid of my Support Coordinator and Planner, I reviewed the decision.

Like NDIS Plan Reviews, reviewing an SDA outcome can be a daunting process. To achieve the outcome I wanted, my Planner contacted the SDA Panel (they’re uncontactable by participants like me!), with my Support Coordinator sourcing additional information from my SDA provider. To be honest, I was never told why I got the wrong outcome, but after a frantic month, I received a positive one. That’s right, I had my very own place!

I walked through the property with my OT and Summer Housing’s Tenancy Support to check the place was accessible. We got a bathroom sink lowered, the shower altered, and soft-close taken off my draws (don’t laugh, my arms are too weak to open such magic draws!) and moved in not long after. And now, I’m typing from my home office!

What does my home look like?

My SDA home is fully accessible for my needs. It’s true and meaningful independence. I still have Support Workers for my Personal Care and Community Access, but I also have an amazing group of concierge support workers to call on in an emergency, using a fancy intercom system. No fret if I drop anything!

But the greatest thing is I’m in a standard residential complex. Of the 100 plus units, only 10 are for SDA. This isn’t a disability home. It’s a unit in a mainstream complex – just one that’s perfectly accessible. It’s a two-minute walk to the shops, three to the train station, and a quick train ride to my work office. 

So, how do you get your participants homes like mine? It’s a good question.

  • Actively work with the SDA provider. They are fully across the changing legislation and application process. They are the keepers of knowledge.
  • Do your research. It might seem strange, but talking to real estate agents and scoping what’s available is incredibly strong evidence. Tap into what’s out there in the housing market.
  •  Evidence the impairment. Obvious, maybe. But as it’s so difficult getting SDA, it’s really important to demonstrate how SDA modifications will increase a participant’s independence and help them achieve their NDIS goals. 

With a little help, you’ll be able to support participants in getting homes just like mine


Tristram Peters

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