A new apartment complex in Paris for people who are deafblind is much more than bricks and mortar.
The exciting, cutting edge-project is building community and kinship in addition to providing safe and affordable housing for adults from across Ontario who face the unique challenge of being deafblind.
Parents tell us the new homes are a godsend for their adult children.
New friendships have been forged, closer connections created with the Canadian Deafblind Association Ontario Chapter Resource Centre next door and relationships continue to grow with neighbours and the local community.
Parents Joel and Angela Fice say they’re impressed by strides made by their 19-year-old son Nicholas since he moved to the apartments one year ago. Nicholas, whose deafblindness stems from CHARGE syndrome, previously lived in a group home for people with developmental disabilities.
“Nicholas is more independent and is learning to be his own man,” Angela said.
The apart complex has four three-bedroom units, two two-bedroom units and two singles units, as well as a place for stay for parents visiting from out of town.
Nicholas lives in one of the three-bedroom units with older roommates Jason and Sean, who have become like big brothers to him.
“These three men function independently and collectively in an amazing atmosphere,” Angela said. “The intervention staff under the direction of Cullen Drew is amazing, caring, interactive, sympathetic while always conducting themselves in a professional manner.”
Angela, who has multiple sclerosis, said having a “safe, secure” living environment for Nicholas is something she appreciates as a person who is also living with a disability.
“As parents it has changed our lives … much less stress and we are so happy with CDBA Ontario and their help in giving us our lives back and our peace of mind,” she said
“Every visit I watch how he has grown and become this amazing interactive young man -- I think I cry at least once in happiness,” Angela said.
The social aspect of the apartments has made a big change in his son Steven’s life, dad Scott Richards said. For example, Steven is often invited for potluck dinners at Nicholas’s apartment.
“I can honestly say that Nicholas is Steven’s first friend, and I am very happy that they are so compatible, Scott said.
“This friendship has been fostered by the intervenors in both apartments, and I am so grateful that they have enabled Steven to have a friend. He has had many, many people in his life -- kind providers and intervenors, students hired during his earlier years, medical staff, family members, but Nicholas is the first friend,” Scott added.
Steven previously lived at Lions McInnes House in Brantford. Scott said his son was very happy there, the staff and care were exceptional. It was a difficult decision to make but the move to CDBA benefited Steven on several levels. Going from a three-client apartment to a two-client apartment was a major factor, so was having the Resource Centre next door.
Steven volunteers in the RC Store in the Resource Centre, where he learns job skills like customer service, working a cash register and merchandising. The store sells art, jewelry, bath products and other merchandise made by consumers, who receive 100 per cent of the proceeds.
“I am so proud that Steven has been included as a store volunteer. It's a very emotional thing for me to know that Steven is valued, needed and welcomed as a part of the RC Store,” Scott said.
“A recent Facebook post showing Steven using a paper slitter was just fantastic -- made more so by the jubilant face of his intervenor as Steven operated the slitter independently,” Scott said.
Parents appreciate having the Resource Centre next door, which gives the apartment residents easy access to amenities like its Snoezelen room, music room and a wide variety of activities organized by special project intervenor Kristi Clark.
“Moving to the apartment has given Meaghan a new level of independence that all young adults want,” said her dad Bob Severs.
Meaghan is a person who often needs a quiet environment to help her to settle so living in a single apartment allows her intervenors to have her integrated with other consumers when she can be integrated successfully and to withdraw to her quiet space when needed, Bob said.
“The Resource Centre staff is really pleasant and they relate in a friendly and welcoming way with the clients. Meg enjoys those increased social contacts and activities,” Bob said.
CDBA Ontario spearheaded the $2.9-million project, which was completed in early 2016 with the first residents moving in last February.
The purpose-built apartments have special features to help people who are deafblind, such as high contrast surfaces and variable lighting options.
A study found that adults who are deafblind were paying rents that were becoming increasingly unaffordable. There were also concerns about the safety of their living environments, everything from inadequate lighting to too many stairs.
The safe, affordable housing provides parents with peace of mind that their adult children will be looked after into the future.
“We knew we were on the right track when it came to meeting the residential needs of our deafblind consumers, but the spirit of community that’s evolved has been a pleasant surprise,” said Cathy Proll, CDBA Ontario executive director.
“It’s really starting to feel like family around here,” she added.
Brian Shypula is the communications coordinator for CDBA Ontario. Prior to joining the organization in May 2016 he spent more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter and editor at the Stratford Beacon Herald and Brant News.