Relatives fight to keep centre for disabled open
February 28, 2011
Sandra and Noel Bates with their severely intellectually disabled son Craig, 45, at Colanda. Plans to close the institution are “idealogically driven”, says Mr Bates. Photo: Robin Sharrock
THE future of one of Victoria’s last big institutions for the disabled is on the line today as relatives of the residents of Colac’s Colanda centre meet parliamentary secretary for community services Andrea Coote to plea to keep it open.
Meanwhile, disability activists are calling on Minister for Community Affairs Mary Wooldridge to close Colanda, home to about 115 intellectually disabled adults, along with Bendigo’s smaller Sandhurst Centre, as the last dinosaurs of an age when the disabled were locked up and out of sight.
”The closure of institutions is ideologically driven,” says Noel Bates, 77, president of the Colanda Parents and Friends Association. ”We’re not pro institutions, we’re pro better services for the disabled, including upgrading the facilities here. Colanda is 35 hectares of beautifully laid out parkland, a beautiful environment. It has newer facilities [than Kew Cottages had], better staff and processes.”
Mr Bates’ son Craig, 45, suffers from Angelman’s Syndrome and has, his father says, ”the intellect of an 18-month-old”. He suffers from seizures, cannot speak, or care for himself. He is unsteady on his feet and does not know his own strength when he reaches out to hug his mother, Sandra.
Although their doctors told the Bateses in 1966 to send their baby away and forget about him, they kept Craig at home until he was eight. After two years at Kew Cottages, he was admitted to Colanda the year it opened, 1976, and has lived there since.
”It was much, much better compared with what was available at Kew,” says Mr Bates. ”It was an upmarket facility – it still is, for that matter.”
But despite Colanda’s bucolic gardens, solid brick units and honourable reputation, many in the disability sector say it should be shut as soon as possible, and the residents integrated into the community, like the residents of Kew Cottages.
A 2008 report on Colanda for the Department of Human Services noted the relatives’ satisfaction with the quality of care, but concluded that the routines of a large-scale institution restricted the residents’ ”individual choices … and their quality of life”.
”They should close it yesterday,” says Kevin Stone, executive office of the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability.
”As far as I am concerned, it belongs in a previous age. The tragedy is that these are the people time forgot.”
Community Affairs Minister Mary Wooldridge told The Age she wants to consider several options for Colanda and did not rule out the establishment of a cluster of smaller units on the grounds, similar to the ”campus” in Plenty that replaced the Janefield institution.
”Colanda and Sandhurst do need to close,” she said, ”but we have not put a time frame on that.”
Ms Wooldridge said that the 1239 Victorians wait-listed for supported accommodation ”who are now staying with families or in rooming houses” were a more urgent priority for rehousing ”than those at Colanda and Sandhurst, who have accommodation”.