Popular actor Prithiveevraj, fondly called Babloo, is a relieved person. He has found an inclusive housing community, where his 25-year-old son with autism can lead a good life, well looked-after by caregivers even after his and his wife's lifetime.
He plans to move into a new housing complex Akshaya Today at Chennai's Kelambakkam when it is ready next year, which is being seen as a first of its kind inclusive housing, jointly given shape by parents of special children, specialists working with those with special needs and a well-known property developer.
100 families like him with special children or adults will buy flats and join a large inclusive community of 2,000 apartments in the sprawling 25-acre gated community. The community has furnished group homes or flats with all modern amenities, where adults with special needs would start living independently, sharing space with two or three other such individuals. Each flat would have a trained designated caregiver to take care of them.
"I feel safe that after me my son will continue to be looked after well. Often, we fear what would happen to my child after me. Often there would be a rundown place and place in bad condition. Here, there is no discrimination. There is maximum inclusion and acceptance," Babloo said.
The project would also have a vocational centre, therapy centre, a kitchen and a restaurant, and employment opportunities, fulfilling nearly all requirements of those with special needs. Each of these flats spread over in all blocks would be customised for the differently-abled. Bathrooms would be wide for wheel chairs and floors would have anti-skid tiles.
"Even a visually challenged person can walk to the lift block; with Alexa, commands for lifts can also be given orally. We did not want any exclusive areas so that there would be a real healthy inclusiveness and opportunity for all to speak, help and bond with each other everywhere from homes to parks and the pool to clubhouse or theatre," says T Chitty Babu, Chairman, Akshaya Pvt Ltd.
An initiative of Special Child Assistance Network [SCAN], the community is upbeat about the opportunity for those with special needs to live life to the fullest without shame or fear. The property would cost between Rs 45 and 55 lakhs; separate fees would be charged for the group housing, food, therapy and caregiver on a need or consumption basis. On supporting those with special needs after the lifetime of parents, Gopinath Ramakrishnan, the Trustee said, "We are encouraging parents to set up a trust in the name of the child with appropriate assets which will ensure that finances are available to take care of the child's living expenses through their lifetime. They can work out a similar mechanism like renting out their apartment".
SCAN has roped in Vidya Sagar, a service organisation, that has enormous experience working with people with the differently abled to give life and shape to the system so it would become a model for replication.
"What we are really trying to do is set up support systems in the community for people with disabilities so the parent feels yes my child will be able to take care of himself or herself because so many support systems are there. Our role is training caregivers and group home managers. This will give us a good experience of how to help set up this kind of shared living across all economic groups, say in housing boards or a rural area etc," said Poonam Natarajan, Founder, Vidya Sagar.
15% of the population has some form of disability and an estimated fifty percent of these individuals would have support needs. 4% of government housing projects ought to be earmarked for the differently abled. With around five crore population coming under this category among the 120 crore Indian population, many feel the government ought to address housing issues of this community.
On affordable projects for poor and middle classes, Chitty Babu said: "With this learning, we want to take up 10 lakh to 20 lakh projects also...We do expect many challenges, but we will address them".
Actor and Director Suhasini Mani Ratnam, who participated in the launch said: "It's a great inclusion, I am so happy. They are living with nearly 2,000 normal families. It is like assisted living for those with special needs. It's a win-win situation and a humane real estate project".