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When ambulances turned out to attend to 36-year-old Aresti Vassiliou in his time of need, it took more than an hour for paramedics to get him out of the 1960s house he had grown up in. 

The narrow hallway would not fit a stretcher and his large stature made it difficult to manoeuvre him through the old home.

“Aresti got so upset, really distressed,” his sister, Catherine Vasilliou, said.

“It just got to the point where we thought … ‘We can’t do this anymore’, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we build an accessible home that’s safe?'”

This incident made it clear that for Aresti to stay out of an institution, the Vassiliou family needed a new house.

Catherine has a background in social work and understands government processes, so she got to work, using her knowledge to determine how they could build a fit-for-purpose forever home for her mother Virginia, father Andreas and, most importantly, Aresti.

But six weeks before the build was finished, their father died.

“He [Aresti] doesn’t understand that Dad has died. Imagine having to transition him into a home,” Catherine said.

Aresti and his mother Virginia Vassiliou.()

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) allows for people living with disabilities to access funding for supports and daily living.

In order to design the perfect house, Catherine worked with builder Metricon and service provider Overcoming Obstacles, which provided an occupational therapist to make sure the house could cater to Aresti’s specific accessibility needs.

Aresti was born without any health conditions but at the age of three was found to have a large tumour in his frontal lobe.

The surgery to remove the tumour resulted in brain damage, and a fall at a playground a few years later led to more brain damage and years of seizures.

A new horizon for Aresti and his mum Virginia in their new home.()

Catering for Aresti

To the naked eye, the new home looks like any other.

But the detail is in the design.

Widened doorways will allow emergency service workers to access the home and it is all wheelchair accessible.

Aresti’s bathroom is complete with added structural supports, additional plumbing outlets and space for him to be moved from the toilet to the shower.

The large bathroom includes internal supports for grab rails, a bench seat and other modifications.()

Part of Aresti’s complex health condition is that his body can’t self-regulate temperature.

The house has been fitted with climate control in each room to help.

Spare bedrooms with a separate bathroom were also built so that in future, overnight carers would have a place to stay. 

Each accessibility alteration to the build adds to the total price.

The family consulted the occupational therapist before making changes and will apply to the NDIS for reimbursement of the total cost of the accessible features.  

“That peace of mind that some of it could be covered through NDIS was great,” Catherine said.

The family is yet to make the claim, and expects it to be a long process.

They acknowledged there was a chance they may not be reimbursed and said there was an element of financial risk with the build.

Ageing at home

To have a purpose-built house for Aresti to live in would mean he could stay there his whole life, with the help of carers, even after his mother has died.

Adults living with disabilities are often put into assisted living spaces once their parents or carers can no longer look after them. 

“The only option, especially in regional Victoria, is to put your person with a disability into institutional care,” Catherine said.

“They end up living in aged care homes and it’s not ideal.”

Catherine wanted to see more companies get on board with accessible builds, and the process made easier through the NDIS, to give more people the option of staying at home as they aged.

Mathilde Gray enjoying her uncle Aresti Vassiliou’s new home with his mother Virginia Vassiliou.()

She said Aresti’s limited ability to understand the world and need for familiar environments would make living in a residential facility very difficult.

“Living in a residential home isn’t the best thing for Aresti, he doesn’t understand, he would feel lost and angry,” Catherine said.

“It takes a long time for Aresti to build trust and a feeling of safety because he needs a repetitive pattern for memories to sink in for him.

“If we were to ever transition him to a new home for people with disabilities, that’s not available here locally, we’d have to send him to Melbourne or somewhere else.”

New building code

Metricon, alongside other builders, will soon be building more accessible homes as standard, with the National Construction Code (NCC), which came into effect last week.

But builders will have until October 1 this year to transition.

New homes built must have mandatory minimum accessibility features like safe continuous, step-free paths from the street entrance or parking area to the front door, at least one step-free entry door, and internal doors and corridors with room for movement between rooms.

The standard will also mandate a toilet on the ground level, a bathroom with hobless shower recess and reinforced walls around toilets, showers and baths to support grab rails, so they can be safely installed if need be.

Stairways will also be better designed to help prevent injuries.

An extra-wide doorway leads to Aresti’s quiet room.()

Metricon regional manager for Gippsland Jason MacGregor said the changes would be included in the price of future builds.

“We feel very privileged to have made this design into a liveable home for Aresti,” Mr MacGregor said.

“The upcoming NCC changes and regulations from October 1 will mean all homes need to comply with the new accessibility guidelines, which will be included in the price of our homes.”

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