Re: Experiences with/as disabled people in cohousing
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 5 Mar 2018 09:17:38 -0800 (PST)
We have residents with a severe disability in our community and it is amazing 
how easily they are integrated into the community, and especially into work. 
Those fears have been unwarranted. One caveat may be that our people are very 
independent and resourceful in finding and using larger community support, and 
were before moving-in.

My concern about communities marketing themselves as supportive, open to all 
levels of ability, etc. is that it can (1) attract people with unrealistic 
expectations and (2) attract too many people with a disability that requires 
particular community support. The community can be quickly overwhelmed with 
households needing help—not just those with ongoing special needs. Last week’s 
list of people needing help with meals had 3 households on it. One needing 
daily help due to illness and two needing help with 2 new babies. And at least 
one other was not on the list when others in their position would have asked 
for help.

4 of 43 units is close to 10%. 

Needs are most often not be due to disability at all.

As with all other things, it depends on the individual personality more than on 
physical ability. Rotating jobs is unlikely to work in any diverse community — 
people who do computer work may not enjoy gardening at all. And the reverse. 
Those are as important as identified disabilities. We had one person who left 
the facilities team because had a particular disability to understand how 
mechanical things work. Adjusting the door closers was impossible for her. But 
there are so many jobs needing to be done, there is something for everyone. 

Be realistic in marketing the community. What is the best language to convey 
what you can and cannot do? Bring this down to the personal level. One guide 
for what facilities you need is to build to the activities members are engaged 
in before move-in. The people who want a darkroom because they have always 
wanted one are not anymore likely to use it after move-in. But another 
community with a number of already active meditators and yoga devotees, built a 
room for mediation and yoga that it is used regularly.

In planning for what you will expect community members to do for each other, 
look at what you and they do before move-in. While we had several switches from 
people who were very involved pre-move-in and very little after move-in and the 
reverse, basically people didn’t become new people. The introverts did not 
become extroverts. People didn’t all of the sudden start cooking for crowds 
just because they always wanted to but only now had the chance. People who had 
been living independently and utilizing larger community resources will most 
likely continue to do so.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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