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The Home Usability Network consists of the consumer, CIL staff, community organizations and local professionals who can help develop and implement home usability plan solutions. The network is a diverse group of individuals and organizations each with specific expertise.
For any given usability plan there will be a set of “active network members.” These are those members who are actively involved in addressing the consumer’s home usability needs. The consumer will identify which network members to activate for his or her usability issue with the help of the CIL facilitator as needed.
As mentioned previously, home usability networks can be diverse. There are no limits to who can be involved, but we suggest trying to develop a network of at least six individuals and/or organizations for this project. The home usability network can grow over time as you work with consumers and make more connections.
A Diversity of Knowledge
You want a diverse group of individuals as part of your network because it is important that your group have a diverse knowledge base for addressing a variety of needs. Below, we outline some of the key topics on which you and your network members should have some expertise. Keep in mind that sometimes a single individual may have expertise in multiple areas. This list is not comprehensive and certain topics may be more relevant to your local community than others, so think of this as a starting place, the seeds from which to grow your network.
Funding expertise: Identifying funding sources for various home usability problems may be one of your biggest challenges. This is why having someone with expertise on various potential funding streams is so valuable. This could be a person who has fundraising experience and is knowledgeable of diverse funding sources across your community. In addition, someone with knowledge of social services programs (like the Medicaid Waiver or state home modification programs) can be helpful as there is a chance that public funding could be available for eligible consumers.
Independent living (IL) skills training: Home usability is an independent living problem, so having someone with experience and expertise in independent living philosophy and in developing independent living skills will be important to the success of your network.
Trade and labor expertise (i.e. plumber, carpenter, electrician, architect, union representative): If the consumer’s home usability problem is going to require any type of home modification, it will be critical that you have a skilled trade’s person in your network. These folks will have knowledge of building codes and safety issues, can help develop cost estimates, and may help brainstorm creative solutions to modification concerns.
Fair housing expertise: It may be that some home usability problems are also fair housing concerns. In these instances, it will be helpful to have someone who understands fair housing rules and regulations in your network. They can advise on whether something is a fair housing issue, and what the appropriate next steps may be. Check to see if your community has a local nonprofit fair housing organization (see “Hints” below) as they could be a valuable member of your network.
Assistive technology (AT) expertise: Home usability issues are not limited to the need for home modifications. AT can go a long way in addressing home usability concerns. You could save time and money by determining whether a piece of equipment can address the problem rather than an extensive home modification. This is why having someone with knowledge and expertise on AT programs in your area would be an important network asset.
Consumer-identified individuals: Perhaps the most important players in the Home Usability Network will be those individuals that the consumer identifies. Family, friends and contacts that the consumer already has should be identified and incorporated into the process.
Example: A consumer’s brother-in-law has carpentry experience, so he is brought into the network to help build a cupboard modification. After consulting with the HUN’s contractor to draft plans, he volunteers to do the work if the consumer can supply the materials. The next step would be securing funding for materials with the consumer and other HUN members.
The nature of a network is that it continues to grow through the connections that you make. It is dynamic and flexible and new members can always be brought on to the team. Below are some suggestions of community members who could be be valuable assets to your network.
Peers and other consumers: Having someone who can provide support to a consumer as a home usability plan is implemented may be useful. A peer is someone the consumer can identify with who has gone through similar challenges and who has received training on how to provide peer support. The peer may have the same or similar impairments and may have implemented her own usability plan. As your HUN matures, you may consider inviting prior HUN consumers to get peer support training and then join your HUN (see resources for ideas on peer support training programs).
Landlord/property manager: Regardless of whether this individual owns or manages the consumer’s property, he could be an influential network member. Landlords and property managers can offer a different perspective and help identify solutions that are acceptable to other landlords. They can also provide leverage (through personal contacts or an association) when the HUN encounters resistance from property owners.
Policy maker: This person could be influential in motivating change because she is likely to have personal, political and business contacts that can help leverage your consumer’s cause. Do your research though; political connections and affiliations could also be a hindrance in your community.
Example: A consumer needed a ramp built at his apartment complex. The consumer worked with the local CIL and found resources to cover the costs; however, the complex owner “didn’t want an ugly ramp.” The consumer and CIL brought in the local fair housing organization, which wrote letters explaining that this accommodation was the law, but without effect. Then they recruited a retired attorney who was also a past county commissioner to their effort. She visited with the owner, who subsequently changed their mind and allowed the ramp.
Occupational therapist: Occupational therapists (OTs) spend a lot of time working with people within their homes. Their insight could be valuable for addressing home usability problems and for providing training that helps consumers implement usability solutions. However, OTs are often trained through a medical model and may not “get” independent living philosophy. If you or your center have partnered with an OT in the past, recruiting this professional as a HUN member may be an excellent opportunity to involve OTs in IL and to keep that relationship alive.
Housekeeping services: Difficulty keeping your home clean and organized is a potential usability problem. If there are organizations in your community that could help provide housekeeping services it would be good to bring them on board. Does your community have senior companions? Check with your local agency on aging to find out!
Other CIL staff: Other center staff will have a diverse set of skills and a wide range of expertise. Think about the various roles different staff members at your center play. Is someone on staff an expert in Social Security or Medicaid benefits? Is someone else an excellent networker who knows everyone in the community? These are potential network members who could provide invaluable information and advice when needed.
More: Who else could be a key player in the network? Are we missing someone? Let us know in the comments below!
Creating the Network: Who Do You Already Know?
One way to start thinking about and developing your network is to think about who you already know. What connections does your center already have? Do you have a resource or referral list that you work with when handling housing calls? Who is on that list and is there anyone who you think would be willing to participate in this network?
Create a list of individuals or organizations that you already know. How many individuals do you have? Are there individuals and organizations that you should reconnect with? Is someone or some organization missing from the list? Who do you need to reach out to? Create a list of those organizations and individuals that are missing and that you think would make good network members. Also include on this list folks from previous projects whom you feel you should reconnect with.
Once you have this list, you can begin your Housing Usability Network outreach. Check out the next section on Outreach to Network Members for more information on reaching out to these individuals and organizations in your community.
While the members of the network won’t be involved in every issue that comes up, it is important they understand the basic principle and integrity of the process — consumer control. And while they might not be active in a project for some time, there needs to be periodic contact to keep them involved. More on this in the section on Maintaining the Network
HINT 1: Identifying potential network members who like to “tinker” is a great way to take care of many problems. These are people with practical maintenance and construction skills who are always working on “projects” and like to figure things out, usually inexpensively. These individuals could become invaluable members of your network!
HINT 2: Your community may have two fair housing offices, one run and managed by the state and another that is a not-for-profit organization. We recommend working with the nonprofit as you are less likely to get bogged down in bureaucracy and these nonprofit organizations tend to have more advocacy experience. Also, every state has a protection and advocacy agency (often known as a “Disability Rights Center”) that can provide information and assistance.
HINT 3: When working with tradespeople it is good to have confidence in the services they provide. Having someone on the HUN who is well connected to the construction industry is a good way to identify reputable contractors. We recommend working with individuals who are members of their national or local trade associations. Once a contractor is identified, the consumer or the assigned person on the HUN should check references for anyone who will be working in the consumer’s home.