Accessible Housing Or Is It?

We’re moving into sheltered accommodation in the next month and I have been giddy with excitement about finally living in a wheelchair adapted house. Some work had to be carried out at the property, bizarrely the sink in the bathroom had been removed to all involved’s puzzlement and the kitchen required a refit. I was not allowed to enter the property until yesterday as ongoing building work was a health and safety risk. A few things came as a rather big surprise to me:

One: I was expected to pay for adaptions. After a few weeks of back and forth about various bills, I am left with a few thousand pound bill for the bathroom alterations, including fitting a new sink, changing the standard bathtub to a wet room shower and as discovered yesterday, removal of the extra wide door off the bedroom to be replaced with a standard sized door off the hallway that when open, blocks the bedroom door.

Two: although there is a ramp leading up to the front and back door, there is a 3-4 inch drop at both doors, making it impossible to enter or leave the house without assistance. So in my new accessible house, I’d be stuck indoors or outdoors unless someone can lend a hand. I was informed by the lady showing us around that I really ought to ring up the office and have this sorted out, but also that I may be expected to pay for these alterations as building work has finished and any additional work now wouldn’t fall under the original agreement. Sigh.

Three: taps in the bathroom were disabled friendly, the taps in the kitchen are not. But then neither is the sink at standard height. I must confess that I don’t do much cooking, meals are taken care of between Chris and the currently non-existing carer as cooking isn’t something I can physically really do, but as access would have only required a couple of inches drop of the counter top and sink and different taps, I am a little disappointed that this was not done. Chris did specify that most counters can be standard height as least as one is wheelchair accessible, but I really would have thought access to the sink would have been a given. Apparently not.

Four: the doors are all standard width, which fill fit a small wheelchair like mine just about, but there is no space for wheeling through and around certain corners, no space for an assistant to stand and push. The tops of my hands were scraped raw after just a few door frames and I was on the verge of tears. I was again informed at this point that wider doors really should have been present and I should give the office a ring. However, if I wanted the work done before moving in, I would have to pay for it out of pocket, seven doors in total with electric switches and heater switches fitted right next to the frames which would require relocation as well. Alternatively, I could apply for a grant, but it can take “months to years” to come through.

Five: on the list, plugs were raised by light switches weren’t lowered. This means that when in a wheelchair I have to raise my arm quite high to hit a switch, which may have been accessible were it lower. I can’t hit switches very well and usually control lights with an environmental control unit, but if the switch was lower so that I could hit it with my arm, it would have made life a lot easier. But never mind, I can work around it.

Six: There are very few ramps in the area surrounding the property and only two disabled parking spots in a street of filled with sheltered housing. We parked on-street, got out and realized that the pavement we were on had no ramp and the single ramp on the pavement near our house were in a very inconvenient location around a back corner. It was closer to the back door than the front and I suspect we may be using the back door more than the front ourselves.

Last on the list, flooring will not be fitted other than in the bathroom as I’m paying for that. I have to purchase and fit my own floors. Lovely.

I’m sure once we move in, there will be a dozen little things that make life less comfortable than it could have been had someone actually thought about disabled accessibility. The house is clearly designed and fitted for an elderly couple and once again, “wheelchair accessible” doesn’t actually mean accessible it means sort of accessible in a small number of ways. I’m still excited about moving, our current privately rented accommodation is expensive and incredibly inaccessible and even with all its flaws, it will still mean that I could do a few more things I cannot do now. And rather than dwelling on the disappointments, I’d rather think along the lines of every improvement is one more step in the right direction.

Money will be even tighter over the next few months and I didn’t quite realize that council housing isn’t actually rented accommodation, even though I still pay rent, its more like owning a house without actually owning it. It’s an adjustment that hit me with a mountain of unforeseen expenses and being unemployed in receipt only of DLA and surviving on a single income whilst budgeting and paying for an unexpected baby on the way, it’s not that easy to remain optimistic. Then again, we received the first council house we applied for, thanks to my DLA payments, we have a car that will take a wheelchair and baby seat that we couldn’t otherwise afford, despite almost weekly hospital appointments and being on various vital medications, we’re not saddled with huge medical bills.

I have a wheelchair, a possum primo to turn on lights and appliances, splints, crutches, adapted cutlery, a hopefully again soon carer for 18-20 hours a week and a few hundred pound a month of DLA money to cover unforeseen disability related expenses. And we do have a steady monthly income, no thanks to me, but still. There are many things that could be better with just a little forethought and planning. I’m reminded of Chris trying to bus it to work for a few weeks and the ludicrous position he found himself in the same failed logic again applies. Yes, some changes would require money, but some, like lowering light switches and leveling the floor with doors when you’re putting down a new concrete floor in any case, would not. It frustrated me that sensible solutions are so easily overlooked and a house that could have been dreamy for someone in a wheelchair is instead at best, mediocre when it comes to access.


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