Where the challenge begins…
When looking for a new home, what are a lot people’s considerations? What do they want… what’s on their wish list? A kitchen breakfast bar or island, period features, a nice fireplace, or a south facing garden? No matter the budget when buying a home, everyone will have an idea of what they’d like. And they might consider some of these things non-negotiable.
So, finding a home with all the features you’d like, in a location you’d like (near to family and friends, and maybe close to good schools, your job, the local shops and the pub), for an affordable price is hard, right?
For people with disabilities, they might want all of those things, but at the top of the list is the need for their home to be accessible. And that’s not a ‘wish’ or an ‘ideal’- that’s a necessity. The loveliest home is no good if you can’t get through the front door! This is where things get more complicated and much more difficult.
Think of of all the things you’d want in your new home, now add these considerations:
- Step free, level access.
- One floor/ bungalow (unless there is the space and you have the money to have a lift put in- which is very unlikely!).
- Wide doorways to allow a wheelchair through.
- Wide corridors/ hallways to allow a wheelchair through.
- No tight corners or turns anywhere (you need a large turning circle for a wheelchair to manoeuvre throughout the whole home).
- A bathroom large enough to have as an accessible wet-room.
- Space to keep the wheelchair and other mobility aids such as walking frames and for some people, hoists etc.
- Walls strong enough to hold grab rails (i.e. not stud walls, particularly in the bathroom).
Suppose you managed to find an affordable home that met these requirements and needed no building/ structural work doing (which would be a big deal!), then take into consideration the cost of just these few changes, for example:
- Adding the wet room if not already there.
- Adding an adapted kitchen, with lowered worktops and leg room under the work surfaces to allow someone in a wheelchair to get close enough to use.
- Ensuring the garden is accessible/ paved/ step-free- groundworks.
The lack of safe homes for people with disabilities
A survey of English councils by Habinteg housing association, a specialist provider, found that outside London only 23% of homes due to be built by 2030 are planned to meet basic accessibility criteria – an entrance-level toilet, for instance, or bathroom walls strong enough to bear the fitting of grab rails if required – while just 1% will be wheelchair accessible. What. The. Hell? And these worrying stats will be an improvement on the current situation.
So with councils and developers seriously failing to provide much needed accessible homes, people with disabilities are forced to consider buying unsuitable homes and making the necessary changes. But this isn’t exactly affordable either, with works often costing tens of thousands of pounds. And where do you live whilst the building works are being done? How is this workable?
Look at any new housing development, and despite what we are told about new ‘affordable homes’ being built, they are full of houses that are unrealistically expensive for a huge amount of people, and don’t suit as many different needs as they could. There seem to be lots of new homes that suit the budget of those who are earning way above minimum wage, or the size requirements of a family and their 2.4 children. In so many areas, working-class people, people with disabilities, older people, and plenty of others are struggling to find suitable homes.
In a Housing Standards Review, it was found that compared to the costs of other homes, provision for wheelchairs comes at a heftier £17,000 for an adaptable property or almost £30,000 for full wheelchair accessibility, because of the additional space required.
So it’s clear that the government, local councils and housing market are failing to understand the need to provide affordable, accessible homes for disabled people, and how to do it. But it’s not just people with disabilities this affects; we’re an ageing population and that increases the demand for future-proof homes that allow independent living!
How does this affect us?
So for those who don’t know, my fiancé Dan has a rare, degenerative, neurological condition called Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA). Read about FA by clicking here: What is Friedreich’s Ataxia?. Dan had his diagnosis when he was 19, and since then the condition has been gradually worsening. He now uses a wheelchair and unfortunately, as his mobility decreases, Dan’s flat is starting to become more and more difficult to live in…
To give just one example: the small bathroom doesn’t allow his wheelchair in, and so he has to use his walking frame to get up to the door and then negotiate the bathroom relying on the grab rails and holding onto the sink. This is simply not safe and recently he has had a few scary falls in there resulting in plenty of cuts and bruises. We need to move into our new accessible and future-proof home as soon as we can.
There are very few pre-existing bungalows on the market that meet Dan’s needs, and the ones that are out there are way out of our budget. We think we have a few options, including buying an existing bungalow and modifying it (but this leaves the issue of where to live during that time), or buying a plot of land and doing a self-build with a small pre-fabricated bungalow. Either way, it’s not going to be easy, or cheap.
This is the problem that not just Dan and I face, but so many other disabled people too. We have considered going on Channel 4’s ‘Location, Location, Location’ to give Kirstie and Phil a real challenge, but the disappointment and frustration probably wouldn’t make very good TV!
*Becky takes a deep breath*. Neither of us like asking for anything, and we are not completely comfortable with this… but to help us get into our safe new home, we have set up a fundraising page (which hopefully you will understand our reasons for after reading this blog!). ANY contributions will make a difference and we will be so, so grateful for every single penny that people might be able to give. Thank you for reading.
Here is the link to our fundraising page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/dan-and-becky039s-accessible-home?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1
Here are a couple of news articles about the accessible homes problem: