Picture this: There are three steps inside the house.. The three steps are located just after the bathroom door, and the bathroom door is next to but at right angles to the kitchen door. In order to get from the bedroom, which is up the 3 steps, my husband has to balance a ramp precariously on a brick in order to get it to cover the 3 steps. He then has to push me, in a transit wheelchair, (the doorways are not wide enough to accommodate a self-propelled wheelchair) into the kitchen. He then leaves me in the kitchen whilst he removes the ramp which is now blocking the entrance to the bathroom. Once the ramp is lifted up, he wheels me into the bathroom.
I’ve moved house twice since I became a wheelchair user. the first time I moved was from a property with a couple of stairs inside. When we took the house I didn’t realise that I would shortly be in a wheelchair.
From there, we had to find an accessible property – and very quickly. What amazed me is that there was no easy way to find an appropriate property. We just had to go and check them out. Which meant that in one property, we had to turn away before we even got to the front door, because we couldn’t fit my wheelchair into the lift… A little bit of a dealbreaker!
Now we are in our second wheelchair accessible property. Generally it’s fine but 1 of the biggest problems I have encountered is that the front door to the building is automatic and the mechanism has a couple of times failed which means that the door cannot be opened. There is an alternative door but it is on the lower ground floor. The lift only goes to the ground floor, not to the lower ground floor. Which means I am essentially trapped if the front door goes out of commission. This happened one evening when I was due to go to a Bananarama concert.
My best friend had travelled down especially for the concert and was due to stay overnight with me. We had already bought our tickets and we were due to meet another friend near the venue. There was nothing for it except to try and get down the flight of stairs to the other exit. I suffer greatly from fatigue which manifests itself in a steady decline of my physical abilities throughout the day. I managed to get down the stairs at about 5 PM but I spent most of the concert worrying about how I would get back up the stairs when I returned home at about 11 PM. Not really what you want to be thinking about when you are supposed to be Na Na Hey Heying or listening to songs about how Robert De Niro Is Waiting. As it was, the only Love In The 1st Degree that I could think about was the love that I would feel for the 1st floor when I managed to get up the stairs to my flat.
Anyway, back to the search for an accessible property. One of the Supposed ways of registering for an accessible property is on the social housing waiting list. When I lived in Lambeth Borough in London, I got onto the social housing list after fulfilling the requisite 6 months of residency in the borough, I began to peruse the listings that came out weekly, looking for an adapted property. 2 things happened. One was that months elapsed and no accessible, adapted properties ever came onto the list. The 2nd was that I was unceremoniously dumped from the housing register. Without so much as that by your leave, I received a letter through the post informing me that the criteria for the list had changed. You were no longer eligible to be on the list until you have been resident in the borough for 2 years. No further guidance was given, that was that.
I am now on the social housing list for the Stratford-upon-Avon district. Based on medical need i.e. my current accommodation is not suitable for my medical needs and my welfare would be improved significantly if I were living in a suitable property. Additionally, this sort of property is not available on the open market. We have been given the status of Gold + which means that we are in the second-highest priority group. Their housing list is released every week. It covers quite a lot of different areas and they have been at pains to inform me that Stratford District council does not actually own any of the properties itself; the list is a combination of various providers of social housing. As such, there are 4 or 5 different sets of symbols that are used to describe the facilities offered in the properties. I have seen that there is one symbol that denotes that the property is adapted, another symbol that denotes that it is wheelchair accessible and another symbol that denotes that it is suitable for persons of restricted mobility. I called Stratford-upon-Avon district council and they told me that different groups use different symbols and properties in the Stratford-upon-Avon close geographic area, do not show wheelchair accessibility at all and I would have to contact the property landlord directly to ask about accessibility and adaptations!
So, we are not particularly confident of the chances of getting an appropriate property. My dad, who works as a volunteer driver in the area, thinks that the stock of adapted housing is very small. So we are also looking on the Private open market. This means that we have to look for things that we think might be suitable i.e. bungalows and then look at floor plans, room measurements and photographs to try and ascertain whether or not property is a potential. Then we are not even thinking about what is going to happen when we want to view a property. How do we get into it if it is not adapted for wheelchair entrance?
I know that there are properties out there that have been adapted. And the property in which I live currently has had a significant number of modifications in the bathroom and in the hallway. It seems a total waste that the adaptations to my property might go unused and unwanted by the next occupants whilst I am sure that some people might really appreciate the grab rails. In fact, it is a horrible thought that the changes which I value so dearly, might actually devalue the property, make it less desirable to some people.
But, sadly, it seems there is no easy way to advertise my property to people who might benefit from its adaptations, and there is no way for me to look at similar properties that would benefit me.