When I moved to Cheltenham over twenty years ago with my Mother we were put in a temporary one bedroom flat for a year. This ground floor flat had a single bedroom and a step at both entrances. It really wasn't wheelchair friendly, and when I had an accident and broke both my ankles, the only way the ambulance crew could get me out was through a window on a stretcher.
We were offered another flat that wasn’t right for my needs. We wanted to hold out for a better place but weren’t sure if, or when one would become available. We also found out that rejecting a property can harm your chances of getting one in the future.
So, we accepted a ground floor flat we didn't really want and that was not entirely suitable. The flat only had one room that would be big enough for my wheelchair, hoist and electric bed, this room was the living room. Mum took the single bedroom as her room and the double bedroom became the living room. I rarely go into any room in my flat except my bedroom, with furniture in they are just too difficult to manoeuvre my chair around.
There is very little storage space, we have one inside cupboard that is used for my wheelchair to be charged in and to store some tools and medical equipment. There's an outside cupboard where we store spare medication, other medical things and some personal belongings. We hire a garage from the council, not for our van, but for other belongings we need but haven't space for inside.
Since becoming reliant on 24 hour care things have become worse. There is no separate room for the carers to sit down, so they use the kitchen. I discovered just over two years ago that due to having this level of care we are entitled to a three bedroom property.
We have now been on the housing list nearly two years, I want to stay living locally due to friends and also relationships I've built with organisations. But I'm not being picky, I set the search radius to its maximum of 50 miles and look for flats or bungalows anywhere.
Very few properties have come up that look like they may be suitable. The properties I do bid on I never even get to view as my priority is too low on the council list. We have had a local Councillor visit who said he would talk to the council on our behalf, an OT also wrote us a letter hoping to get us on the gold priority band, we are still silver.
There seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel when I started seeing some newly built three bedroom bungalows pop up, they were about five miles away, perfect! I even got higher on my bid level than ever before. Then I noticed one said I had been rejected due to “health reasons”. This made no sense, I have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, I use a wheelchair fulltime, wear a ventillator 24/7, use a hoist for all transfers and have 24 hour care. Why would I not be eligible under health grounds?
Mum, who is also registered disabled, phoned the council. After managing to get someone to talk to us we discovered the reason, new builds couldn't have any adaptions made for at least a year. I would likely need some, such as a ceiling hoist, automatic door and modified bathroom. Mum asked about the chances of a suitable older bungalow or ground floor flat becoming available, the lady said in all the time she'd worked on the council she had seen one or two. By the end of the conversation Mum was extremely disheartened.
I’m now working with the MDUK Advocacy service and have asked my consultant to write a letter. This may get me on the gold band, but if there are no properties what next?
There seems to be a major shortage of properties for disabled people. Those that are being built are suitable only for the most basic needs and in some cases they aren't allowed to be adapted for anything more complex. We need contractors and building companies to stop building to the minimum specifications possible.
New properties built to a higher standard could be still used by people with lower needs, money would be saved by doing less adaptions, and should their condition worsen then they would not have to move to a new more suitable property, money saved again.
The Government has committed to building new homes to solve the housing crisis. But we desperately need more disabled friendly properties. Everyone is unique, as are our needs. That’s why I am #ForAccessibleHomes.