For the last in our series of personal stories to celebrate #ForAccessibleHomes week, we asked Nurse Sarah O’Connor about the difference her accessible home has made to her life and career.
I moved to the capital in 2011, straight after qualifying as a nurse, to work in a busy London trauma hospital. I first lived in key worker accommodation and stayed there for two years but unfortunately I became unwell and had to move back to Cheshire to live with my parents. A year on in 2014 I was well enough to go back to working in London as a nurse, but this time as a disabled person equipped with my wheelchair.
I have now lived in Nunhead for 3 years and I love being able to roll straight through the front door into my wheelchair adapted flat. But it hasn’t always been so easy. When I initially moved back to London finding an accessible accommodation was a nightmare. I ended up taking the best property I could find and afford which was a privately rented 1-bedroom studio flat. It was not ideal as it had 4 steps to get inside the flat so I would sit on the floor and drag my wheelchair up each step. It had a bathroom which forced me to shuffle into it on my bottom as I couldn’t get through the door because the frame was too narrow by an inch. It had a bath which, to my utter embarrassment at the age of 25, I frequently got stuck in, leading to the fire service and ambulance having to be called to rescue me. I could not cook in/prepare food in the kitchen as the work tops were too high and there was no space to turn my wheelchair in. Having said all this, sadly, it was the best property I could find, and somehow, I lived there for 2 years.
During the two years I spent living there I tried hard to find alternative accommodation which was more suitable however it appeared to be a uphill battle. I applied to Habinteg housing association expecting to hear nothing back and was most surprised when I got a call a few months later asking if I was interested in looking at property in Nunhead. I moved in a couple of months later.
I now have a wet room with a walk-in shower which I can roll straight into and have no chance of being stuck in. I can make meals independently in the kitchen (something which was impossible for me to do before). I even have a garden now which I love and spend a lot of time in. I find the gardening therapeutic and do it all independently from my wheelchair. I regularly have friends round to my flat and held my work Christmas party at my flat last year. This is something I would never have done before due to being embarrassed at the inaccessible way I was living.
I fully believe wheelchair users have far more chance of maintaining independence and careers if they are living in accommodation which is accessible for them. If I had not moved into my wheelchair accessible flat in Nunhead I would have had to give up my career. I was really struggling and was close to hitting crisis point when Habinteg rang with the news of a suitable property for my needs.
Thank you, Habinteg.