Tanvi Vyas, a Habinteg Insight Group member, has been a part of the project group to develop a new accessible homes online search channel. In her #ForAccessibleHomes week blog, she discusses her own personal experiences of searching for a home and why the new search channel will benefit other wheelchair users looking for their forever home.
When looking for a home, most people consider a number of factors important to them.
These can typically include location, the number of bedrooms, perhaps nearby schools and whether there is a driveway or good transport links.
Searching for a home when you’re disabled can be a very different story.
Finding a home as a wheelchair user
As a full-time wheelchair-user, I thought about accessibility, adaptability, wet rooms or baths, door widths and turning circles as well as some of the typical things mentioned.
Sometimes it feels so overwhelming; we’re sometimes just grateful for the bare minimum of being able to access and exist in our houses, rather than enjoy, grow and thrive in our homes and the wider community.
When I was looking for a property to purchase, I had to overcome a number of obstacles.
Challenges included ignorance from agents, a lack of accurate information and the quality and relevance of data on the more well-known websites.
It sometimes felt like no one actually wanted to help or take my hard earned cash! My search didn’t seem as important as other peoples’. Eventually I did find my home, and I adapted it to make it work for me.
Stark reality for disabled people
Many disabled people live in unsuitable housing, which has a huge negative impact on independence. An estimated 1.8 million disabled people have an unmet housing need.
Habinteg estimates 400,000 wheelchair-users are living in neither accessible nor adapted accommodation and only 9% of housing stock has basic access features.
Where adapted or adaptable homes do exist, we often hear of homes being misallocated or sitting empty, which fuels frustration further.
When on a hunt for a property, the accuracy and timeliness of information on the accessibility features of accommodation is crucial.
Accessing this at the right moment can empower disabled people to make decisions and change lives for the better.
Suitable homes can be allocated to the right people and disabled people can weigh up options, have choice and control, all fundamental things that many take for granted.
Developing an accessible homes search channel
Habinteg and Homefinder UK are piloting an online search channel for wheelchair accessible homes, called Accessible Now. When creating it, there has been direct input from wheelchair-users who have had first-hand experience of searching for wheelchair accessible accommodation.
Accessible Now hopes to provide information at your fingertips and so it could be transformative in the search for an accessible home. Various requirements can be searched simultaneously.
People can look at each property, taking time to look at photos, features and in some cases videos. This can bring the experience to life.
Often, disabled people don’t have the privilege of seeing what the property looks like from all angles.
Visiting a number of properties can also be tiring. Accessing this information remotely could be a plus, saving time, travel costs and energy.
Making the search channel work
The flip side of the coin is ensuring that the recorded information is accurate, with a little empathy and understanding about how integral it is in the search for a home.
It’s really important that those capturing the information realise the true value of what they’re doing and understand the importance of their role.
Up-to-date information is really crucial. What may seem like additional ‘nice to haves’ - like level access to a garden, electronic windows, a wet room or wide doors - can make the difference between people living full, independent lives or a life trapped in four walls. The physical and mental impact on this should never be underestimated.
Thinking to the future
The introduction of Accessible Now provides, essentially, a one-stop centralised hub.
If successful, giving access to this valuable information, with photos, property details and accurate relevant details, could be transformative for home seekers.
In the future, the private sector should take note and improve their own search capabilities, as so many disabled home buyers continue to struggle to overcome hurdles such as a lack of compassion, fear of the unknown and inaccurate information to name a few.
By truly including disabled people in the creation of Accessible Now, listening and making improvements based on thoughts and ideas, I am hopeful that it could be a really relevant resource.
Where we live so fundamentally affects our daily lives, it impacts what we can do, where we can go and who with.
So much is down to where we live and there should be an element of freedom and choice within this.
Accessible Now, in its pilot form, can hopefully provide this, whilst allowing for changes to the user experience, improvements and feedback, to be embedded along the way.