Mike Nevin had to leave the place he called home because the lack of accessibility meant he was “technically homeless.”
Mike, who is a wheelchair user and member of Habinteg’s Insight Group, moved from Somerset, South West England to Durham, North East England because the place he once called home did not have any properties suitable for his needs. Now, in his new home, he feels he is finally enabled by his environment.
I had an epiphany last year, and it wasn’t even Christmas. It was when we moved to our new house last summer. I realised, we could be enabled by our environment.
Somewhere to call home
My wife and I moved from an early 1800s Victorian semi-detached property in the Southwest into a new build house in the Northeast.
Our old house was so unsuitable for me that the Occupational Therapist (OT) declared me ‘technically homeless.’ I had to leave my home, and the area, because there were so few homes that had the accessibility features I required.
It was upsetting to leave the area I called home just because there was a lack of suitable homes for me to live in. But now, at least, I have a home I can be more independent in.
Now I need to pause a moment… my new house is category M4 (3), and no, that doesn’t mean it’s in the middle of a motorway. The M4 part of building regulations relates to accessibility.
Category M4 (3) homes are built to be wheelchair accessible. Not only are you supposed to be able to visit it in a wheelchair and roam freely without having to worry about obstacles, but this type of home is designed to allow a wheelchair user like me to live here with maximum independence.
An accessible fortress
Every disabled person’s needs are different, and my home is tailored to mine.
My OT has done a lot of work, using a disabled facilities grant (DFG), in adding ceiling hoists, a wet room and a through-floor lift.
Plus, I have a community (hospital-style) bed, a reclining armchair, an inside/outside power wheelchair, and a reclining shower chair.
We have smart technology that enables me to summon help, operate the heating, connect the multiple smoke and heat detectors, and answer the front door. I sometimes find my house talks more than I do.
Having moved into this house with its wide doorways and corridors and through-floor lift, I noticed something - I can access the whole house. Wow!
You’re probably thinking, access your whole house? What’s novel about that? Sometimes I think everyone should spend a year in a wheelchair. The world would change pretty quickly.
I say a year because a few hours doesn’t give you an idea of what it’s like.
Many carers have tried sitting in a wheelchair to see what it feels like. But such a very short-term trial gives no idea of the long-term implications. Obviously, not all disabled people need to use a wheelchair, it is just the experience that I know about.
Back to my sudden realisation. We can be enabled by our environment.
Having moved in we found that some small adaptations were still needed. We have added small rubber ramps to our 1-inch front door threshold. Many people think a 1–inch threshold doesn’t impact a wheelchair user, even our OT thought it would be ok and left it unchanged. But for me and the wheelchair I use, even a 1-inch bump is significant.
When an able-bodied person walks, they step over every bump and step with ease and without realising. This is very different for a wheelchair user like me. You feel even the tiny ridges.
We need more than access
We can be enabled by our environment. When we moved to this house, I wheeled around it freely for the first time. I could access every part of it.
It has been years since I could say that about a property. The last time was when I could still walk.
But access alone is not the point. Access is only a means to an end, it is reaching a place or thing. Getting somewhere.
A new horizon for housing
The realisation that I came to was that being able to reach things, get to places, approach a location, and enter a room, changes my outlook and gives me opportunities.
I didn’t gain health or strength when we moved here. But, with the same limited power I already had, I could do more. I gained opportunities. I was enabled by my environment.
In telling my story, I have deliberately repeated the idea of being ‘enabled by our environment’, the flip-side side of the better-known expression ‘disabled by your environment.’ Because for many disabled people it’s not their impairment that’s really the disabling issue, it’s the world around us that presents barriers and obstacles.
We can be enabled by our environment.
I am a part of Habinteg’s Insight Group, a group of disabled people who come together and collaborate with Habinteg to put accessible housing on the national agenda.
Initiatives like the Insight Group, and political will for housing and buildings to be more accessible, are what we need to change the landscape for disabled people.
Accessible homes are life-transforming, and that is not a small thing.