We're enjoying the biggest and best Paralympics yet. When we look beyond the medal podium it’s clear that competitors make enormous sacrifices and overcome physical, emotional and practical barriers to earn their place.
Paralympians are facing the biggest sporting tests of their lives. But what of the additional practical challenges of every day living faced by paralympians? Like a home designed to accommodate simple adaptations. A wet room and step-free access in order to shower after a training session. The same challenges are faced by thousands of disabled people in this country and it is clear that the options remain both limited and limiting.
Mind the Step: An estimation of housing need among wheelchair users in England, revealed significant wheelchair user households with unmet housing need in England, (12,517 in London) back in 2010. Recently, Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Trailblazers research (Locked Out, July 2012) corroborates this: ‘Young disabled people believe that their lifestyle and work opportunities are being compromised by a range of factors relating to housing and the support required to live independently... (these are) young, well-qualified, independent and ambitious young adults who want to move away from their family home and live independently.’
At Habinteg we know that wheelchair users are ‘locked out’ of the majority of existing housing stock in this country because of the demand we get for the 1000+ wheelchair designed homes that we own. We also believe that the design of a disabled person’s home can be a key to achieving their ambitions.
We are very concerned that new homes being built will fail disabled people unless there is a strategy in place to meet their needs. Without a clear strategy to provide our population with accessible, wheelchair standard, and adaptable homes (neither ‘disabled people’ nor ‘disability’ appear in National Planning Policy Framework), the talents and life chances of disabled people are simply being thwarted.
More than ever we need the Olympics and Paralympics legacy to deliver positive change for disabled people in the UK. We need to look beyond the medal table and realise that the Paralympians’ highs and lows on camera are only a part of the story. Housing opportunities in this country are failing disabled people and limiting not only their wider ambitions but their basic employability and the chance of a barrier-free future.
Never mind house prices, property market hotspotting, the eastward exodus of big spend shopping, financial calculations around regeneration for East London – we need the LOCOG promise of a sustainable, accessible housing legacy to come through for disabled people and set a precedent for housebuilding throughout England.
Without it we could be losing out on some serious talent – not only sporting but in every area of industry, employment and society. This isn’t about becoming an athlete, it’s about having the choice and opportunity of a suitable home.