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Why disabled people must raise their voices to make change in housing

Disability blogger, activist, and three times Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 awardee, Kerry Thompson discusses being shortlisted as Inclusion Champion for this year’s Women in Housing Awards, campaigning for more accessible homes with Habinteg Housing Association, and why the next elected Government needs to raise accessibility levels for new homes built in England to the M4(2) accessible and adaptable standard.

I don’t campaign for the recognition, but if I’m honest it’s nice to be noticed. It’s always a shock when I make the shortlist or get nominated for something like the Women in Housing Awards. Being nominated alongside other amazing women in the housing sector, who campaign and work hard to bring about change on issues such as more accessible housing development, is humbling.

Living the life I want

I’ve been in my Habinteg Housing Association home for 12 years. Before it came along, I had battled for four years with Milton Keynes Council for a home that met my needs. I felt invisible. I was existing, not living, in an inaccessible one bed flat. I have a rare type of muscular dystrophy and have to use a powered wheelchair to get around, but I couldn’t use my power wheelchair. I was just sitting in an armchair, watching TV, waiting for people to come to me. The only time I used my wheelchair is if I went shopping or to a hospital appointment. I was on anti-depressants. My partner – now my husband – supported me. I had no other assistance.

It wasn’t until I moved into my Habinteg home that I had a life: being able to use the kitchen; get into the bathroom in my power wheelchair; being able to access the back garden and zip in and out of rooms easily. I started living the life I wanted to live: going out to dinner, going on holiday, getting married. It’s from there that I became a blogger, and a disability activist.

Campaigning for accessible homes

I made it my business to join Habinteg’s Insight Group. The Group is always open to new members and is made up of disabled campaigners from all walks of life, across England. Some are Habinteg tenants, the majority are not, but we're all motivated to help increase the supply of accessible homes by using our experiences to move accessible housing further up the political agenda.

The Group is important as any conversation about us should be with us. Our own stories are the most powerful tool we have. And we share those to help bring about the change we want to see. I’m doing that by campaigning with Habinteg, as well as calling for more Changing Places toilet facilities and by being part of the Disability Advisory Group, a group of charities and individuals who come together to improve things like housing and transport for Milton Keynes’ disabled community.

Habinteg, and its partners in the HoME coalition - 10 organisations calling for urgent action to tackle the UK’s acute shortage of accessible homes - have the expertise to help us move the conversation forward and change things. Habinteg’s #ForAccessibleHomes campaign has been instrumental in convincing the Government to agree to raise the accessibility level for all new homes built in England to the accessible and adaptable standard. That decision was made two years ago. Yet, nothing has changed.

Government must act now

Currently, just nine per cent of homes provide the four main features to be considered even ‘visitable’ and Habinteg estimates that over 400,000 wheelchair users are living in homes, which are neither adapted nor accessible. The Government still has to deliver the second consultation on building regulations before their decision can become reality.

If we continue with the current legislation, we’re going to be in an even bigger crisis than we are now when it comes to housing disabled people. So, the newly elected government must step up, look at the bigger picture and make a long-term plan for housing, just like the National Housing Federation is calling for. And need to talk to people from different walks of life, disabled and non disabled - one shoe doesn’t fit all.

Email Habinteg’s Communications team at comms@habinteg.org.uk for more information about joining their Insight Group or register your interest .

This piece was first published by Disability Talk on 28 May 2024.

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