Back in July, I finally made the big move. Moving out out (not just into student accommodation)into my own flat in Birmingham! As a wheelchair user, there were a fair few considerations I had to make when deciding where to live. So I thought I’d discuss a few of those considerations.
Social Housing vs Private Rent
The first thing for me to consider was whether wanted to live in council/housing association housing or if I wanted to privately rent (of course buying is also technically an option but it wasn’t financially an option for me. This consideration felt like balancing the fact that council housing could be the more accessible option, with a lift, ramp or wet room more likely, against the “stigma” that I perceived around council housing, as some kind of government handout and feeding into the “scrounger” narrative around disabled people. For me, I didn’t want to be seen as disabled or in receipt of “special” housing, so I chose to privately rent. An odd thing to do, making a decision to avoid feeding into a narrative that I KNOW is false anyway, but that’s just how much these stigmas and narratives can affect disabled people. Anywayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy I’m getting side-tracked.
Next up was location. Obviously most people choose to live somewhere because of school, work or family. Similarly, I chose to live in Birmingham because that’s where I was, pre pandemic, completing my Masters degree and is where I hope to continue onto a PhD. Then it came to choosing where in Birmingham to live. I chose the centre since I was aware that I’d need to be in the centre for university and most things anyway and that public transport from the outer boroughs of Birmingham could potentially be inaccessible. Of course I had to consider the effect that had in possibly increasing the price.
As I was saying, the price. I knew that, for a section of time at least, I’d be surviving purely off my disability benefits (Personal Independence Payment) which those in the disability community in the UK will know, REALLY isn’t much. I was lucky in that I had savings I could use and could pay some rent in advance to give me some time to get on my feet with a job. However, the limited income I have as a disabled person certainly impacted what I could afford.
Then there was choosing what kind of building I wanted to live in, whether that was a house, flat or bungalow. I decided to go with either a flat or a bungalow as both of those would be on one level which made more sense for me as a wheelchair user, rather than having to navigate stairs in a house.
And of course there were my specific access needs to think about within the flat or flat building. I ideally wanted a ground floor flat as that would be easier than having to rely on a lift which could have broken down at any point. The biggest area of contention was the bathroom as that is where I need the most adaptations. There’s always debate about a bathroom with a bath or one with a shower, and IDEALLY I would have liked a bathroom with a roll in shower or wet room, but they’re practically unheard of in private renting, so I ended up with a shower over the bath. And this is where the idea of compromise as a disabled person comes in, what do we class as an acceptable level of accessibility? What is the sort of situation we can “make work” with accessibility aids? In my case I made the shower over the bath situation work with a suction grab rail and a new shower seat (set up seen in the picture below).
Aaaaaaaaaah door dimensions, the biggest bane of this entire process. As a wheelchair user I need to know door dimensions so I know whether or not my chair can fit in, because obviously if not the flat is a no go. It was ridiculous how many times I asked for these dimensions to get the response of “standard door dimensions” and then be told someone would take measurements and get back to me when I asked for specific numbers. This kind of information should be gathered as standard when listing a property and then made available on the website or any listing AS STANDARD.
House hunting as a disabled person is also an extended process compared to how I assume it would be for an able-bodied person. I can’t just see a property I like and make a bid. I have to see something, make enquiries and then wait. I have to wait on non-negotiable aspects like door dimensions, things I shouldn’t HAVE to wait on. And the likelihood is, by the time I have the information I need, an able-bodied person has submitted a bid for the flat I want and had it accepted.
Oh and THEN you add into the mix that I made the smart choice of deciding to make this big life move IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC. That meant that in person viewings were not an option, something that is kind of key as a wheelchair user to make sure my chair ACTUALLY fits in the place I just paid for. This meant that even though I had the door dimensions I didn’t know if my wheelchair fitted into my new flat until I’d officially moved in, which was anxiety inducing with a capital A and a capital. Add to that the fact that, as someone with cerebral palsy, I’m considered high risk for COVID 19 and as such had been limiting my social contact. Limiting social contact is obviously difficult to do when you’re moving and need to go into an office to sign papers. Overall the pandemic added another layer of difficult to an already complicated situation.
The Perfect Accessible House and House Hunt
With all this talk of the many considerations when house hunting as a disabled person you’re probably saying: So tell us what the perfect accessible house and house hunt would be then! Well the perfect accessible house depends on the individual but for me it’s: A flat (which I have) on the ground floor (which it is) in the centre of a big city (which it is) with a wet room bathroom (which it does not have)
As for making the house hunt accessible, that’s pretty simple from my experience: PUT. ACCESSIBILITY. INFORMATION. ON. THE. LISTINGS. SO I CAN ACCESS ALL THE INFORMATION I NEED TO MAKE A DECISION ABOUT A PROPERTY LIKE EVERY. BODY. ELSE. oh was I yelling there? oops sorry about that.
And after all those considerations, I finally have my own flat in Birmingham to call mine all mine! I hope you enjoyed this insight into house hunting as a disabled wheelchair user in a pandemic.
Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)