Sophia Dacey, Neighbourhood Manager with accessible housing provider Habinteg Housing Association, shares her experiences of supporting young disabled people into their first accessible home.
Young disabled people are not alone in the common desire to assert their independence as they enter young adulthood. One sure fire way for them to do that is to move out of the family home and into their own property. This is a daunting task at any time but, given the COVID-19 pandemic and the current social climate, this is an especially tough time for young disabled people looking for accessible housing.
The reality of inaccessible housing
I can still clearly remember the nervous feeling I had when I housed my first tenant. I spent the first hour of that morning hoping the tenant liked me and praying I didn’t say something wrong, I was introducing someone to their forever home, after all.
And I remember Kelly, the 30-year-old mother of disabled Keian, aged four, eagerly walking up the stairs to my office to receive the keys to their new accessible home. Previously, Kelly and Keian had been living in a two-storey Victorian home, with little-to-no support for Keian’s living needs.
For years, they had to make do with these arrangements, with Keian being confined to the ground floor living room.
I remember feeling very emotional as Kelly described the struggles of carrying her growing son to the toilet, upstairs, and thinking of my own boys and how I’d cope in her situation.
This first experience showed me just how important an accessible home is for a disabled person.
New accessible home, new life
I recently caught up with Kelly on one of my trips to our Weston-Super-Mare scheme, which is where she lives. I asked how she and Keian had been getting on since we saw each other last.
“Great!” she said with a huge smile on her face. “Keian can move freely around the whole house and I’ve never seen him happier.
“I don’t have to risk hurting myself carrying him up and down the stairs. He’s getting older and feels more independent going to the toilet and kitchen by himself. This home has literally changed our lives.”
Since Kelly and Keian, I’ve housed many other tenants, both old and young, disabled and non-disabled. The nervousness of housing tenants goes away after a while, but the fulfilment and optimism I feel when I introduce a disabled person to a more suitable, accessible home stays with me.
More accessible homes needed
Habinteg may look like a regular housing association. If you were to randomly pick one of our schemes to visit, it’s likely that you’d see a mixture of people, but the houses generally all look the same from the outside.
Habinteg is a leading national provider of affordable accessible homes and support services. We try to promote inclusion by providing sustainable neighbourhoods of accessible and adaptable homes for both disabled and non-disabled people to share and enjoy.
We campaign alongside disabled people, regularly carrying out our own research to examine England’s accessible housing outlook. In our last Forecast for Accessible Homes, we found that outside London, just 1.5% of all new homes planned over the next decade are planned to be suitable for wheelchair users.
And, when you begin to peel away the layers of Habinteg, you realise that the organisation is much more than a provider of homes. We use our expertise to challenge negative social attitudes and promote the rights of disabled people beyond housing.
For many disabled people, finding an accessible home is key to achieving a more independent life, along with employment.
We know from analysing Government data that over 400,000 wheelchair users are living in homes that are neither adapted nor accessible. Habinteg is helping to reduce that number by developing more accessible housing for our disabled and older population.
In 2020, the Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) coalition, which Habinteg chairs, responded to the Government’s long-awaited consultation on how to increase the number of accessible homes.
We expect the outcome of this consultation soon and hope it leads to real change to ensure future generations of people, including Kelly’s son, will be able to access quality accessible housing when they reach the age to need their own independent living.
Tips on finding an accessible home
Even though there aren’t as many suitable homes for our disabled population as we’d like to see, there are still ways you can find accessible housing if you need it:
Visit Habinteg’s website’s Property Search page to see what homes we have available. Once your application is processed, you’ll be added to our housing waiting list.
f you want to move outside of your area, you can find social housing, wheelchair-accessible and some private rented sector homes on Homefinder UK (head for the ‘Accessible Now’ section).
You can also contact your local council’s housing department to see what accessible homes they have available in your area.
What does independence look like?
Leaving your family home can be daunting at any age. But, for someone who uses a wheelchair and is used to the support of their family, it can be a challenge to adapt to a new environment.
Take Liam Rice, for example, an 18-year-old wheelchair user who I supported to find a new home a few years ago.
Liam looked more excited than nervous. He was staring at his new living room and told me he was thinking of all the game nights he could host for his friends.
Kelly also had a similar look on her face when she was inducted and what I realised is that this look of excitement was common with all our new tenants. In my mind, this is what independence looks like.
Support for disabled tenants
There are many charities and agencies that provide funding and grants to make daily living easier for disabled people. They include the following:
Disabled Facilities Grants are local council grants. They help towards the cost of essential adaptations to a disabled person’s home.
If you live in England, get in touch with your local authority who will normally provide you with disability equipment and small adaptations costing less than £1,000, for free.
The Mobility Trust provides equipment such as wheelchairs and mobility scooters following an assessment by an independent occupational therapist sent by the Trust.
Sophia Dacey is the Neighbourhood Manager with accessible housing provider Habinteg Housing Association.