I am totally behind more accessible housing and support any move that will increase accessible housing stock in this country. But one size does not fit all. I was a finalist in the Habinteg Essay Writing Competition 2020 and my essay explained that what is needed, as we look into the next 50 years of accessible housing, is variety. I argued for communities that cater for varying needs.
A point has been made that 1 new accessible home is planned for every 15 people over 65 by 2030 and that this is not enough. I would say this, surely the point is not about people over 65 but disabled people. Not everyone over 65 has mobility issues. Shouldn’t the real question be ‘how many people are there now in need of accessible houses and how many will there be by 2030?’ Then a further question is ‘what type of accessible housing is needed?’
One size doesn’t fit all. When I wrote this blog, we were staying at what was once an RNIB training centre and is now a hotel. So, the corridors are laid out to help blind and partially sighted people. This means there are white, raised strips at regular intervals along the corridor and on corners, the bottoms of stairs and by doorways. Obviously, these are really needed and helpful for blind and visually impaired people. The same is true for raised bumps on pathways by crossings generally that you will all have seen. But these kinds of bumps are very uncomfortable in a wheelchair. I would not suggest that they are removed as they are needed for other disabilities. But what benefits or is needed for one disability can be a limitation to another. I am sure that there are disability aids which are a problem to able bodied people too. I am merely pointing out that ‘one size doesn’t fit all.’
My point is this: we cannot say that we need more ‘accessible’ housing, nor that there are more disabled people needing accessible housing. What we can and must say is that there are a variety of needs in our society, among those needs is a pressing need for ‘accessible’ types of housing. Many types to meet many needs. Wheelchair accessible, accessible for blind and partially sighted, accessible for limited mobility, deaf, and various other needs. One size does not fit all. A ramp and a wet room are only really needed for mobility issues. Visual doorbells for hearing problems. Having raised floor markers would be a great boon in a house for visually impaired but a big problem to the comfort of a wheelchair user. That’s before you even look at the heights of units needed if you are in a wheelchair to those not in one. One size does not fit all. The problem is that often these issues are championed and put forward by people without a lived experience of disability. The designers often lack that lived experience, even if they have a second-hand knowledge from a family member or loved one.
The point I argued in my essay was that communities were the way forward. Communities of varying types of housing. When a new housing development is planned it should include all types of housing. Housing to suit families, single, couples, older generation, disabilities of various types including wheelchair users, people of all social backgrounds. If you mix people together rather than ghettoizing by need or age, then you create a supportive environment where people naturally form social networks. We have lost that sense of community and yet the recent pandemic demonstrates that we miss it and naturally want to re-create it.
In 2021 we moved to a new build house on an estate in Hartlepool. Our house was already accessible. It was M4 (wheelchair visitable). After a DFG grant and various other adaptations, it is now fully accessible for my power wheelchair. The community we live in is amazing. It has its own Facebook page. We have found people here to be the most friendly and helpful neighbours you can imagine. In Storm Arwen people turned up to help us. When we had Covid, neighbours have offered and done our shopping. People on the estate have helped us in more ways than I can count. It is a community, not just a group of houses. I feel as if we have moved to a living embodiment of the kind of place I wrote about in my essay. A group of people of all ages and backgrounds who care about and support each other. Ever day I read on the Facebook page about examples of that care and support in action between people on the estate.
Such communities as the one we now live in, don’t replace professional care services. They add to them. Because much of the care provided by professional agencies today is what was once done by friends and neighbours. I am not referring to washing and dressing people. That is a care agency or personal care role. But a world where you need to pay someone to visit you, or go shopping with or for you, seems very messed up. We have a massive care bill; I wonder how much of that bill is for services that most of us would have once seen as being neighbourly and friendly?
Community is at the very heart of care. I started by saying that one size does not fit all. Accessible housing and care needs vary by need. Many things we need are normal human interaction. Other things are more specialist. Each person’s needs are different. Because we are all different.
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