Saturday, 5 October 2013

Housing Standards Review - My thoughts

Dear Committee,

I hope you will accept my open letter regarding standards in housing as much of your form does not give me the chance as a carer of a severely mobility restricted disabled person the chance to tell you what accessibility  means to us at the sharp end .

My comments are directed towards the housing standards for a person confined to a wheelchair and what they require to live safely.

What is wrong with the current system.
The current system of building accessible housing fails to prescribe workable measurements to give builders the information they need to make sensible decisions on the practicalities of living from a wheelchair. For example it is no good to prescribe a minimum size for a disabled persons bedroom space, unless the maximum possible needed space is taken as the standard, for example a single disabled wheelchair user using an ordinary bed who can transfer independently  has different space needs to a couple , one of which needs a hospital bed with all round access + a further single bed all to be housed in that room plus hoist plus medical equipment . People seem to not understand that unfortunately many couples with one disabled cannot share the same double bed.

There are also some regulations that are not working and I have seen regularly ignored with good reason, for example the maximum distance from a toilet to a wash basin, these anomalies need to be found in the existing legislation and be removed. In that example the existing regulation seems to be advocating that someone sit on the toilet and wash their hands at the same time, which is a hygiene no-no and encourages the dangerous use of the wash basin to aid standing up from the toilet.

There are also lots of things that the current legislation does not prescribe and because of that are not included in the building standard for disability housing. I recently visited a so called 2 bed purpose built wheelchair standard bungalow which we turned down as totally unworkable for us on the following grounds, the open plan living/kitchen/dining area was so small that it did not have sufficient room for furniture for the abled bodied in the family to sit on plus manoeuvre room for the wheelchair user , dining table , decent sized fridge freezer or anything a kin to modern living. Storage space in the place was totally inadequate. The master bedroom was too small to accommodate hospital bed plus further single bed. The garden was extremely small with no shelter and no privacy. The wet room was huge but it was expected that everyone using / living in the house would use that one bathroom, totally unhygienic and would leave my immune compromised husband open to cross infection from his care workers. There was no where to put the care-workers and their paperwork , equipment etc. The person who designed/ built the property has obviously never had to share their living space with the average offering of care workers. All of the door thresholds were supposed to be level but had fittings put on them that caused a “bump” to a wheelchair user. All of the doors were slightly wider but had standard handles making them impossible for a wheelchair user without upper body strength to use, no use of sliding doors which are easier to operate and save on space. There was an absence of modern technology that could have been utilised to make it easier for a disabled person, no electronic front door opening but keys that someone with hand weakness cannot use. The house had carpets as well fitted which are a total no-no to most wheelchair bound people. The bungalow had been built in an isolated estate too far away from the local amenities for the user to access without major investment in taxis or mobility vehicle.

Where we live now we access our totally unsuitable first floor flat via a lift that is so small it is not big enough to fit an ambulance trolley in, that does not have a manual way to work it when the lift is out of order or locked out during an alarm activation. Also no mirror at foot level so that a wheelchair user can see when his feet are getting too close to the wall. Our local shopping centre also has a lift that is too small. Building regulations should have been in place to stop these from being built that way. My point being what we have now is not prescriptive enough so having less detail will make the situation worse.

The decision your committee makes will have real life effects.
Imagine if you will, the situation my husband finds himself in. Every morning your wife gets you up from your bed, physically lifts you into your electric wheelchair (not enough room to use a hoist), that has been carefully squeezed in between the two single beds. You reverse very carefully as even misjudging it by a fraction means banging into the wall behind you, causing pain to go right through the metal work in your neck down your already damaged spine. Making sure you have folded in your power controller you carefully shoot for the centre of 75cm width door so that knuckles do not get banged, then turn as sharply as you can so as to not bang into hallway wall, traverse down the hallway that always has the light on because it is so dark. The door to the living room is a little wider so a bit easier to turn right into. Drive up to the TV and use it as a mirror to reverse into your spot in between the other furniture in the room where you will stay most of day, day in day out. Your wife brings you a bowl of water for a wash because your wet-room does not have an accessible sink. On shower days you are put in your wheeled shower chair and very carefully showered in your tiny wet room , where you regularly bang your feet and hands on the toilet furniture because it isn’t big enough. You are then nearly thrown out of the chair as your carer pushes you across  from vinyl to bedroom carpet. Then resting in your hospital bed afterwards are assaulted by the stench coming from the bathroom that never dries out properly due to bad drainage and ventilation. So, Bedroom – wet room- living room that’s your world as you cannot use the inaccessible kitchen or dining area which is used by your care staff as an office. Going out is very difficult because of all the barriers to freedom of movement. So there you sit in a room with insufficient day light, wondering why you are still alive and what’s the point.

If the builders get it wrong it will affect the quality and health of our disabled who have enough to challenge them in everyday life as it is.  

So the nub of my comment is if you do not prescribe to a builder / designer what is acceptable and workable in the way of space & other requirements for a wheelchair user , they will not ordinarily understand not being in that situation themselves and opt for what they know best, cram as much in to maximise profit per square metre.

I hope you will accept my comments as a lay person living with someone with a severe mobility disability. 

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