So last month I checked out an accessible apartment that I could have moved into if it met with my approval: it didn’t. While it was accessible and the property manager was willing to make more so, the issues that made it inappropriate for me went far beyond that single issue. This entire experience got me thinking about what are the other things that are equally as important as accessibility to a living space for someone in a wheelchair.
Besides accessible the single most important feature of an apartment for someone in a wheelchair is storage space. This isn’t just a gender issue, although I do have a lot of cloths. People in wheelchairs simply have more stuff that need to stored but still on hand. In my own case there is hoist to get me from my bed into the chair, its recharger, the recharger for my electric wheelchair, my manual chair, inconstant pads, extra towels and facecloths, extra pants, attends and a host of other little things. All these things need places to be stored away so that they’re not underfoot for me and my staff.
Speaking about staff, the apartment also needs to be near a transit stop where buses stop frequently or is by a skytrain station. Given how much they are paid and how expensive housing is today, most of my staff live East of Burnaby and therefore have around an hour commute to and from work. If this commute is increased to an hour and a half or more, the chances of holding onto that staff for any length of time starts to go down rapidly.
Finally, there is the issue that someone in a wheelchair just needs more room. Long with all my stuff I also need a certain amount of furniture for my roommate, staff and guests, and between all that furniture I need space to turn around in. Then of course there’s the bedroom. Not only does this room need enough space for both my bed and wheelchair but also enough space for my staff to work safely transferring me from the bed to the wheelchair and visa versa. Without enough space either me or my staff, or worst-case scenario both of us could be injured doing something that’s absolutely necessary. And I’m lucky in this circumstance I have overhead track system, how people deal with a mobile hoist or have to have a hospital bed has always been a source of wonder for me.
All of these things are important consideration that those who developing accessible housing need to keep in mind. Today it no longer sufficient to have outlets raise off the floor and a walk-in shower and call that accessable. Real livable space for people in wheelchairs requires people to not only think outside of the box but to also think big. The need for more space for storage and to move around is unfortunately running counter to the current trends of housing and condo design in the Lower Mainland. Which might be one the hidden reasons who so many ‘accessible’ apartments have been rented by people who do not need the accessible features.