Last night I fried eggs and bacon for Ian and me. I have not cooked on a stovetop without anyone to assist me in about eight yrs. I have always loved cooking, well baking if you want to get specific. When I moved at the end of the summer, I was really fortunate to get the apartment I did. Truly wheelchair accessible places to live are far too rare. So if you are a wheelchair user or have a member of your family who uses a wheelchair looking for an apartment you would be considered lucky if you find what is called a barrier-free, accessible/ adaptable rental.
In layman’s terms, this is an apartment on the ground floor unit of a building that a wheelchair user can wheel into the building and then the unit. The bathrooms need to be adapted with grab bars as well as commodes, shower chairs, and whatever the individual needs to make the bathroom as functional as possible. This level of functionality needs to be introduced in all areas of the house in order to promote inclusion and independence. In the kitchen, for example, plates and cups need to be placed in lower cupboards. When high surfaces, such as countertops, are concerned items need to be placed near the front edge of the counters within the person’s reach. Do Not Forget – pushing things to the back of the counter makes them unusable to someone who uses a wheelchair. Asking if an item has been positioned intentionally is always the best policy. Remember – what is seen as thoughtful and kind to one person might be frustrating to the next.
A place to live with those minimal requirements is the starting place when looking for an apartment for a wheelchair user. No barrier entry to the building and ground floor unit, or access to a dependable elevator, is also limiting and raises the rent quite a bit. Even these drawbacks are preferable to living somewhere with stairs or where your wheelchair does not fit in the bathroom.
Independence means a lot to me. I can not stress this idea enough. It is not that I do not depend on others for daily living, because clearly, I do, It is the concept of every aspect of my life: what to eat, how much I spend on groceries, etc. that is within my control. Maintaining that belief for someone with specific housing criteria such as access, cost, size is extremely difficult. So I reiterate my good fortune in being matched with my current apartment.
Money tends to be seen as a very private matter and I tend to agree. Unless you happen to fall into one of the extreme economic categories – extremely wealthy or having nothing – then it is everyone’s business. As a person with a disability, I have come to accept the fact that I do not have that right. My monetary worth, although very minimal, is always closely scrutinized. I am not arguing as to whether this should or should not be the case. I am simply stating how it is for me. If someone has limited assets and income, Subidized Housing is one form of housing that is “available” to them. I also fall into that economic category. “Available” meaning I net under the maximum Federal and State income guidelines and I am a full-time wheelchair user. Subsidized wheelchair accessible units are as common as buried treasure. Just because you qualify, doesn’t mean you will get a unit. In fact, it only really qualifies you to be put on a waitlist, which in some cases takes close to a decade to reach your name. I entered my name on many lists all over the state of Massachusetts, hoping to have my name pulled somewhere, anywhere, sooner than later. Unbelievably it worked. After supplying all the necessary documentation from financial forms, rental history, and letters from my doctors, I was given the go-ahead to move into my unit, within just 3 months of my application submission.
My new apartment is located in a small town and for all intents and purposes, I have been more of a city girl most of my life. I can already see some of you rolling your eyes. No, I have never lived in New York City or even Boston, but now the loudest noise I hear at night is the crickets. My sons have a yard to play in and are able to commute to their old stomping ground as desired.
Accessibility obviously is a crucial factor in deciding where to live. Yes, there are laws about having some wheelchair accessible and affordable units, but these numbers are minimal. Wheelchair accessible units with more than one bedroom are even harder to find. “You mean you are a wheelchair user and a mother?” This concept does not seem to make sense to some people.
My apartment is wheelchair accessible, meaning one-floor living, no barrier entering, bathroom with grab bars and roll-in showers, lowered kitchen counters, and space to wheel under the counters. Why should I feel lucky or privileged to have a home that I can afford and fully use? I do not have a good answer. Life is hard and that fact is proven to me every day over and over and we just have to be willing to fight back. The decision thing and not take action is, in fact, a decision whether or not you are conscious of it. Action is what gets results no matter the issue.
Last night I fried eggs and bacon for Ian and me. They were ugly and the bacon was half-cooked, but I will get better with practice. But guess what? I wake every day with my new battle plan. This time I fought for my own functional place to live. I wanted it, I went for it, and I did it!