We must do more to give disabled people a good home

Keynsham resident HELEN COLGAN gives her views on what she describes as a social housing crisis for disabled people

I became an above-knee amputee in August 2020, which resulted in me having to find suitable social housing to accommodate my new needs. My previous home was a second-floor flat, with stairs but no lift and totally unsuitable for my new life.

I joined the Homesearch list in September 2020 and was offered a bungalow in April 2021. During this time, I was offered ground-floor flats with steps, or properties on hills, which were not practical with a manual wheelchair.

These offers made me think more about how disabled people are treated, especially with regard to housing.
I’ve heard many different stories, such as of disabled amputees being discharged home with no thought if their home is suitable – and I’m not just talking about social housing.

In one case (many years before I became an amputee) an elderly man, disabled due to amputation, was discharged to a “ground-floor” flat, with about five or six steps down to enter his home – the only way he could get out was by volunteers physically carrying him and his wheelchair!

So the question is, are we in the midst of another housing crisis, as we were at the end of the Second World War, when the Government had to authorise a massive building programme to replace bomb-damaged houses?

Time rolls on and a different government decided these council house tenants had the right to buy their homes, sometimes with a huge discount. This meant councils lost a number of properties they could have offered to those tenants who could not afford to buy on the open market.

Today in 2023 we desperately need more social housing to be built, but not only do we need to build family homes, we also need to think about disabled people and the special needs they require to lead independent lives.

Many disabled tenants are housed in accommodation that is unsuitable. Local housing providers seem to think that just any ground-floor flat or bungalow is suitable for someone in a wheelchair 24/7, but this is not the case.

Social housing providers should talk to disabled people about what they want to be included in any new builds. This should include the layout of kitchens, as someone in a wheelchair needs more space, and lower units and work surfaces.

In bathrooms, they need the space to safely transfer from their wheelchair to the WC. My current property does not have space between the WC and wash hand basin to fit pull-down grab rails because of pipes.

So yes, we are facing another social housing crisis. Social housing providers do not have enough stock to house everyone who needs a new home, let alone for those with special needs or adaptations.

We need more ideas on how we can adapt a variety of properties to include disabled people living alone, as well as families with disabled dependants.