Centre for Ageing Better
20 Feb 2019
Ageing Better’s Programme Business Manager, Lu, talks about the experience she had in making her home wheelchair accessible for her husband. For her, having choices about the changes that were made was crucial.
For some reason the idea of adapting our home for my husband’s accessibility needs was daunting. I’m not sure why exactly. Maybe the idea that we wouldn’t be in control of it, or that somehow we didn’t ‘deserve’ or need the adaptations was part of it, but I think it was really about the unknown.
You are so grateful to have the council give you this help that you approach it in a different way than you might usually – just being thankful for anything they offer and not really wanting to question anything.
Our project was the bathroom, converting it into a fully wheelchair accessible wet room.
Once the initial assessment was done, the plans were shared with us for sign off. The trouble, to be honest, was that they made little sense. But we just assumed it was all good, as this was a ‘standard’ fit out.
It was only really when the builders arrived and they talked me through the plans, did I feel it was okay to ask about what exactly was going in and whether any changes could be made.
I was lucky my builders were incredibly patient and honest. They told me that if I didn't like the standard options, I could source my own as long as they were in budget. Their main concern was around timing and not holding the project up. The build itself was already delayed, due to a more complicated fit out with another client which made us feel a bit anxious. Would our build be ‘complicated’ too?
Empowered to go and find the products I wanted, off I went to various bathroom wholesalers, determined to find stylish fittings that didn’t look like a hospital! This was an important factor for us, as my husband had spent more than enough time in hospital and didn’t need the reminder. We were also keen that the work wouldn't devalue our home.
I was cautious and only sourced goods that were in stock and well-priced. One of the things hardest to find were the hand rails that properly support a person, without them being white or beige. Who knew quality chrome hand rails were so elusive?
Once I had chosen the goods needed (floating basin, fold-up in-show seat – in chrome of course) and had the seal of approval from the builders, they started to include me in all the other decisions; paint colour, tile size etc. It really became a partnership and I feel both parties gained from it.
For us, being able to personalise our home adaptions made all the difference. It meant we ended up with a fantastic bathroom that totally fit my husband’s needs, looked stylish and all in under the original budget, so we even saved the council money = win win! It does take time and commitment from all parties and communication is key, but it’s so worth it.
There were subsequent, unforeseen benefits from developing the relationship with the builders.
We were due to have an access ramp put in from the back of the house into the garden to enable my husband to have seamless access. The proposal from the council was for a concrete turning circle, which would have meant digging up the already small garden. This would have not only looked ugly, but would have also devalued our home and just seemed an unnecessary expensive solution to the problem.
If I wasn’t a confident person then we would have ended up with a fit for purpose but ugly, hospital like bathroom and half our garden missing.
But then a conversation with the builders over a cuppa turned into a fantastic idea. They knew a guy who made ramps out of recycled tyres. They could be customised to fit any space and were safe, durable, sustainable and cheap. We decided to go with this option and the builders put it in place within a day.
It made me think, why isn't this the default option in the first place? The same with the chrome handles in our bathroom. It seems so simple, but it's definitely not the norm. If I wasn’t a confident person, we would have ended up with a fit-for-purpose but ugly, hospital-like bathroom and half of our garden missing.
Surely something needs to be done for those who don't feel so able to challenge the norm…