Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Oh THAT'S Accessible

We had the opportunity to visit someone last week who lives in a fully accessible apartment. I'd never been in one before. My own apartment is one that we've made adaptions to, increasing my independence as much as possible, and as a result I'd been thinking it was pretty accessible.

It isn't.

This apartment had a fully accessible bathroom. It was amazing. All the things I need, all the things I want, all in one place. A tall toilet, well placed bars, a walk in shower, a sink I could shave at. You know I haven't shaved in the bathroom for 8 years. I shave in the bathroom, with a small mirror and a bowl of hot water. It works, I get a good shave, but it requires a lot of Joe's effort to make that happen. This was an accessible bathroom, in an apartment.

The kitchen. I almost swooned when I saw the kitchen. I could get to every appliance. I'd be able to cook on the stove. In our place, we've made space for me to get into the kitchen and a place for me to work. I cut and chop and spice our meals. Joe, who has access to the stove, cooks the meals. Joe is a good cook. We work together well, but man, I miss being able to use a stove.

Everything about the apartment was wonderful.


There aren't many of them. Even though there are thousands of disabled people in the city, there aren't many accessible apartments.

We had a lovely visit but when we left I felt so cheated. We'd done a good job with our place, carving out a space for us that works. But until now I realized, it works, but it doesn't work well. I had simply, because I had to, ceded various parts of the apartment to Joe and accepted that I'd have to take help where help, was necessary not because of my disability but because of my environment.

Damn and blast.

I have seen what's possible.

That's a good thing - but shit - it's also kinda not.


Andrea S. said...

This is why all homes should be designed to universal design and adaptable specifications, meaning things should either be already accessible (such as, doors wide enough for a wheelchair to get through) or else relatively easy to adapt (like, walls strong enough that you can add grab bars to them if you need to). It's a travesty that it is so hard to find architects who even understand the concept much less have received any training. ALL programs training architects should be absolutely mandated to teach students about universal design. This should be BOTH something that's in a stand-alone course where students can get into all the detailed nuances and ALSO something that's integrated across the curriculum, meaning pretty much every course in the curriculum should have some universal design concept integrated into the course where relevant and feasible. If all homes were accessible, or at least easy to adapt at low cost, then it wouldn't be so hard to find a genuinely accessible home.

Penelope said...

I'm currently living in an ADA-compliant accessible apartment. I was able to get it by pure luck when I called up a building I was interested in (expecting to make a non-adapted apartment work) and it turned out that actually both of their accessible apartments were going to be free as of the move-in date I wanted. My apartment is really an interesting study in how inaccessible a legally "accessible" space can be. It's a studio so there's very little space to begin with and some adaptions actually caused other accessibility issues. The best example of that is the counter. The space under the counter, other than where the dishwasher is, is all clear so that I can pull right in straight. That's great, but it means all my kitchen storage space is cabinets above the counter. The microwave is over the stove, which may also be a function of the size of the apartment (I'd lose 1/2 my counter space if the microwave was on the counter). The bathroom doesn't have a roll-in shower, just a tub shower with bars and a removable shower head (for me it's actually safer this way than a roll-in shower would have been because I live alone). I do have a raised toilet with bars, counter & sink heights are lower than normal, and I can go anywhere in the entire apartment without walking. My building actually has laundry in each apartment rather than a communal laundry room and in my apartment both the washing machine and dryer are on the floor (some of the non-adapted apartments have stacked machines).

It does show that the owner/those designing the accessible apartments (it's an old building, but the entire thing was renovated when the current owners bought it) didn't consult with any physically disabled people. They followed the law (all the common areas are fully accessible including the gym and the bathrooms attached to the gym). Eventually (but not here and not soon) I'll be able to have a place that I can renovate to my exact needs. In the meantime, I don't expect to have another adapted apartment/living space when I first move, before something is bought & renovated for me. I'll miss having the accessibility features I do have here in the meantime.

*One thing I want to note about my building is that it's a semi-upscale private building that isn't cheap (we're not talking NYC expensive, but it's definitely not inexpensive). Before I moved in, neither ADA-compliant apartment was being rented by someone who needed the accessibility features. (I'm in a small city that includes a major university with a medical school/teaching hospital so all the downtown apartment buildings are full between grad/medical students and medical residents.) I'm sure one of the barriers, however, to disabled people moving into a building like mine is the cost. That probably is why I wasn't dealing with any sort of wait-list situation for the ADA-compliant apartments.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I to this weekend felt myself feeling the same things as you. My brother who visited uses a wheel chair. Many of the many things I take for grated each day where almost impossible, just getting to the back yard was a task. We killed a few flowers just to get there lol.

On my way home from dropping him off at home, I found myself wishing to win the lottery so I could make renovations, and planning a letter writing to the guy that builds dyson vacuums proposing he create a wheel chair that is easy to fold and put in a car.

I guess when you get lemons you make lemon aid...even if is sour as hell! lol

All the best,.

Ali said...

I understand where you're coming from. My partner uses a chair and it took us a while to find a place that even worked. And while there were barrier free options, they were either way out of our budget range, or low-income only (which we don't qualify for). Trying to find suitable accomodation was a huge struggle and that access does make a huge difference

Moose said...

Oh, yes.

My mom lives in one of these, in the Boston area. It's in a complex for the elderly, one of the ones that requires that you be over 65 or "federally recognized as disabled."

I've looked into finding one. I could move into her complex [gaaak, no :-)] with only a five year wait list time.

I have been trying to move for a few years, back to the city in which I lived most of my life (not Boston). Finding an apartment that is even partially accessible is like pulling a tooth with tweezers. Any of the publicly-owned accessible housing is also low-income housing and in bad neighborhoods. Some of the privately-owned but HUD-supported housing is senior housing (if they use HUD money they must allow accessible apartments to be rented by disabled people of any age) but the accessible apartments all have 5+ year waiting lists. Were I over 65 I could move into "regular" housing tomorrow. And the senior housing that has accessible apartments but do not work with HUD won't talk to me at all (legally, they don't have to, either).

But for a real treat, I go to CraigsList. People seem to mark their apartments-for-rent as "Wheelchair accessible" if the main part of the apartment is on one floor. When I contact them and point out things like, "The laundry is in the basement, down stairs" and "There are stairs going up to the front door" means that it is not really wheelchair accessible, they get angry with me.

I did find one privately owned apartment that had it all -- a roll-in shower, accessible kitchen equipment, low counters, wide doors, grab bars everywhere. Perfect, right? Except, of course, it was in one of the highest crime areas of the city, with no car parking available.

About a year ago I found another, similar apartment. Amazingly it was in a nice but somewhat rural town. However, the owner insisted that it was only to be rented to someone "in a wheelchair" and when he found out that I use a cane and a mobility scooter he refused to rent to me.

So. Frustrated.

Nan said...

I know just what you mean, but in a different context. Sometimes we hear about programs and supports and/or transitional living arrangements and even housing/homes in different communities that are so NOT available here. As a friend of mine put it, its great to go to workshops and presentations to find out what is possible, but by about middle school (I'm thinking) I began to get very tired of coming away feeling jealous. I was so tired of feeling jealous. Yes, be the change you want to see in the world, but sometimes, as a parent, you do get just a tad tired of being the change all the time! Just sayin' ... I can relate in some small measure.

Anonymous said...

I'm lucky that our current apartment is nearly accessible. The front door is wide and only has a one inch lip, that I can navigate in my chair.
The kitchen is a tight fit, I have to do a "wheelie" to turn around. They are standard counters and stove, but I can work at them, although not very ergonomically.
The laundry is in the kitchen and is a stacked pair, but I can reach it well enough.
My bedroom door is a tight fit, perhaps a quarter inch to spare, and I've worn away the paint on the doorframe.
The closet is hopeless, with a narrow 18 inch door, but I keep most of my clothes in my dresser.
The bathroom lacks grab bars, and has a tub that we added a handheld shower and a shower chair. The doorway is two inches too narrow for my chair, So far I can manage the few steps with my cane, and leaning on the sturdy counter. I fell pretty badly last fall getting out of the tub.

The "amenities" are technically accessible, but the ramp is outside, and sometimes locked in winter. I try to use the pool, but to get from the pool to the rest room to change, I'd have to go outside around 3/4 of the building, and get in a door that is kept locked. The only accessible pool door used to be locked, but they have added a key fob access. But the last time I was swimming, I nearly couldn't get up the last step. I love swimming, and its good for me, but its hard when gravity returns.

My mobility keeps getting worse, I can see a time when we need to either change out the bathroom door and add grab bars or move. But finding something even this accessible was lucky, not sure we could do better.

Stephanie said...

My brother is studying architecture and is in his last year of schooling. Over the summer we had a long talk about different points of accessibility and what it meant for people with different disabilities. Having three nephews with disabilities, he's taken a special interest in the offerings on the subject.

The good news is that more and more new buildings are being built with general accessibility in mind, as well as incorporating full accessibility for physical disabilities into more places and apartments. The bad news is that it's still only a fraction of what exists, because most cities have more older buildings with grandfathered codes than new buildings that meet current standards.

Accessibility for the full range of disabilities is being addressed and is now part of the education of architects, but it'll take time for the spaces we have to catch up.