Londoners’ experiences of life-changing injuries

Making homes accessible for acquired disability

While people are pleased to leave hospital or rehab, after a traumatic injury, they may return to a home that is no longer accessible in different ways. This, combined with the extreme tiredness people often experience at this stage, could make life difficult for people and their families.
With the help of family, and specialist services, like occupational therapy, some people’s homes were adapted ready for them to return to after hospital. This was not the case for everyone and sometimes people were not able to return to their homes. For example, some people had lived in second floor flats that were no longer accessible once they became wheelchair users. Other people stayed with extended family until their homes had been adapted. This can be done with help from professionals, including occupational therapists and physiotherapists, who can make recommendations for the things people may need. People often found this help invaluable, but some had negative experiences, such as wrong measurements being taken for wheelchairs.
 
Adaptations people discussed included widening doorways to make room for wheelchairs, and installing handrails and stair-lifts to help people get around in their homes. Sometimes kitchens were made wider and more accessible, ground floors were levelled and bathrooms converted into wet-rooms. People used bath-boards and stools to get into the bath or shower. However, it was not always possible to adapt the entire property. Bill reflected on how he had been happy in his home “but it was different when you then had to put wheelchairs and disability into that environment.”
Adapting the home can take a long time. People had to be assessed to find out what they needed, funding for the changes had to be found and the work itself also took time. Some people were able to pay for the modifications themselves, but others got help from local authorities. There were delays in adapting homes because organisations disagreed over who should pay. Some people had to change the way they lived in their homes while waiting for adaptations. Downstairs living rooms became bedrooms and people had to wash in their kitchens. This was thought to be unhygienic and inappropriate for other members of their families to have to live with.
There is financial help available for adapting homes through the Disabled Facilities Grant (see ‘Resources’ section), which is means tested.
Making the area outside their properties accessible was also important. Simon said he rented a flat that was accessible by lifts and ramps, and had a covered car park that was “safe, dry and secure”. Other people added ramps and decking outside.
 
Some people did not need to modify their homes after injury and others deliberately chose not to. Their homes were already sufficiently accessible, they found new places to live that needed no modifications or they just did not want to adapt their homes. Improvisation was recommended to find out, through a process of “trial and error”, what was needed to make homes accessible (Dave). Jack said it was not possible for occupational therapists to anticipate every possible scenario so “you have to figure it out on your own” while minimising risk. People’s ability to get around their homes changed over time as they got used to living with their injuries. There were also other family members to consider in thinking about the level of adaptation or change.

Before they could afford to buy properties, people often rented and were unable to make all the modifications they wanted in the way they liked. Homeowners worried that any adaptations they made would potentially reduce the market value of the property. On the other hand, one benefit to adaptations and modifications was a reduction in Council Tax.  

Last reviewed May 2019.

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