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Charities, groups, and individuals across the UK are calling for Politicians to place more importance on the increased provision of accessible, disabled-friendly housing, and for the Government to work with landlords and property developers to help reduce the lengthy wait times for disability housing in the UK, which can see those with limited mobility waiting for years for suitable accommodation to become available. There are currently 11.6 million people classed as disabled in the UK, with mobility problems being the most common form of disability. Unfortunately, whilst the number of people with limited mobility is continuing to rise, with figures up to 6.5 million in 2012 from 6.3 million in 2002, the number of accessible homes is not increasing at a similar rate, leaving many struggling to perform everyday actions in a potentially dangerous environment. 

Mr Asghar Enjoying The Use of His Stairlift With Acorn Engineer

Housing industry relectant to adapt

This uptake in petitioning for greater provision of accessible housing has been sparked by a recent report published by a UK charity that provides community support for disabled individuals. The findings are somewhat shocking, with more than 50 percent of all homeseekers claiming that it's challenging, if not impossible, to find a home to meet their needs. The most common issues faced by the elderly and disabled when searching for a new home are narrow internal doorways that do not allow for wheelchair access, narrow or obstructed staircases which do not accommodate the more traditional forms of stairlift, and external doorways that are largely inaccessible, either due to their size or the addition of steps from street level. Approximately 4 percent of homeseekers fail to find a house to suit their needs, leaving them to struggle with basic everyday tasks in a home that doesn't fully accommodate their requirements.

While the management of restricted mobility is advancing in many areas, especially in terms of mobility aids that make use of the latest technology to assist the elderly and disabled in leading a normal life, housing has been at a standstill for many years. The housing industry's reluctance to adapt to meet the evolving needs of the nation is preventing those with limited mobility from living in their own homes with dignity. This has contributed towards the unprecedented demand for residential care in the UK. Wheelchair user Sue Friar, who is a prominent figure in the petitioning for new accessible housing, has admitted to having to remove the door from her bathroom at home as her wheelchair would not fit, and to having to strip wash at the kitchen sink as she is unable to get herself upstairs safely. This has greatly affected her social life, as she has little option but to ask her friends to leave when she uses the toilet to try to maintain a small amount of dignity. 

Knock-on effect for those with limited mobility

Old Age Pensioner Staring Out of The Window
(Image source: Borya)

A healthy social life for the elderly and disabled is something that should be encouraged, not made for difficult. Forming and maintaining friendships when suffering with limited mobility can be tricky, and studies have found that able-bodied children often report larger social circles and stronger bonds than those with mobility issues. A healthy social life is considered to be vital for both the physical and mental health of those struggling with mobility, with friendships believed to act as an effective treatment for conditions commonly associated with limited mobility, such as depression resulting from increased isolation. In terms of physical health, the Social Care Institute for Excellence reports that those with healthy social circles are 22 percent less likely to visit their GP than their more isolated counterparts.

Options that allow the elderly and disabled to live a normal life, and maintain friendships, are limited, and the minimal choices that are available aren't necessarily very convenient. One option is to apply to the local government for accessible housing, but wait lists can be very long, and the Cardiff Community Housing Association confirms that there is a very 'short supply of properties built or adapted to necessary standards'. In London, it is estimated that there are around 30,000 residents requiring wheelchair accessible homes, and yet just 1200 wheelchair accessible homes on the accessible housing register. Accessible housing is a route that was previously explored by petitioner Amy Friar, who was informed that it would be a number of years before a suitable property would become available. 

Over 720,000 homes affected

Some Homes Across Britain
(Image source: Simon Harrod)

A further option for the elderly and disabled who feel unable to live a normal, dignified life in a standard home is to apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant through the government, but this comes with its own problems. Any financial provisions for home adaptations will only be made for changes deemed a necessity by an Occupational Health Worker. Typically, this means that changes can be approved for essentials, such as hand rails in the bathroom, but may not extend to stairlifts should the Occupational Health Worker decide that a person can live within reasonable comfort downstairs. While changes may allow people to live in a safer manner, it may not allow them to live enjoyably, or normally. Those in need are also not guaranteed to receive funding. A Parliament report indicates that there are 720,000 homes in need of adaptations to meet the needs of their residents, and yet only half of these would be eligible for funding.

Due to the poor provision of accessible housing, and the relatively few options currently available for funded home adaptations, many charities and individuals across the country are now urging the government to increase the building of accessible homes, and for landlords and property developers to consider making their accommodations more disabled-friendly. A primary focus of the movement is to break down preconceived notions that disabled housing has to be expensive or complex - a stairlift, wider doorways, added facilities in the bathroom and bedroom, and external ramps or external stairlifts can make all the difference, allowing the disabled and elderly to remain in their own homes and live their lives normally, and with dignity.

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