So, wheelchair access twenty five years on from the DDA- Is it any better?
I have often been told that progress takes a long time, but can anyone believe it will be twenty five years next year since the inauguration of the Disability Discrimination Act? TWENTY FIVE YEARS! I have vivid memories of printing off copious ‘warning’ cards for shops, emboldened by the idea that as soon as this legislation had been passed the shop owners would be forced to make changes. I seriously believed that this legislation would prove life altering. Disabled people would be truly protected. This was not the case, clever use of the word ‘reasonable ‘ would mean that many shops were not legally obliged to make any alterations. Twenty-five years later, I am preparing for a ‘one day event’ in a few shops in my town (hardly across the board). “Purple Tuesday “November 12th (and I’ll be covering this is my next blog…) is a Nation- wide disability access to shopping day. (The spending potential of disabled people being the Purple pound). The aim of the day is to raise awareness of the disabled customer and to attempt to offer advice to shop owners maybe some suggestions from people who live with any sort of impairment. It seems really sad to me that is only one day but on the other hand, at least it is one day – in twenty five years it may be a whole week!
This blog has been inspired by a recent article from the National Landlords Association magazine (NLA for ease…) entitled ‘Access all areas’. It talks about the struggle disabled people go through when searching for appropriate, accessible accommodation. It features an interview with our very own founder Sallie Stone Bearne. She has turned this dearth of accessible housing into a positive for her firm, Branch Properties (which she established in 2014). “I think this is a great opportunity and that there is a market out there waiting to be exploited”.
When considering access to the housing market, and, in particular, the private rental sector the results of a survey of wheelchair users from the UK are shocking -90% struggled to find accessible homes to rent. There are, unfortunately, many cases of young wheelchair users who are placed in homes for the elderly, making an obvious example of the huge lack of suitably accessible properties available.
The link between access to properties and access to employment was very worrying. According to Lord Shinkwin, former Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who is quoted as saying, ‘To give you an idea, a disabled person with unmet housing needs is four times less likely to be working than those in accessible accommodation.’ Branch Properties have been designed to help fill this gap in the market to help find accessible accommodation for disabled people.
A little while ago watching Grand Designs, the issue of your environment disabling you was also considered. As both the man building his ‘accessible dream’ and Lord Shinkwin attest, ‘If housing is appropriate, a person’s disability doesn’t affect them in the same way.’ Branch Properties also explain the benefits of adaptations designed for wheelchair users to landlords. Although wheelchair users are in the minority, it is not simply them who will benefit from some of the features of an accessible lodging. For example, the ramp to my apartment is a great benefit to anyone on a bike or pushing a buggy. Designing, sourcing and building more accessible homes makes sense all round.
There are several benefits to taking on a disabled tenant. Once disabled tenants find a property that meets their needs, they are unlikely to move. Adaptations to a property can be made with the aid of the Disabled Facility Grants (DFG). Landlords are often not aware of what grants are available. This article highlights the possible benefits – grants of up to £30,000, possible tax benefits, longer-standing tenants and overall satisfaction that you are doing the ‘right thing!’
So go on be a community hero! Clear out your spare downstairs room, maybe throw down a ramp and ta -dah!
Failing that contact Branch Properties on 02074022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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