As previously reported I have just made another move back to the province I had once left. There are some unique issues when moving while confined to a wheelchair and it takes a fair amount of planning. The first major issue to overcome is FINDING that one wheelchair accessible place that will work for you. I experienced this when I moved to Victoria, again when I moved back to Calgary and yet this time when looking in Kelowna. I am sure I could find them if I wanted to, after all research is my life, but I am not sure what standards are required to advertise a place as wheelchair accessible. I have come to recognize that wheelchair “friendly” tends to be more accurate than accessible.
The fact that there was an elevator is my last place constituted wheelchair access. Close to 70% of places on the market for rent are eliminated almost at once for someone using a wheelchair. Between basement suites, townhouses that are traditionally full of stairs, based on building code any building under four stories don’t require elevators and the list goes on. And if you are on some government based support program like the Alberta Income Support for the Handicapped (AISH) in Alberta or BC’s Disability Benefits 2 (DB2) that list gets much smaller. Fortunately I have always been relatively self sufficient and never had to rely on any of these types of programs.
It is my opinion, and no insult meant to the many people I know in this situation, these well meaning programs are poverty traps. Once you are on them it is very difficult to get off. No one that I am aware of stay on these programs because of the poverty level income they receive but the medical coverage that they need. My new wheelchair for example cost close to $6500 with all the upgrades that makes it work for me. A person with a physical disability, I can only speak to that because I don’t know what it is like to live with a another form of disability, can have extensive medically related costs. Skin creams to avoid pressure sores, catheter equipment, clothes designed for wheelchair use, gloves, wheelchair maintenance and the list goes on without even touching prescriptions. Anyway this is all fodder for a future story but you get the picture.
When I moved down from the Cowichan Valley to Victoria I checked with the city program involving accessible housing. There were 2700 people on the list ahead of me so I took an apartment that worked BEST for me. The bathroom was not accessible but as an old polio survivor I have the luxury of shuffling around a little bit on my knees. When I was a child my mother would often get teased by her friends about having the shiniest floors on the block because I scooted all around the house on my hands and knees. So an inaccessible bathroom is not uncommon to me. To the average para or quad that option is not an option. I was even able to haul my ass over the large lip onto my deck every now and then but without the wheelchair. I had a beautiful ocean view and could watch the cruise ships pull in and out of the harbour. Was there a wheelchair designed parking spot? No but they did arrange parking so I had the last spot in one row which allowed me to open my door wide enough to get my wheelchair out.
Moved to Calgary and similar situation. The City’s handicapped housing program, minimum three year waiting list. The women I talked with told me “we only have a certain number and these people just never move”. First of all I detest the title “these people” in any situation and second, use your critical thinking skills madam, where will they move to?
I looked at a number of apartments all advertised as wheelchair accessible. They all had an automatic door opener and an elevator. However once you got into the suite you were faced with hallways that wouldn’t allow a sharp turn into the bedroom, one down. Apartment two had a lay out that dealt with the need for sharp turns by eliminating long hallways but you had to back out of the kitchen area. It wasn’t wide enough to turn a wheelchair around in and it wasn’t like a walk through galley kitchen. The other issue with the kitchen was the placement of appliances. To access the fridge I would have to back into the kitchen since the fridge was the very first appliance and the fridge door swung away from the kitchen.
However by that point I needed a place to live and quickly. I was staying with my brother and his family in a home that was relatively accessible once I got into it but the challenge was getting into it. The condo I eventually settled on worked best but again wasn’t perfect. It was really more than I could afford at that particular moment but one thing about living with a disability that you get use to is paying for little things that others take for granted.
So I took this condo advertised as wheelchair accessible. It was on the 12th floor and had a great view of downtown Calgary. Unfortunately I am passed the days of being able to walk a lot on my knees so I reserve as much as that ability for bathrooms and emergencies. I purchased furniture that would also double as cupboards. The cupboards in this place were minimal and cupboards over fridge/stoves are useless to me. One could only reach so high. The kitchen was a walk through galley however no turning radius for my wheelchair.
I was also surprised, since this building was built a number of years after the access component to the building code was added, lacked any disabled wide parking stalls underground. The property management company did work with me on that one and we came to a semi-workable arrangement. That became my home for the next six years and, in all honesty, I thought my next move would be into some sort of supported old folks living arrangement. Boy was I in for a surprise!
Moving to Kelowna raised the whole issue of finding that right place to call home. So now I have to sweat it out again and begin the search anew. More on that story tomorrow. This one has gone on long enough and it is no “Gone With the Wind”.
Check back tomorrow for the ongoing adventures of the poster child!
Just One Mans Opinion