THE BLOG

Disabled Friendly Home

07/03/2013 16:11 GMT | Updated 06/05/2013 10:12 BST

There may be no cure for Parkinson's yet, or many other diseases, but what we can do in the meantime, is to ensure the best quality of life possible. Apart from being under the care of good doctors and hospitals, taking effective medication, having necessary support from family and friends; ensuring one's home is not only comfortable, but safe for a disabled person is high on my list. We were living in a small apartment, and as an estate agent once said, "it's full of charm and character with tons of potential", which we all know is code for it's old and badly in need of a face lift!

Being diagnosed with young on-set Parkinson's, trying to plan ahead, we realised our apartment overflowing with "character and potential" was in fact highly unsuitable for anyone with a disability. The apartment had steps leading to the front door with no room for a ramp; deep steps down to a small back garden, the corridors and doorways too narrow for a wheelchair, and the floors especially in the bathroom were as slippery as an ice rink.

It's not a matter of sounding pessimistic, but rather a case of being realistic and practical. With the prognosis in mind, we had to plan for our future and needed to move somewhere appropriate, before it grew too late. Don't leave this decision till the last minute putting off what is inevitably best for your situation, when later the sufferer may be in poor shape, and the caregiver has possibly been in this role for some time and running low on energy.

Trying to find a house fitting all our requirements became hopeless, as a year of nonstop searching produced nothing even remotely suitable. We did find several bungalows that were purpose built for disability, but these were not for sale. Left with only one option; we built a house to our own specifications and requirements which ultimately gave us exactly what we needed. Building a house is not something to be taken on lightly, and is a huge project that ends up engulfing all thoughts and conversations. I am quite sure that we have bored the pants off our relatives and friends in the past few years with all our "building" conversation. Now that the house is complete, we'll have to find something else to talk about!

Never having built before, we found ourselves on a steep learning curve and soon realised we needed to hire a company who would take us from A-Z. We found a company that handle everything from design using an in-house architect, the endless paperwork and permits, to the actual building and handing us a finished home. At the first meeting we explained and discussed with the architect how the house had to be wheelchair accessible. As soon as he mentioned about lowering all the light switches, our qualms were put to rest as we realised this was not the first disabled friendly house they had built. The factors necessary to make life as comfortable, safe and with low maintenance took priority over style or trendy design.

The floor tiles in the bathroom, are special non-slip, that feel like fine sandpaper, yet are comfortable making it safe to walk, and believe it or not, are easy to clean. The washbasin has a special U-bend that is very neat and small, especially designed for someone in a wheelchair giving plenty of room underneath to get close to the basin. Safety rails have been attached to the wall by the toilet and also in the shower which has no doors, turning the bathroom into a "wet room" with an excellent gradient so the water stays in one corner of the room when showering. All the corridors are 1 meter wide and the doors are 90 cm wide. A lot of thought also went into the kitchen, and having an island in the middle, I can grab and hold onto a surface if I need to. The pull out drawers instead of old fashioned cupboards make it easier, and purposely we've put our crystal glasses up in one of the high cupboards out of my reach, just in case I am tempted! I can't tell you how many drinking glasses I've broken, and are now left with an odd assortment. The house has a feeling of tranquillity to it with colours that are calm, warm and inviting - the perfect environment that feels good, is comfortable and safe, and disabled friendly. Home is where the heart is, and is a reflection of one's personality. It doesn't matter where your house is, it's making it into a home that counts.

www.elainebenton.nethttp://www.elainebenton.net/