Making My Non-Accessible Apartment Accessible
I can't even begin to describe the difficulty I had apartment hunting. Finding a place in Philadelphia that was within a reasonable price range was only the beginning. Wanting a studio, a flexible number of months, and having it be wheelchair accessible made things almost impossible. I would find places online that claimed to be "wheelchair accessible," but one look at the pictures, showing a flight of stairs, proved that statement false. Some individuals even claimed their place was 100% wheelchair accessible, but disregarded the steps required to even get inside!
I finally found a place only 5 minutes from clinic (where I knew I'd be spending the majority of my time given that I only have one class left to take on campus and the rest of my time would be seeing patients). It was within my price range, a studio right across from the elevator was available, and the staff was so extremely accommodating that I knew looking anywhere else was going to be a waste of time.
I'll write a couple separate posts about living on my own: what I've learned, what would make life easier, things I've been able to do on my own, etc. so this won't be so incredibly long. So, for this post, I just wanted to touch base on how hard finding accessible housing is and what I've had to do to make my apartment work for me.
First of all, I should not be surprised that accessible housing is hard to come by. I mean, even handicapped accessible rooms in hotels aren't 100% accessible (another topic I plan to write about at some point in time). Luckily, most apartment complexes have elevators, so the obstacle of stairs is usually easily overcome. However, there is then the issue of parking, the height of cabinets, width of doorways, and layout of the bathroom (including how high the toilet is, are there any grab bars, and is it a tub that needs a tub bench or a roll in shower?)
So, let me start with the parking. There are surprisingly only two handicapped parking spaces in my complex (and neither of them have the stripped lines next to them that allow me the space to assemble my chair). I tried to brainstorm parking space ideas with the manager, but there wasn't really a set solution to ensure that no one would park in my spot (she's tried this before and people still didn't oblige even after being ticketed). There are a lot of end spaces in the back of the parking lot, like where I can park so that my driver side door opens to the aisle instead of having a curb or anything blocking the one side. I was concerned about parking down there because it's a big hill to get to the front door and if I come in after dark, it'd be difficult to see me moving through the parking lot since I'm short and there isn't a sidewalk. She ended up giving me a key to the back door. All I have to do is park down there, go in the back door and ride the elevator up to my floor instead of stopping in the lobby. Not the best answer, but it's a solution until we figure out something better. I'm just glad they are so understanding and willing to work with me, especially after the nightmares I've heard from other people with accessibility.
Next, we have the mailbox. Of course, the box corresponding to my apartment was out of my reach. This was an easy fix, though. They simply gave me one of the bottom boxes that is easy to access.
Laundry is on the top floor and there are plenty of washer and dryers on the bottom, where I can easy use them. Trash is around the corner from my room and while I really hate having to take it over there by myself because it requires putting the bag on my lap so I can push myself, I'm glad it isn't in a dumpster all the way in the parking lot or something. (and I've actually recently discovered that if my trash isn't too full, I can just loop the handles over the push-canes on the back of my chair and drag it across the hallway).
Now we get to the apartment itself.
It's a studio, so it's the perfect amount of space for me to keep up with. The floors are hardwood, which makes pushing on it easier. It's also a lot more convenient to clean with a swiffer than to try to push a big old vacuum (I have a handheld vacuum for when it's necessary).
There's a wall of storage cubbies and shelves inside the door. There were two big sliding doors that were a little difficult for me to move, so they just took them off. I can reach pretty much everything and the rod to hang all my clothes on is actually low enough for me to utilize. (Taking the doors off actually opened up the space and made it look better, so it was a win-win).
The kitchen has a "breakfast nook" counter that I use instead of a kitchen table. Maintenance lowered it to my desired height and I'm able to do all my meal prep on it since my legs fit underneath. The oven and fridge are standard (I didn't need anything different there), but I was excited about the motion censored trashcan I bought, haha. I have everything on various shelves that are at my height--my microwave, appliances, coffee maker, etc. I found a shelf that was perfect for a few of my most used utensils and I hung my fry pans on the wall. I have a reacher in the kitchen, so that I can get into the top shelves if I need to, but I don't keep much in them anyways.
I put this sand paper- like tape on the floor under the corners of my bed so that it doesnt slide when i transfer in and out . I also use storage containers on wheels under my bed so i can still utilize that space
I have my couch and bed separated by just enough space to fit my wheelchair and my equipment ( bike and standing frame) fits behind the couch so that I can easily use them and not have to move anything around.
The bathroom was probably the most difficult part of accessibility. The door was just barely wide enough for me to fit through, so I had to get maintenance to use specific hinges that allowed the door to open wider. My apartment complex actually ordered a taller toilet and installed it before I moved in (probably because they overheard me joke that I was going to get a workout from how low the previous toilet was, haha). It's a really small space, but just big enough for my chair to get to everything. The plus side of the small space is that I don't need any grab bars (the sink is close enough and sturdy enough to use instead). I have a tub bench (with enough space in front of it for visitors to still stand in the shower) and a handheld/overhead combo shower head. I found this awesome suction cup grab bar to put in the shower and baskets to put my soaps in. I can't quite reach to put the handheld shower head back into it's holder, so I tied a ribbon around it and put a hook on the wall where I can reach. I keep a reacher next to the tub, so I can close and open the curtain all the way.
So, as you can see, it's not perfect. The important thing is that it's perfect for me. Maintenance and the front desk staff check on me regularly and help me whenever I need anything, like loading or unloading my car before and after trips back home. I'm comfortable and I'm incredibly happy. I was a little worried about living on my own because I never have before, not to mention living on my own now that I'm in a wheelchair. The independence I've found over the past several months is something I was afraid I'd never find again. Now, I can honestly say that life feels like it did before (plus a few minor hassles and the fact that everything takes a little longer).
I really didn't think I could be this happy or this independent again. It has definitely been the longest and hardest two years of my life, but I'm thankful every day for being one "step" closer to all my goals and dreams.
***When I say that "I" did something in the apartment or hung this or that, more than likely it was my mom that did it and had these brilliantly easy solutions to all my problems, so shoutout to the real superstar***