As the end of my time at university approached Jarred and I began the search for our very first home together. Limited by budget and location as well as wheelchair access we were prepared for a difficult and stressful experience, but even our strong cynicism could never have prepared us for what lay ahead.
The first hurdle came in the form of the letting agents, or rather the lack of accessible letting agents. I was entirely dependent on Jarred to go and speak to the letting agents face-to-face, and because of this the letting agents would always contact Jarred before me despite the fact that I would be the one paying the deposit and administrative fees. I couldn’t tell if this was because I was a woman, disabled, or simply because I couldn’t get into the office, but it was frustrating none-the-less.
Over the Easter break in 2017 a flat within our budget and desired location became available for viewing. The day before we were due to visit the flat Jarred found the building while doing some shopping in the city centre, so we wouldn’t be late for our appointment. To his dismay he saw that the main entrance to the building had a large step in the door, despite reassurances from the letting agent that the building could accommodate a wheelchair. Fortunately the receptionist saw him standing outside with a bemused look on his face and came to his aid. Jarred explained his predicament and the receptionist kindly showed him the accessible route into the building; down a steep ramp into the garage beneath the building, where a lift was situated next to the stairwell.
The next day we went together to view the flats on offer. We were on time and the receptionist let us in through the garage, and we met the letting agent in reception. We took the lift to the fourth floor and travelled along the narrow corridor to the furthest door. The flat was a small bedsit with the kitchen immediately on the left as the door opened, and the bathroom on the right. The lounge was at the opposite end of the kitchen, with the bedroom next to it, and all the rooms were connected in a loop. It was tiny and although it could fit the wheelchair in, it was a tight fit.
Not convinced, we decided to look at the other accessible flat on offer which was facing the bedsit. The door opened onto a short corridor that could comfortably accommodate my wheelchair, even with a shoe rack in it. On my right was the bathroom, which I could move around in freely in my wheelchair, and the bedroom was also accessible. Finally we went into the lounge/kitchen/dining area which was spacious and light. The electric meter and bin store were down a step but I could manage these on walking sticks if Jarred hadn’t got to them first. It was just within our budget, in the perfect location, and could accommodate my wheelchair without too many problems so we immediately put the deposit down on the flat.
After this came the paperwork, which was the most complex stage of the process, particularly because the letting agent said they needed me to sign the papers in person, insisting that I go to the office to do so. They refused to come out to the flat as a meeting point, despite this only being around the corner from their office, and eventually they compromised by letting us sign online versions of the documents. Then Jarred went to collect the keys.
Jarred was given two sets of keys for the flat, including one for me which included access to the garage. Unfortunately while the garage key worked, the key that allowed access to the lift from the garage was an old key that didn’t work. Jarred’s keys did not work on this door either, and it took a lot of arguing to convince the letting agent that I couldn’t simply rely on Jarred to go through the main door (which worked) to run downstairs and let me in from inside the building. They seemed to have no concept of my desire for independence, or the fact that I would be coming and going under my own steam more often than with company. Fortunately I had had the foresight to ensure that there was a week’s overlap from our old apartments to our new one, so I simply stayed in my old apartment for a few days until the issue was resolved.
I think this whole debacle emphasises how difficult it can be for disabled people to be independent, whether that be due to inaccessible buildings or the general attitude that those with disabilities are incapable of independence. Obviously I say this as a wheelchair user, but I’m certain that those with other disabilities are subjected to a similar attitude themselves.