It has taken me six years to adapt my small condominium apartment for life as a wheelchair user. There are several reasons for this, the first being financial. The second involves finding competent people to do the work at affordable rates and the third is the general lack of help for people with disabilities with regard to financial assistance with what can be costly endeavors.
Beyond these, the biggest problem is finding adapted housing, whether one rents or owns. Builders tend ignore universal design unless it is shoved down their throats. The general mentality reflects the abelism found elsewhere in society. Add to that the belief that it is not as profitable, and we have a shortage of housing for what is a growing population as people age and others deal with the ravages of war, the consequences of accidents or the onset of illness. Those who are born with their disability must also, if they are afforded longevity, age with it which further extends the need for adapted and affordable housing.
During my sixteen years as a homeowner, I have met scores of general contractors, only one of whom had the necessary certifications required to be an aging in place specialist. As a result of dealing with overblown promises, poorly done work and repeated efforts to adapt things correctly, the dent to my personal savings has been extreme. My eleven-foot reach-in bedroom closet is a case in point.
It might be easy to dismiss a closet as inconsequential. However, everyone needs to reach their clothing, whether hanging or in drawers, and since I lack the funds for my own butler, it is I who must launder, sort and put away clothing and I who must dress myself. That said, this closet, like most of the rest of my humble abode, was never designed for anyone at wheelchair height, a concept some builders still fail to grasp, even in the age of the ADA.
The last licensed contractor who did anything in this closet was two years ago. Another of his colleagues, two years prior to that. Neither apparently got that I needed to reach or hang clothing from a seated position, leaving the shelving and rods too high. I struggled with a reacher until the shelves began to lean a bit, at which point I asked a handy neighbor for help.
After some initial problems with a pre-fabricated shelving and rod system which he and I abandoned in favor of a simple rod and shelf with brackets placed into dry wall, the new closet, measured for my height and the items that required hanging, was installed to my great relief.
That should be the end of this rather short narrative. Sadly, it is not. Last Saturday, half of the closet fell down. It appears that the studs are not evenly distributed through the back wall and the anchors were insufficient to hold even light objects. My neighbor did install new anchors, but now I worry about things falling should I need to move anything in the closet in the future.
A professional closet company and designer have been consulted, hopefully for the final attempt at dealing with this issue.
I should point out that my neighbor is a great guy and did everything he could to help. Additionally, the closet itself is not over brimming with clothing or other items and none are extremely heavy. Should anything fall around my head, it will stay where it lands. I also have had a problem with my accessible shower stall which took six months to resolve. The only benefit one derives from using a licensed builder is legal recourse should the job or attempt at remediation, fail.
Struggling with an inaccessible public sphere is bad enough, but struggling in one's home, whether rented or owned, is ridiculous and potentially debilitating over time. I wish more builders cared about the quality and consequences of their work and that all were required to take special certification to be aging in place specialists. They are sorely needed.