The challenge of finding a home
on their home might not be especially noteworthy had the couple been nondisabled buyers, yet both are wheelchair users.
Not only is there a shortage of such housing stock – only seven per cent of UK housing is deemed suitable for the 1.8million disabled people needing wheelchair-accessible homes, according to Habinteg Housing Association – but developers don’t promote the fact that they provide accessible homes.
David Wilson Homes admits it doesn’t, either. However, it is very happy to do additional work on properties. Whiley, 25, a 10-time Grand Slam tennis champion and double Paralympic bronze medallist, says: “The sales office was really helpful in understanding what modifications we needed. The light switches and power sockets were already accessibly positioned, but we had a stairlift fitted and a ramp built up to the back door, and there is plenty of room to have friends and family around who are also in wheelchairs.”
Having grown up with a Paralympian bronze-medallist father, from whom she inherited her osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone condition), Whiley, who was awarded an MBE in 2015, has always lived in adapted homes.
She and McCarroll (at 32, a recently retired tennis champion who now coaches Whiley) then lived in a modified bungalow unsuitable for young children. After Whiley won the wheelchair doubles title at last summer’s Wimbledon – while 11 weeks pregnant – they began to plan a move.
“Many of the new-build homes we looked at were accessible for wheelchairs, because building regulations insist on doorways being a certain width and hallways being wide enough to turn around in, as well as having a downstairs bathroom,” says Whiley, who hopes to qualify for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020 after completing her maternity leave.
Accessible homes underpin the inclusion of wheelchair users in both their community and the economy, according to Habinteg. It has been campaigning for the Government, local councils and property developers to increase their availability.
Its #ForAccessibleHomes campaign highlights the long-term benefits of independent living for wheel- chair users to society, including saving the taxpayer the cost of future adaptations, reducing the risk of accidents around the home and the need for more costly supported housing or care facilities.
But what does “accessible” mean? Since 1994, when the Government introduced the Lifetime Homes Standard, new properties must incorporate 16 design criteria (now called Part M building regulations) including the features mentioned by Whiley.
Some local authorities are more assertive in providing accessible homes than others, reports Christina McGill of Habinteg. “In London, 10 per cent of new homes have to be wheelchair standard, so-called Category 3, with kitchens and bathrooms especially fitted to suit.” Brighton is another area moving in a similar direction.
Waltham Forest, in north-east London, has even added a condition that builders need to actively market their homes as being accessible, but in the private sector there’s generally a lack of awareness of what’s available.
Habinteg provides a register of accessible houses available to rent, but those wishing to buy a property might find that estate agents misunderstand their needs. “A bungalow might seem like a suitable home, yet have four steps up to the front door,” she adds.
This is echoed by Franki ChaffinEdwards of The House Shop, whose Accessible Property Register helps to match homes with buyers. “One of the biggest problems is managing to effectively connect disabled homehunters with accessible homes. Most estate agents simply don’t know how to market adapted homes, and instead advise sellers to rip out accessible improvements so the property appeals to the broadest possible market,” she says.
“A secret shopper experiment we conducted on new homes demonstrated a real lack of knowledge among sales teams about accessible units.”
Andrew Brown, a former CNN reporter who divides his time between Bangkok and London, found it a somewhat gruelling process having his new two-bedroom flat at Distillery Wharf in St George’s Fulham Reach development in Hammersmith suitably adapted. He paid £830,000 for the property in 2013, following a medical accident that left him a quadriplegic.
“Older residential buildings are no-go zones for wheelchair users so I settled on Fulham Reach, as I was told the flat could be adapted. We agreed a list of changes so I could reach sinks, worktops and sockets and use the bathroom,” he says. “It took a long while to get these right, and in the end I enlisted the help of Vanessa Reeves at The Property Service, a one-stop for interior design and property management.
“After 10 weeks of her lobbying to correct the problems, I could finally move into my flat, reach the socket to plug in the kettle and cruise from one room to another in my wheelchair. I am happy to say that St George now bends over backwards to help me.”
Jordanne Whiley and Marc McCarroll, main; Andrew Brown, above; a wetroom, below