DISCLAIMER: This post is derived by first-hand experience of the topic at the time adaptations to our home took place. Policies and eligibility for this scheme may change and those in different parts of the country may find the grant more difficult to access. Read as personal guidance in an effort to help others in similar circumstances. I am NOT affiliated with any company mentioned, nor is this a sponsored ad. Professionals names have been changed for privacy.
In May 2019 we finally moved into what will be our forever, accessible home. It took a painstaking 7 years on the Disability Housing Register here in the UK, living in 2 unsuitable and dangerous properties under social housing to get where we are today. I feel that only now, we are able to enjoy normal family life and that is all because of the right adaptations.
This post marks the first installment of ‘Life of an Ambitious Turtle’s’ Accessible Living series, guiding you through the red tape within social housing when living with a disability or complex medical needs. Leaving no stone unturned, here’s striving to make available vital information that would have made our journey to an accessible home so much smoother and likely cut our struggles short. The support, funding, and knowledge are out there, only it’s kept heavily under wraps.
The right person in your corner
It’s important that you don’t wrongly assume that accessible features in the kitchen wouldn’t be granted due to the severity of your disability like I did. I thought an inclusive design that’d make me able to fetch, prepare and cook food for myself and my children (such as I’d glossed over on Pinterest) would never be a reality. I’ve never had features in the kitchen and neither do a lot of more severely physically disabled people who aren’t lottery winners. Occupational therapists in the past had never offered to explore this for me, assuming my muscle-wasting condition left me incapable and why waste the funding when my partner (full-time carer) did it anyway. Now I realize it to be a very ableist thought process, years of conditioning to see myself incapable in the kitchen made me believe it as fact, – despite I’d never had the suitable environment to see my capabilities for myself. The reality was, as the medical model states, it’s often the environment that’s more disabling than the person’s actual condition. I’d never tried or tested anything, so how could we possibly know there weren’t inclusive features to give me some degree of independence in the kitchen out there?
All it took was the right O.T with the right attitude!
When we said “YES!” to our forever home, a quaint 3 bedroom bungalow, our O.T wasted no time in doing an assessment for the DFG application.
What is the Disabled Facilities Grant?
A Disabled Facilities Grant is a mandatory “means-tested” grant made available from local authorities to help meet the costs of essential adaptations in the home to enable you to continue living in it, safely and as independently as possible.
Independence in the Kitchen
The assessment involved our O.T having a sit-down chat with us and truly understanding our needs as a whole, not just me. Mandy with her notebook at the ready asked us things like;
- What do you want to be able to do in the kitchen that you can’t currently do?
- What is important to you as a family when it comes to design and functionality?
- If you could make a list of the accessible features of your dream kitchen, what would be on it?
These open-ended questions allowed us free reign to really ask ourselves for the first time if money wasn’t an issue what we needed, what our goals were and what would to us be a game-changer in family life. The kitchen is the heart of the home they say. I’m not ashamed to admit we’ve lived on ready-meals for those 7 years purely due to lack of access and inclusive features in our old unsuitable properties. Now, what we were able to say, we knew, would set us up for the long run and it was going to be life-changing!
Everybody’s needs are different when it comes to adaptations in the home, so keep that in mind that I’m including our “dream kitchen” list of features as an example and from the perspective of myself, a full-time powered wheelchair user with a progressive muscle-wasting condition, as well as my partner and eldest daughter living with progressive sight loss. We also have a healthy toddler. So our needs as a whole are very unique and specific.
Our Dream Accessible Kitchen List
- Open plan for ease of navigating in my wheelchair.
- Built-in oven cupboard design at sitting level to allow me to cook for the family and my partner to see the settings better.
- Clearance under the kitchen sink so I could wash up as and when I had enough “spoons” between PAs to the best of my ability.
- Lever taps on the kitchen sink as my grip’s too weak for traditional knobs.
- Suitable lighting for people with visual impairments.
Only ever had been assessed for this grant scheme in the past for things like a thru-floor-lift and permanent threshold ramps in previous properties that made them somewhat livable, I felt cheeky dishing out our O.T’s request. To my astonishment, she added her own suggestions such as; a pull-out tray under the oven to pull cooking trays/dishes down onto, rise and fall worktop for the sink so it could be adjusted for me to wash up independently and for my partner/PAs to wash up to conserve my energy/bad days, a rise and fall worktop for a built-in hob so I could learn to cook at my level with assistance from PAs (due to my muscle weakness, I’ll always need some assistance), carousel shelving in lower cupboards so I could get tins, etc out myself and an electric door opener for the kitchen door that leads out to the back garden – for the 1st time ever I’d be able to watch and even join my children playing out the back.
NOTE: We also took Mandy’s recommendation up on a side opening built-in electric oven which we purchased on finance from J.D Williams, white goods and big kitchen appliances are NOT covered by the DFG Grant but you could apply for via charities like the Family Fund.
Of course, Mandy told us that nothing she recommended for our individual and combined needs in the assessment is guaranteed, it has to go through several different people and they judge, upon Mandy’s reasonings, if the requested adaptations are essential enough for us to function as independently as possible. Keeping in mind that the rest of the property needed other things installed which the powers-that-be may see far more necessary, but as Mandy put it – we can only try.
What was granted and what was not?
It took about 12 weeks for Mandy to get back to us with the decision on what was and wasn’t approved. We went into this firmly believing that we simply wouldn’t get anything bar maybe the lever taps. To our shock, Mandy smiled and stated, “Everything we asked for, was granted! They agreed with every reasoning behind our requests. I’m so so pleased for you. You’ll be able to cook proper meals and sit at a table like any other family.” I could have wept there and then, it felt unreal. Things like this don’t happen to people like us, we were (as countless other families with disabilities), used to fighting tooth and nail for every-little-thing, yet somehow the tables had turned and we were granted a pass to live the way so many take for granted.
Designing & Constructing Our Kitchen
Now all the paperwork was done, Mandy got in touch with local kitchen company Howdens that has an “inclusive kitchen” range to use as a template of how things needed to be laid out. Mandy arranged for kitchen designer Anna to come to see the space we had to work with and to draw up a design that met all our needs in one. Anna was absolutely fantastic and you could tell she had a good understanding of the issues we’d face accessing areas, prepping food and cooking in general. Once we agreed to the layout, we were invited to Howden’s warehouse where Anna wanted me specifically to test out some lever taps and choose cupboard handles. This was really important with my limited grip strength. Long handlebars were the best bet, easy to grip and clean. We were blessed in the most unforeseen way that the previous tenants of our bungalow had totally smashed the kitchen up, meaning it was the councils’ responsibility to put in a whole new one. This meant we literally designed it from scratch!
TIP: If you’re moving into a council property that will need further adaptations for the kitchen. Say the kitchen has been damaged by previous tenants (like in our case) OR it’s very worse for wear/the layout is totally unsuitable access wise, you could work with an O.T and the DFG to have it replaced on the basis of it being unsuitable for your needs. Sometimes it’s easier to start over than adapt something that’s on its last legs anyway.
Here are some snaps of the kitchen a few weeks after moving in. Due to being rushed in before the property was 100% ready, it took a few extra weeks to get the rise and fall worktops up and running but everything else was functioning and I can tell you, being able to use our kitchen is as life-changing as we had imagined…
I cooked for the first time for the family fish fingers, chips and spaghetti hoops with only minimal assistance on the day we moved in. I cannot begin to express how happy that made me feel to be able to put food on the table for my family. Together my partner and I are learning how to cook from scratch to provide healthier meals for us all, which we couldn’t dare to dream of accomplishing in our previous homes. I kept my promise to the girls that we’d make cupcakes when we moved to the new house, and as you can see below – I kept that promise…
Are you in a home that doesn’t meet your needs? Or perhaps you’d like to share your own experience of going through the DFG process to adapt your home? Why not drop me and my readers a comment below!
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