New form to help wheelchair users obtain social housing

Updated / Tuesday, 18 May 2021 14:11
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By Ailbhe Conneely

According to Dee Hoey, she had already experienced lockdown before Covid-19.

Before she turned 30, she had an active life. She worked full time, went to the gym and played camogie.

Then, as a newly-wed 15 years ago, everything changed because of a brain tumour.

She is now in a wheelchair, cannot work and is dependent on others.

Dee and her husband have separated. While she is eligible for the Housing Assistance Programme, she can't find anywhere to rent that is suitable for her needs.

She has been on the local authority list for four years.

In the meantime, Dee is living with her ex-husband's parents. She said this is difficult, but she has nowhere else to go.

It was not feasible to move back to her parent's home, where the bathroom is too small and there are stairs.

Thankfully, her parents-in-law had an extension on their house that can facilitate her, but Dee said all she can do is look out the window.

The house is in a rural location. There is no bus service, and a gravel driveway means Dee cannot bring her wheelchair outside.

The reason she spoke to RTÉ News is, she said, because she has tried everything else.

"It's frustrating because I've got on to all the TDs and I've done all the letters and the emails and the phone calls, anything I can think of," Dee explained.

She describes herself as independent but she wants to be free to use that independence.

Dee is not the only person trying to obtain wheelchair-suitable accommodation.

Aoife McNicoll is a PHD student at DCU. She is stuck in transitory accommodation at the Irish Wheelchair Association Centre in Clontarf, Dublin.

She is on the Dublin City Council housing list and was "kind of naive" about getting suitable accommodation.

Aoife said because there are few options for people who use wheelchairs in the private rental market, there is a reliance on getting accommodation through local authorities.

It is estimated that 5,000 people with a registered disability are awaiting social housing in Ireland.

She believes that all new developments and housing should be universally designed so they are accessible to everyone - regardless of age or ability.

"Even if you don't have a disability now, you could acquire one down the line," she noted.

"So if we had a situation where all new developments were universally designed, they would be more accessible and give people more options."

It is estimated that 5,000 people with a registered disability are awaiting social housing in Ireland.

For the first time, a wheelchair user in Ireland can apply for a wheelchair liveable home on their housing application.

The new application form - from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government - was published last month and acknowledges the need for wheelchair liveable accommodation to be included as a requirement.

The Irish Wheelchair Association has begun a campaign to encourage its members - and anyone with a disability who feels they will have social housing needs in the future - to make sure they are included in local authority plans.

The association is offering guidance and support for people on how to contact their local authority and apply.

In 2011, when the housing strategy for people with disabilities was launched, the IWA saw a 200% increase in housing applications among that cohort.

A decade later, the availability of wheelchair-accessible housing in Ireland has not improved.

The new application form is a result of lobbying, according to IWA Director Tony Cunningham.

Tony Cunningham, Director of the Irish Wheelchair Association

"For the first time, a person applying can indicate if they need a wheelchair liveable house, which will be a good planning tool for local authorities and the Government, to know the actual need out there."

Mr Cunningham said the future must be in sustainable communities where people with disabilities are included rather than living separate from everyone else in society.

It's a small step, but the Irish Wheelchair Association believes it is better late than never.

Claire Feeney, a Senior Executive Officer with the Housing Agency, worked with local authorities to introduce the new application form.

Claire Feeney believes it is feasible for new developments to be universally designed

She said it took a while because there were a lot of "competing factors" that had to be considered like the cost implication of larger units, and relying on local authorities and approved housing bodies to come on board.

Asked if she thought Aoife's suggestion that all new developments should be universally designed was feasible, Claire Feeney said she believed it was.

"I think it's something we'll be advocating in the new strategy. The Housing Agency has been asked to lead out on that and it's something we'd be very strong on."