Everyone deserves the right to live independently. Unfortunately, this is a reality unavailable to many people with limited mobility due to physical disabilities, as well as the elderly. Across Canada, both the provincial and federal governments are taking the steps needed to ensure that accessible housing is available for all, regardless of age or physical disability.
The push for an increase in homes outfitted for special needs has recently become evident right here in the Saskatoon real estate market, where a new accessible and affordable housing unit was opened earlier this year in the neighbourhood of Mount Royal. However, accessible housing availability is still an issue in Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada, leaving many to live in situations where their mobility is severely restricted by their surroundings or in some cases, are unable to live independently.
Accessible housing is a problem that has steadily been gaining attention nationwide, and it is time that it be properly addressed in order to provide everyone with the same opportunity to live independently in homes that accommodate physical mobility issues instead of compounding them.
The Importance of Inclusion and Accessibility
The ability to live independently is considered a basic human right. For many people without physical disabilities, just how important independent living can be is often taken for granted. Adults forced into dependent living situations or homelessness due to shortages in accessible housing will likely experience a sense of isolation, as well as restricted opportunities and increased vulnerability. Adults who are capable of independent living but are unable to, due to limited accessible housing options, may suffer from mental health depression and anxiety, as well as deterioration in regard to general happiness and accomplishment.
Many who live with others find themselves in what they describe as “reciprocal” relationships, wherein they feel like a burden on those they share a home with. As a result, they strive to strike a reciprocal balance to prevent from becoming bothersome. Living in a home where an individual constantly feels like a problem contributes further to feelings of separation and helplessness, which can predictably worsen over time.
In contrast, being able to live independently in a community of accessible housing can turn everything around. Though they may seem like small things, being able to take a shower without aid or cook dinner without assistance, lend to a sense of contentment in having the freedom to do these things on their own. In a community based around accessible living, individuals will also know inclusion instead of exclusion, which can lessen the feelings of hopelessness and isolation.
Everyone deserves to live in a way that makes them happy, which is why it’s so incredibly important that Saskatchewan – and indeed, the rest of Canada – continues to work towards a solution for the accessible housing shortage.
Understanding the Requirements of Accessible Living
To some, the term “accessible housing” brings to mind a home that is easy to navigate around, be it either with a wheelchair ramp or handles in the bathroom to aid in movement and getting up and down. The actual truth of the matter is that accessible homes require a great deal more attention to detail.
In an interview with The Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Arvid Kuhnle (a paraplegic resident of an accessible housing project) recounts that it is things that most people take for granted that can make all the difference, such as choosing laminate flooring instead of carpet. Carpet makes it far more difficult for anyone in a wheelchair to move around to the point of detriment, which is why a harder, smoother flooring option is a far better decision.
It is not just about flooring, though. In the bathroom, an accessible home would ideally have a “roll-in” shower (one without a “lip” on the floor), a lowered vanity with clearance under the sink, non-slip flooring, and adequate room to move and turn around safely in. Accessible kitchens would need lowered counters as well, along with pull-out work boards, clearance under the counter or sink, and shelves that pull out in substitution for deep cupboards.
In regard to general features required across the entire house, there would be door-less entries with no threshold into living rooms or dining rooms, light switches at an easily reachable height, wider hallways, straight staircases with smaller steps and risers, and an abundance of electrical, phone, and cable outputs to allow for optimization and flexibility when it comes to furniture arrangements.
These are just some of the characteristics an accessible home should have, and some may feature even more depending on the occupant’s individual needs.
Building Accessible Homes Vs. Renovating for Accessibility
For a long time, one of the only options open to people with physical disabilities was to renovate a home in order to better suit their needs. Renovation is hardly ever cheap, and when so many alterations are required, the cost often becomes prohibitive.
As Marisa Sabatino of Disability Credit Canada explains, there are alternatives to these kinds of renovations: universal and adaptable house designs.
With an adaptable house design, the home will have flexible features that can be modified at a small cost in order to suit the changing needs of an occupant over time. Adaptable housing allows people to remain at home even should their mobility continue to deteriorate, making them also ideal for aging occupants. In addition to being easily accessible for people with limited mobility at the outset, adaptable housing allows for modifications to be made at a fraction of the cost of full renovations. Most adaptable homes include elements such as:
- Doorways and hallways with enough room to make access and movement easier.
- Ample space in bathrooms and kitchens to move without issue.
- Relevant construction features to allow for future installation of things such as grab bars.
- Initial accessible features such as faucet handles, door designs, and positioning of light switches and outlets.
A universal accessible home design will not require any modifications or renovations at all, as the house will be built with all necessary requirements in place. This will include structural components such as wider hallways, stairways that are easy and safe to climb, doors without thresholds, and the placement of counters and appliances to allow for maximum range of movement. In addition, a universal accessible home design will include sinks, shelves, outlets, and windows that are at adjusted heights and are simple to use and operate.
The Current State of Accessible Housing in Saskatoon
Accessible housing is in short supply across Canada, and it is not different here in Saskatoon. In one of its most recent reports, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission made note of the fact that though there are accessible homes available in Saskatoon through the relevant housing authority, the number of those homes is limited. However, that problem is one that different organizations are aiming to change. Spinal Cord Injury Saskatchewan, for example, is collaborating with a number of different builders in order to create more special needs homes throughout the city.
While the solution will not be immediate, it is assured that in the coming years more and more accessible homes will become available in Saskatoon. Hopefully this will make it far easier for those with disabilities and limited mobility to find a way to live independently.
Accessible Homes: Better to Buy Than Rent?
Along with the traditional benefits and drawbacks of renting, there are additional concerns to consider when it comes to accessible housing. When renting it may be difficult to find a home that has all the necessary elements to suit individual mobility requirements. What is more, renovating or modifying a home in order to add or subtract these elements can be quite pricey, especially if the home was never originally built to accommodate such features.
Buying a special needs home can eliminate all of those concerns, particularly if purchasing a home designed and built with accessibility in mind. As aforementioned, adaptable homes and homes built from a universal accessible design can limit or even eliminate the need for renovations, and adaptable housing allows for affordable modifications in the future if needed.
Buying a home built for accessibility can set an individual up for life, as everything that is required will already be present in the home (or can be easily added in at a later date). It is very difficult to find an accessible rental property that even comes close to granting that type of convenience.
Realtors and Accessible Housing Options: How We Can Help
As the demand for accessible housing grows in Saskatoon, so does the need for realtors who are knowledgeable and capable in that area. To that end, we have extensive experience in finding accessible homes in Saskatoon that completely meet the needs and wants of any clients with physical disabilities or mobility restrictions.
We keep our fingers on the pulse of accessible housing development within Saskatoon and are familiar with engineers, developers, home inspectors, carpenters, and contractors, all of whom we can rely on to help us find the most ideal accessible homes and modification ideas on an individual basis.
Regardless of whether you are seeking an adaptable home, a retrofitted home, or a home built entirely from the ground up with accessibility in mind, we are willing, ready, and happy to assist in finding the right house for you.