Finding Your Accessible Dream Home (Slideshow)

Life after a spinal cord injury has many ups and down. Challenges are sure to follow, but I see these issues as opportunities to battle onward and adjust to the ebb and flow of life. Recently, my wife and I purchased our dream home in the country, just minutes from her work, including a few acres of pasture land, ideal for outdoor wheelchair adventures and the opportunities for my nonprofit (ROAR Outdoors®) to grow. The property has beautiful rolling hills, hardwoods, a creek, the prime location for an accessible cabin and small farm pond - teaming with brim, bass and catfish. I can already see the campouts, bonfires and ensuing fish fries. To say we are blessed is an understatement. And to see God work in our lives is beyond amazing.

We jumped into house hunting with both feet and quickly learned that this market was not only deep, treacherous waters but also extremely confusing. It seemed every home selling website had a list of buzz words and the price point in our key search location was extremely high. Few (if any) were wheelchair accessible even for viewing. We knew how much space we needed, the durable construction required to endure years of wear and tear from a heavy power chair, and the need for the house to be open and accessible, as we have several friends in chairs that would visit from time to time. (For me - something in the country with rustic charm and space to grow. For my wife - a place convenient to work, as well as lots of natural light and windows).

The dream hunt quickly turned into a huge headache. The internet was great at helping us weed through potential properties, but all required contacting agents to set up a viewing. Few if any of them understood the complexity of getting a 300-pound power chair into a residence. On more than one occasion, we were assured that getting in to view would be no problem, only to arrive and see a large threshold or a set of stairs. "It's only an eight inch step up" is like saying Mount Everest is just a tall hill. Some obstacles far exceed simple explanation. Luckily for us, this is not our first rodeo. I always travel with a set of 8-foot fold out ramps and a threshold ramp for occasions such as this.

I'm not suggesting that all real estate agents are clueless, and I understand the world isn't accessible, but ignorance comes in several categories. It is impossible for someone to empathize with hardship or disability needs when they've never lived it. We took this opportunity to try and educate agents on reaching the disability home owner population (an under-tapped resource in my opinion) and to see requirements through our eyes. Many of the homes we viewed were in need of major upgrades from wider doors, re-enforced floor joists, massive ramps, new appliances, counter tops, etc. Others were recently renovated, their prices reflecting this, but would still require major upgrades to be accessible, pushing them way out of our price range.

I consider myself a visionary in the sense of seeing the true potential in a property, but today's housing market is a stressful place to be. Buying anything "disability" related (grab bars, electric door operators, deck lifts, etc.) can be extremely costly, pushing home ownership far out of the reach of many wheelers. I'm a purist at heart and want my home to be accessible without looking "handicapped". I went in with a blind eye and opened mind, but found quickly that nothing was really fitting the bill. We saw houses in neighborhoods that were right on top of each other with absolutely no yard at all, homes that would have to be completely gutted, or on the rare occasion that we found a decent one, we were told it was already under contract or pending sale. After several months searching and countless home visits, we decided that the timing just wasn't right. I for one didn't want to settle and nothing was screaming “us”. It's at these times that I got frustrated and questioned if we'd ever find our home, but God was quick to answer.

Just weeks after we stopped looking, my father-in-law received a call from a gentleman to discuss some mission work to Africa. In passing he said "Oh, by the way, my parents are fixing to sell their house if you know anyone looking" and the rest is history. My wife and I searched the address online to see if the proximity was conducive for her morning commutes, prayed about it and arranged a visit. As we came around the corner and the house came into view - we both knew. It just felt right. This was our home! We spent over two hours with the owners touring the home and discussing options. Ms. Peggy broke down in tears and said she just wanted someone that would love the house as much as she had. The home is not without issue, and I don't want to down play accessibility, but the open floor plan, large doorways and hardwood flooring was conducive to wheelchair travel.

We added a ramp through the garage, had to open one doorway into a spare bathroom, converting it from 30-inch to a 32-inch pocket door. We changed the sinks in the two down stair bathrooms to roll-under sinks, making sure wheelers would feel welcomed. With these few changes/additions, the house became accessible and it became OURS. The floor to ceiling rock fireplace, huge windows in the front and back, garden tub and wrap-around porch were icing on the cake.

All of this to say, if you are searching for a forever, accessible home don't give up. The needle is in the haystack, you just have to be patient and have a little faith. Keep in mind, when touring, the requirements for ramps is for every inch in height, you need a foot of ramp length. Know your chair width for doorways, locate electrical lines in walls in case doors need to be widened, have multiple exit points and never settle. Happy house hunting!!


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