NEVER THOUGHT I’D HAVE TROUBLE WITH STAIRS
And it’s a bit of an exaggeration to think that every single home in the nation should be accessible to people with physical disabilities.
Or is it?
We bought this house when we were both young and childless because it was the ONLY home left in this particular subdivision, the ONLY one with mature trees that the real estate agents showed us, the ONLY one on a quiet cul-de-sac.
I fell in love with the trees.
New construction in New Jersey tends to be on former farmland. That’s because of the tax structure: farmland is encouraged, so vast tracts of land in the Garden State are technically farms, and something is planted often enough to keep this tax designation. Not for me to understand or go into the details of that.
But every once in a while, someone who needs money (probably), maybe as a result of a death in the family and land passing to a younger generation, or need for more McMansions, or whatever, sells a plot of land which is converted to residential and immediately turned into mushrooms: houses dotting the land with no trees around them.
Many of the young urban professionals who then move to the new suburbs are a bit cash-challenged, and they do minimum landscaping, so that years later the developments STILL look like blank canvases – with a few huge houses sticking up, one per acre or so, with a few bushes around the base of each.
Our house is a split level. With the framed-in attic, it had FIVE levels, joined by FOUR staircases of 7, 7, 7, and 5 steps. We eventually turned that attic level into a fourth bedroom and bath – occupied first by the nanny for the two oldest, then me with the youngest after a couple of problems made it desirable for her and I to sleep together for the first year. After that, the oldest child still at home got the privacy and status of the aerie. Each in turn.
I noticed, even back before kids, that we tended to live on two of the levels – living room/dining room/kitchen plus main bedroom/master bath – and I was already limiting the number of times I’d go down to the basement.
Then I had the first two, and then I got ME/CFS, and things got rapidly worse, and then the third child…
For a healthy young mother who needs lots of exercise, and has a lot of energy, maybe wasting a bunch of it on stairs makes sense. Every time a baby needs changing, a toddler someone to help at the potty, a kid to be reminded of doing homework, a husband or wife to be called to dinner – stairs.
As a nation, we don’t plan ahead for accessibility
Grab bars in showers, clearly helpful for anyone from a young child learning to shower on her own to a mother recovering from a C-section – should be required in every tub/shower enclosure. They aren’t. I have been using the shower door’s towel rack for this for decades, always conscious that it couldn’t take real stress – because it wasn’t designed for that.
Floor plans with hallways wide enough for a wheelchair aren’t built – who could possibly need them?
MOST homes become a trap for the disabled. I can’t tell you the number of days, when the back pain from botched back surgery in 2007 was particularly bad, that I literally crawled up those flights.
And as vertical stability even on good days has become a challenge, how many times I come down one of those short flights backward because one hand holds a few things, while the better right hand grabs the rail – because we have them only on one side of the stairs.
My husband’s mom hard a hard time getting up to the living room as she aged. Was that part of the reason they didn’t come often? I hope not.
Guests from a singing group had the same problem – as we all aged, some had a very hard time (at all the homes in the group), even those four or five steps to a front door became problematic.
So, at a time when some people would like to age in place a little longer, that much-loved home becomes dangerous.
The worst part?
When you go to sell a house, often to much younger people, accessibility features that are too obvious say ‘old’ and ‘dated’ and ‘belongs to someone I don’t want to think about becoming’ – and are literally detriments to a sale.
No one wants to think ahead.
The thought of needing accessibility features some time in the future scares off buyers.
Ours aren’t too obvious – we never installed those grab bars, or added the second handrail on each section of stairs, and don’t have wider hallways (it’s a tract house, lovingly landscaped over the years) or an accessible kitchen.
I’ve never had the energy to insist on making my own home more accessible and convenient for me, since I don’t absolutely have to have a wheelchair yet, and can get around on the bad days by hanging on to things.
Do I want to stay in this house?
We’re past that point now, as I also don’t want to be stuck in this climate, and we don’t need the two extra bedrooms any more, and more and more of my older friends have either moved away or don’t get out much either.
The kids are flown each to a different State of the Union. And as far from each other as possible.
But it’s never really been an option to stay.
We moved in in 1981!
And will move out in 2018.
I don’t have a choice: I have been defeated for a long time. I just didn’t want to admit it. Or rather, I did – at least five years ago – but it’s taken this long (and some life events) to get the husband fully committed to the idea of transitioning into a much smaller apartment in a retirement community with facilities – such as a pool, gym, and daily dinner. And one with, we hope, no accessibility problems.
This time I’m thinking it through, all the way to the possible wheelchair.
There’s a reason old homesteads used to have a suite built on the main floor – the ‘southwest corner’ – in advance of needing it, for a widowed parent or maiden aunt. Good view, warmth – and no stairs.
It’s about time.
Have you thought about accessibility?
Thanks, as usual, to Stencil for the use of up to ten free graphics a month. It’s been fun to pick an image, think up some words, play with their text features, and insert at the beginning something that ‘goes with’ what the post is about.