My Accessible Home Adventure
Last updated: January 2022
On Valentine’s Day in 2019, my life was pushed into a tailspin. I was a full-time college student and I was renting a home just outside of the city limits where the school was located.
Transportation to and from school had been a hassle for my entire college career. But more so since moving to that house the year before.
The school-sponsored public transportation didn’t go that far and some of the rural transportation companies had issues going in and out of city limits in the same county. This was my plight as I did not have my own vehicle to drive to and from school, or anywhere else for that matter.
Issues with a loaner chair
I went to a doctor’s appointment on Valentine’s Day and during the appointment, my chair was serviced as well; only the brake lines were cut accidentally when trying to fix one of the wheels.
I was immediately put into a loaner chair that was too big for me and that I could barely drive, and parts were ordered for my own chair which was put into holding until repairs could be done. The loaner chair was nice to have, but it barely did the duty of sitting me up properly.
I could not drive through doorways well because the armrests were too wide and I couldn’t physically reach them well enough. The company tried very hard to help me, but there just wasn’t another chair available to loan that had tilt/recline that my body needs to stay healthy.
I went to school in the loaner chair and quickly realized that I would need an aide with me the entire time I was there, rather than before when I rarely needed an aide other than for bathroom breaks, eating, and getting to and from school.
Then came the hard realization that I could not fit the loaner chair onto the elevator that could take me downstairs to the only accessible bathroom on campus that I could use.
Needing to withdrawal from college
If I could not do normal human activities such as using the bathroom on campus, then I could not physically be on campus, so I decided to take a catastrophic withdrawal from college halfway through the semester. I was devastated when I realized I could not go to school until my chair was fixed.
I quickly spiraled into depression and hopelessness. At the same time, I felt defeated, a spark in me lit that grew each day which urged me to fight back and do something with my life that did not depend so much on others and happenstance.
Moving inside city limits for better transportation access
So I decided that I could no longer live outside of city limits. I needed to move into town so that I could have easy access to accessible public transportation and be better suited to fit my needs as an independent disabled adult.
As I looked for rentals inside the city limits of my college town, I realized that finding wheelchair-accessible housing is a challenge in and of itself. I had lucked out with my last two rentals.
One was a lease takeover and one was a newly built rental house that was built to be accessible. Finding one inside of town limits was more challenging as there were so many older homes and homes without ramps, wide doorways, or wide enough hallways.
Beginning the process to buy my own home
I then decided that if I was going to have to try to make a place accessible to me that I should perhaps look into buying my own home. As a disabled adult, there are some limitations on how much help one can get in a home loan.
Many lenders require a high credit score and a certain income, either of which can be a barrier for someone getting their own home. Since I was 18 years old, I had made my financial health a priority, building and working with my credit score to keep it healthy, but the income was always the issue with lenders.
I am disabled and on a limited budget which makes it extremely hard to find anything that fits my needs. I did an online search for home lending help for disabled people in my state and most of the websites I found offered little help. One organization kept coming up in the search engines: Habitat for Humanity.
Becoming a Habitat for Humanity homeowner
I had heard of Habitat for Humanity, but I thought that they mainly worked around the world to do affordable housing, not in my own community. However, upon researching the organization, I realized I had a local branch and so I researched further what it would take to become a Habitat for Humanity homeowner.
The process was fairly simple. I made sure I fit local requirements of credit and income. I barely had the income, but I qualified!
I gave them a lot of paperwork, financial information, information about my situation, bank records, etc. Once I had finished their application process, I was told if I was chosen, they would contact me.
Habitat focuses on helping people get out of dangerous and unhealthy housing. For several reasons, the last rental property was not safe for my needs (no tornado protection for a wheelchair user, only one entrance to the property, etc), and that helped Habitat in deciding that I was a good candidate for joining them as a homeowner.
It took 6 months for them to get back to me and out of the blue one day, I got a phone call asking to set up a home visit to continue the application process. I was thrilled to invite a few of their leadership members into my house to see how I lived and what my needs were.
Planning and building my fully wheelchair-accessible home
They accepted my application after their next board meeting and welcomed me as a Habitat homeowner partner. It took a solid year of planning an accessible floor plan, going to financial management and homeowner courses, and building my house.
I had to volunteer for 300 hours to put toward what they call "sweat equity" which is my time and physical commitment to the process and to Habitat in building my home. Friends and family also helped me build my house alongside some of the most dedicated volunteers in any organization I have ever seen in my life.
The community came together to build my fully wheelchair-accessible home, a first by my Habitat family in Stillwater. When it was finished, I was given a 0 percent mortgage and payments that fit my budget. The process was one of the most rewarding things I have done to date.
I moved into my home the same year as I graduated with my bachelor’s degree. I would suggest Habitat for Humanity to anyone who qualifies for a chance to be a homeowner, or for anyone looking to support an organization that truly changes lives in the community. I will forever be grateful to be called a Habitat Homeowner!
Have you found yourself facing accessibility challenges lately?
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