When Darren Lee of McEwan Fraser Legal had to comfort an upset viewer who had travelled to see a property that she thought was perfect for her mobility needs only to discover she couldn't physically get access to the property, he decided to do something about it. Darren got in touch with Capability Scotland and from there encouraged me to work closely with the charity and experts on the subject of accessible housing to create a solution that would really help make finding a home that has the potential to provide accessible living much easier.
It’s hard to believe that even today in Scotland there is a massive shortage of accessible living housing. The Government analysed the situation back in 2004 when it conducted the Scottish House Condition Survey (SHCS) which identified a significant shortfall in the supply of accessible housing. It found that the following accessible housing had been built in Scotland:
- 26,000 ambulant disabled properties compared to 199,402 households using a stick or walking framework, which equals 13% of need met and an additional 173,400 properties needed.
- 7,000 full wheelchair properties compared to 36,221 wheelchair users, which equals 19% of need met and an additional 29,221 properties needed.
10 years on and there is little improvement in the situation. Take Glasgow new build projects as an example which averages only 30 new wheelchair accessible and barrier free properties a year. If new builds continue to increase at the current rate it will take over 100 years to make up the current estimated shortfall creating a bleak outlook for those seeking accessible living.
Given the lack of fully ‘wheelchair accessible’ or even ‘barrier free’ properties in Scotland the challenge for McEwan Fraser Legal and property searching was less about matching disabled people to existing properties and more about the need to identify properties that have the potential to be adapted for accessible living.
Susie Fitton of Capability Scotland told us that “Disabled people want a property that is in the right area, of the right style, with the right facilities and amenities close by and at the right price just like anyone else. Disabled homebuyers are also no less prone than the general population to ‘falling in love’ with a house that may not always be, on the face of it, the most suitable in term of access. Rather than trying to seek out the ‘best’ or most suitable property for a disabled person the research instead highlighted the need to mainstream ‘accessible features’ into general property search systems to the benefit all disabled people and in many cases older people or those with children – greatly assisting in the very early stages of a search by eliminating unsuitable properties”.
McEwan Fraser Legal has now amended its property search systems to enable people with mobility impairments to more easily identify the following;
- Which floor the living accommodation is on
- If there are three steps or fewer to a main entrance door of the property
- If there’s a lift to the main entrance door of the property
- If all door openings are greater than 750mm
- If there is a toilet on the same level as the living room and kitchen
- If there a toilet on the same level as a bedroom
- If all rooms are on the same level with no internal steps or stairs
- If there is unrestricted parking within 25 metres of an entrance door to the building
As well as introducing a new search feature we have also created the 'PAL' (Potential for Accessible Living) logo in to every house schedule which has one or more of the key accessibility features identified in the Scottish House Condition Survey.
We also consulted with Richard Hamer of Young Hamer Consultants who is the author of the Home Report accessibility audit and who is responsible for implementing the key accessibility features in the Single Survey. Richard explained to me that he had experienced first-hand over many years the problems faced by people looking for a home that is simply easier to enter and move around in. The Single Survey is part of the initial Home Report process and it is a legal requirement that this is carried out before any home is marketed in Scotland. So, basically all this information has been available to estate agents for many years and the problem has been that up until now no-one has taken it seriously enough to incorporate it in to search features.
McEwan Fraser Legal has taken the first steps in making the search for accessible living easier by creating the 'PAL' (Potential for Accessible Living) logo adding an accessible living feature to its search system. We have also provided feedback to Capability Scotland on posters they have produced in partnership with the Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living (GCIL) to improve design guidance for private housing and the public realm. The posters give recommended minimum space requirements, dimensions and symbolisation for both barrier free housing and fully wheelchair accessible housing and we will make them available to anyone who is thinking about purchasing a property that they intend to adapt.
Going forward we hope that other estate agents will follow suit and really help make finding accessible living easier for everyone in Scotland who needs it.