On DIY SOS and accessibility

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, a 50-year-old white man with a beard and moustache and shoulder-length hair, wearing an open-necked white shirt with a green suit jacket over it, holding a hat decorated with white skulls under his left arm, standing next to Nick Knowles, a middle-aged, clean-shaven white man wearing a purple polo-neck T-shirt with a white hard hat on his head; a red-brick house can be seen in the background with workmen with flourescent jackets and hard hats can be seen behind the the two men.The other day I watched a repeat of an episode of the BBC series DIY SOS: The Big Build. It’s where the BBC get some architects, designers and local builders and other workers and they all pitch in to drastically modify someone’s house for the benefit of a disabled person. Last week it was a young lady with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Antonia Payne-Cheney, who had been trapped in hospital for four years because her family home was unsuitable for her wheelchair. (You may remember that the same series also helped another young woman with the same condition and in a similar situation, Chloe Print-Lambert, a couple of years ago.) In both cases, they built a large downstairs extension with an accessible bedroom and bathroom for the disabled person, with a ceiling track hoist to get them between, and into the living room which is shared with other family members; they also hire designers (or they work for free, I’m not sure) who design furnishings and wallpapers and modify existing furniture to personalise it for them. In the episode that was on last week, that included a zebra-themed wallpaper for Antonia; the zebra is a symbol associated with EDS.

What’s the problem? In many of their big builds, the bedrooms of the non-disabled members of the family remain upstairs and inaccessible to the wheelchair user. Worse, in some episodes the presenter talks with the non-disabled family members about how the new arrangements give them a space where they can be themselves — it’s almost as if the inaccessibility of “their space” to their disabled relative is a good thing, a feature, not an unavoidable necessity (if that is even what it is). Of course, it’s a good thing that a disabled person can escape from hospital and live more independently with their family, but how is it that a huge project spearheaded by a major broadcaster always leaves this out, when it is actually possible to obtain lifts that would enable a wheelchair user to get upstairs so their whole home is accessible? When the disabled person is not the child but the parent, this would be vital, as you cannot have a section of the house, let alone the children’s bedrooms, accessible to a child but not a parent.

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