Christie Lewis facing big damage repair bill because her rental home wasn't big enough for her wheelchair

christie lewis facing big damage repair bill because her rental home wasn't big enough for her wheelchair

Christie Lewis has faced many challenges trying to live in a house not set up for wheelchairs. (ABC News: Kenith Png)

Christie Lewis feels "really, really isolated" in her Perth rental home.

Ms Lewis, who has a spinal injury, can't have her friends to visit because her home is largely inaccessible for wheelchairs.

"I can't have any of my friends that have disabilities over because they can't use the toilet independently," she said.

Which is a major barrier: the very home she rents fails to accommodate her needs.

When Ms Lewis spent time in hospital for treatment, she was unable to be discharged because of a lack of suitable accommodation.

"My discharge was delayed multiple months, wholly and solely based on the fact that my house was not accessible to me," she said.

She ended up staying with a friend for six months, so that her current home could be made more accessible.

But even now, it's far from ideal.

"My dining room is the only room in my entire house where I can do transfers in," she said.

"If I need to go from my power wheelchair to a shower or to a toilet, to go from my lounge room into my dining room, I have to strip naked in my dining room with staff transferring me to the commode and then they push the commode either into the shower or into the toilet," she said.

"Once we get into the shower, I then have to have that particular commode hooked up to a pulley system that drags me into the shower."

Long waiting lists

Ms Lewis said she had been on a waiting list for an accessible house for seven-and-a-half years.

"I actually spoke to the company on two different occasions when I was first put on that list, they essentially said to me, 'you have to wait for someone to die to get a house, we haven't increased our stock in terms of disability accessible housing'," she said.

"Sadly, you're waiting for somebody to pass away, which is a really bleak outlook for the person living, knowing that there's people just waiting for you to pass away so they can have your house."

The ABC visited her home earlier this month, where the signs of her struggle to live independently in a house made for able-bodied people were evident everywhere.

The narrow hallway has dents in its walls, the paint is chipped and scuff marks adorn the skirting boards, doors and walls.

Ms Lewis said her house was too small for her power wheelchair, causing her to scrape walls and doors as she tried to manoeuvre around.

Happily, Ms Lewis is due to move into an accessible house within weeks.

But she faces an expensive bill to move out of her current home.

"The whole house will have to be painted again, I'll have to have someone come through and patch all of the walls as well. All doors will have to be replaced. Handrails will have to be removed," she said.

"Air conditioners that we've put in because I can't regulate my own temperature will have to be removed and those rectified, I had a dialysis machine in the house, the plumbing for that dialysis machine has to be all removed and closed off and kept."

Ms Lewis points out that the NDIS doesn't cover cost of damage to a property and estimates repairs could cost $1,000 to $10,000.

WA, NSW haven't adopted accessibility standards

Access to suitable housing for people with disabilities is difficult, especially in a tight market where demand for accessible housing far outweighs supply.

Mary Sayers, director of the Building Better Homes campaign, emphasises the importance of including mandatory accessibility standards in the National Building Code.

However, WA and NSW have not yet committed to adopting the required "silver" standard of liveable housing design.

The code comprises seven key design components:

  • a safe pathway from the street to the entrance
  • at least one ground-level entrance
  • accessible internal doors and corridors
  • a ground-level toilet
  • a bathroom with a step-free shower
  • reinforced walls for installing grab rails and
  • stairways designed for safety and potential future adjustments.

Despite a national goal set in 2009 for all new homes to achieve "100 per cent silver level" accessibility by 2020, only 5 per cent were projected to have met these targets by the deadline.

Ms Sayers highlights the importance of ensuring homes are suitable for people with disabilities and older people.

"We want the NSW and WA governments to understand the costs of the accessibility standards at the time of build is negligible, and all other states and territories have commenced the transition to mandatory standards, so it is achievable," she said.

"The Australian Building Codes Board modelling for the liveable accessibility standards shows it will only add about 1 per cent to the cost of a new build, around $25 per square metre for a 200 square metre build."

A new life with dignity

Ms Lewis said when she moves into her new Specialist Disability Accommodation home she will have dignity.

"I'm not going to have to struggle to go to the bathroom at 3am, and it's not going to take two staff to get me into a toilet," she said.

Ms Lewis said her dog Max is also happy to be moving.

"Max went through the doors of the showroom property. And he was just like, I don't get it. Why are the doors so wide," she said.

"He watched me come through the door and it was almost like he breathed a sigh of relief because he's used to me going 'thud, thud' as I come through a door."

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