I recently got hooked on watching HGTV’s The Property Brothers. The premise of the show is that two brothers (twins, Jonathan and Drew Scott) lead potential homeowners through the maze of searching for a home, and renovating it. The catch is that the homeowners tend to have a smaller budget then their wish list can accommodate. Think celery string budget and diamond encrusted wish list.
In watching the brothers work through several properties (I’m on season eleven), I got curious about what I might want in a property. Being disabled means that so many of the things that people generally want might pose a problem for me. I keep thinking that renovations for a home – should I ever purchase one – would be horrendously expensive (because disability accommodations, especially when designated as such, cost), difficult to navigate (because someone might take advantage), and shoddily done (because someone might think that, despite my shelling out $$$, they’re doing a good deed). Keep in mind this is what I encounter in mundane experiences like trying to get my hair done.
The two rooms that they typically renovate are kitchens and bathrooms. I should be clear: I only like the open concept design because it makes it easier for emergency personnel to get me when they need to. It doesn’t much matter to me whether I have sightlines to the television or the living room from the kitchen. When I entertain, I’m not interested in talking to people while I cook, nor am I interested and them seeing the mess once we sit to eat. That being said, it would be nice to be able to easily pass food from one place to another. Then again, people did live without that. As for cabinets, they should move, up and down. The bottom cabinet should lift up so that I don’t have to bend over and the top cabinets should slide down to decrease upper body effort. I do not want soft close drawers: they typically require more effort to pull them open when you have a chronic neuro-muscular disease or any general weakness. I love the idea of a built-in oven and a double door fridge. Bending down and bending over is quite difficult so those truly help with accommodations.
In thinking about the bathroom, I cannot help but think of Sharon Olds’s poems in Odes where she talks a great deal about bathrooms. She is right that so much happens there. I think about how many of the homeowners gravitate toward large soaker tubs that stand-alone. If I were to get a tub – and that’s a big if – it would need to be a tub that allowed me to sit as if in a chair. I do not want to lower myself into a tub, because then I would have to lift myself out of it. Both actions are incredibly difficult. In the shower, I am not convinced that the luxury of a rain shower outweighs its impracticality for someone like me. Certainly shower fixtures are cosmetic (much like a lot of the things I’m discussing here) but when you contend with not being able to close your eyes all the way, whether your shower allows for you to avoid water in the eyes is a big deal. I really appreciate the showers they build with seating inside them, making the need for ugly shower chairs obsolete. And, of course, bars for the shower and the toilet (which would of course have a raised seat). The vanities – much like cabinets in the kitchen – should move. They should also have plenty of storage to accommodate any of the electronics, toiletries, and linens needed. Having things be ready at hand becomes deeply important when you have limited energy.
Honestly, these are not huge accommodations and, in fact, based on what I’ve seen, they are mostly cosmetic from a construction standpoint. The issue is that they are built-in and customized since that always costs. Because I relate it all to disability and because it is not necessarily considered part of the standard desires, either luxurious or just different, these requests could be expensive and/or mocked.
I would also add that these accommodations do not necessarily fit into the idea of a “show-ready” home. People barely want to see someone’s toothbrush, even their own, when they walk through their home. The idea of bars, movable cabinets, disability access – particularly as it is usually configured – tends to conjure up visions of the ugly things Jonathan and Drew usually seek to get rid of. Requesting them in a home seems to be antithetical to the dream the show usually sells.
To be clear, I don’t think that the Property Brothers (the show or the individuals) would have a problem with these requests. I also think that within the multicultural landscape of Canada, configuring a house for a disabled person would be a great story for the show. However, this leaves open the question of why the access is not considered standard. Everyone ages. People break bones and twist ligaments and sprain muscles. Access being for everyone mean that it should also be part of home design.