The idea of independence can only come to life when it’s tempered with reality.
For many, owning a home is an essential part of The American Dream. It’s the foundation on which millions of people build their future. The rewards—the view from a new back porch, walking on new carpet or hardwood floors in your bare feet, or maybe the smell of a freshly painted nursery for the new addition to the family—all come with a newfound sense of independence after putting in the work to get to that moment.
For so many others with a disability—like myself—the reality of building that foundation is met with that same heart and desire. However, these six practical (and crucial) thoughts also come into play:
1. Am I physically capable of leaving the nest? I’ve asked myself this very question many times, and regardless of how “big” I feel when it crosses my mind, I always end up coming back to that spot in the road where it just makes more sense to be practical. That said, I don’t think it’s so much that you’re letting “The Dream” die by coming to that realization. You’re allowing yourself to come to terms with your disability and in turn reshaping your goals so they fit your life.
2. Assisted living facilities vs. buying/building your home: If you’ve come to the conclusion that you can in fact “leave the nest,” it’s time to weigh your options. Any house can be molded into a home, but in this case, it isn’t just a matter of buying a piece of real estate. It’s about making good, informed decisions, and I think a big part of that is knowing yourself and your disability. Get to a place where you’re comfortable with both. That way you’ll feel comfortable and confident in the decisions you make regarding this first step. From personal experience, having that kind of peace can—and often does—lift a huge weight off one’s shoulders. Organizations such as Senior & Disabled Services offer a range of options and tools to those who may be taking this first step.
3. Costs: When you’re looking into anything having to do with a disability—whether it’s living arrangements, equipment, or the like—prices seem to skyrocket. Do you receive Social Security or other funding? This may dictate whether you are able to buy or rent. Can you afford to cover the costs of living on your own? You have to budget in utilities as well as food costs too. Again, the best approach is to do your homework and know how much collateral you’re dealing with.
4. Liability: Can you successfully live on your own or do you need to live in a facility with others? In case of an emergency, can you get out of your living quarters safely on your own? If not, you may need to be wearing a call button. In case of fire, are you able to exit the building safely on your own? Do you need an adaptive telephone, door opener, etc?
5. Accessibility: Some disabled individuals require certain accessibility tools that a basic home or apartment wouldn’t already have. For instance, a stair glide or elevator may be an option for getting in and out of the house. A large, handicap-accessible bathroom is another option for a wheelchair-bound individual who owns a house or rents. If you are able to cook on your own, are appliances and faucets within your reach? If you are not wheelchair-bound, you might not notice that most light switches and outlets are often out of your reach. Are doorknobs accessible and easy to use?
6. Accommodations/safety for service dogs: While I’ve never considered this option for myself, I’ve seen firsthand through a friend who has a service dog the new, profound meaning one gives to the saying “Man’s Best Friend” when you find the right dog that suits your needs. Compatibility is key while training your dog and complying with your state’s regulations and laws. The Fair Housing Act, signed into law in 1968, states that service dogs are permitted in houses, apartments, and dorms, even if there’s a No Pets Policy in place. They’re good travel companions too, as they can accompany their owners on all forms of public transportation including buses, trains, taxis, planes and escalators—on which my friend says she “puts booties on her dogs paws” to prevent her feet and toes from getting stuck underneath the motor or becoming lodged in the escalator. Do you have an area to safely leave the dog free for bath rooming purposes?
Above all else, be realistic. Independence is a beautiful thing, but by letting the idea of it cloud your sense of safety, you risk losing a grip on your reality. A home is not a home unless you can feel comfortable in its surroundings. Have a clear sense of self before taking a step like this. It not only effects you, but also the family who put a roof over your head and helped give you the possibility to dream and to mold your dreams into a reality.